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Starting Off On The Right Foot by Ross E. Swope

Anxious to get my nephew, a new shooter, started (and possibly create a future shooting partner), I hooked him up with Rick D’Alessandro, one of the Certified Instructors at the Prince George’s Trap & Skeet Range in Glenn Dale, Maryland. Rick and I had shot together, and I was sure he could do the job right.

any weekends you pack gun, ammo and other gear for your ritualistic trip to the skeet, trap or sporting clays range. You have a passion for the game, the camaraderie and the competition. The timing, concentration, skill and accomplishment hooked you long ago. It is hard for you to explain to a non–shooter (not unlike the difficulty in explaining the attraction of golf to a non–golfer), but it is your sport. Now all this activity over the years has piqued the interest in someone else.

They watched you at the range, saw the high–fives at a 50–straight and remain amazed at the disintegration of a hard–hit clay bouncing in the air on a windy day. They feel they have waited long enough and want to pick up a shotgun and smoke some clay birds of their own. Your son, daughter, nephew, niece, girlfriend or wife are not just willing to try a new sport but anxious to do so. And, they are anxious to share with you this time and something you enjoy and they think they will enjoy, too.

They have observed orange disks fall apart in mid–air with significant regularity at the report. Regardless of who is on the line, they pretty much see clays broken most of the time. Whether you know it or not, you have created the expectation they are going to enjoy the sport, have fun sharing time with you and, like everyone else, be felling clay targets with their first crack of the gun. Their expectations are high, as are their levels of excitement and anticipation. Failure is not an option.

dramatic improvement after 60 minutes

My nephew had no prior experience with a shotgun. Sixty minutes after I left him in the hands of his instructor, dramatic improvement was evident. He shot well for his first time. More targets were being broken than missed, and that’s always a good thing!

Nothing takes the wind out of the sails like failure. Missing bird after bird after bird and not knowing why and what they need to do to start hitting birds is failure and can quickly chase them away in frustration. This is your opportunity to introduce someone to shooting and make them a life–long enthusiast. Or you may turn them to the dark side — video games. Many broken clays is mandatory early in a new shooter’s experience — a desire for you, a must for them.

The reality is, it is probably going to be ugly unless they are a “natural” (I am still searching for one) or they have had extensive experience with a shotgun and airborne targets or you are an expert instructor. I can’t count the number of times I shot with an inexperienced shooter on a relay with other “great shots.” Solicited or unsolicited, the great shots were always giving pointers and analyzing every miss with an explanation of the error — poor mount, no follow–through, the gun stopped, behind the target, too slow — you name it! While there is generally great interest shown by the inexperienced shooter to all the incoming pointers, at the end of one, or two or three rounds, I observed zero improvement.

The way I see it, there are three choices available to boost success for a new shotgun shooter. You are an experienced clay shooter, so you know how important practice is in improving your game, right?

Solution one — deliver the new shooter to the skeet, trap or sporting clays course with a flat of ammo and a $100 bill. The pull is voiced, clays fly, powder is burned and, once in a while, a disk comes apart in mid–air. Amateur play–by–play with a little analysis may or may not be present. My bet is the new shooter and the kibitzer know why he broke the clay — he hit it — but the how remains elusive. What was different on those shots that hit targets from those that did not? I hope you have a few more $100 bills and five more flats of ammo, because it will likely take that much before the new shooter, working alone or with the “clay whisperer,” gets a clue on what they are doing right and wrong.

The second choice may be better than the first but presents risks of its own. I say that because someone is probably going to end up at fault. The second choice is you attend to the training at the skeet, trap or sporting clays range. You are a good shot, so it should be easy to train the new shooter up to a competent level of shooting. You are patient on the line and skilled in the ways of the shotgun — piece of cake. Probably not. Like anything else, it takes training, experience, dedication, practice and ability to efficiently and effectively instruct someone in the application of a limited number of tiny pellets to a small, fast–moving target flying through the air. Unless you are the rare exception, the best you can hope for is it is only going to cost some time and hundreds of dollars. At worse, you are the short–fused, foul–mouthed, ostentatious moron responsible for their poor shooting performance who couldn’t teach a dog to bark.

Fear not. There is a proven solution that is supremely effective, comparatively inexpensive, time–efficient, tested by thousands and, best of all, won’t ruin your relationship with the new shooter — hiring a coach.

professional coaches can help new shooters advance quickly

’At many of the country’s larger shooting facilities there are one or more professional coaches or instructors who can take a new, inexperienced shooter and help him or her quickly improve by instilling solid fundamentals of safety, etiquette, gun–handling skills and proficient shooting.

Sports fans everywhere can recognize a good move and, conversely, a bad one. What is not so easily discovered is what caused the good or bad play and what needs to happen so the bad play is not repeated and the good play is. At many of the larger shotgun ranges there is usually one or more professional trainers, coaches who can quickly improve a new shotgun shooter, setting them up correctly from the start and laying down the basis for continued progress in the sport.

These coaches have seen the same mistakes with others hundreds of times, can quickly identify problems and direct the new shooter in correcting them. They can resolve proper gun mounting, gun position, stance, lead, pointing rather than aiming, flinching, eye–dominance issues, cheek–on–the–gun and eye–on–the–target problems and many other issues in the first half lesson.

Last year my nephew got really interested in skeet shooting. He often accompanied me to the shotgun field. Anxious to get a new shooter started and a probable future partner, I connected him with Rick, one of the instructors at Prince George’s Trap & Skeet, where one can shoot skeet, trap, sporting clays, 5–stand and wobble. Rick and I had shot together, and I was very confident he could do the job and teach my nephew to improve and enjoy the sport.

My nephew had no experience with a shotgun. At the appointed time, we met Rick and I turned my nephew over to him for some schooling. I took a seat in the observer section. There was about ten minutes of discussion, positioning, pointing and dry practice before the first shot was fired. The 60 minutes quickly ticked away, but I could see dramatic improvement in my nephew on nearly every shot as Rick was by his side, talking to him, changing his position and directing his gun handling and pointing.

Rick and my nephew made it through 50 targets, some fired from more stations than others. He was breaking clay targets more often than missing them at the conclusion of the session, and they both returned at the end beaming. Sixteen targets came apart out of the last 25 — not bad for a new shooter, even if many of the shots were taken from Stations One and Seven. It was the best $100 I ever spent!

Football, baseball, golf, basketball — they all have coaches — every sport does. They all expect to be paid as professional instructors, not because they can play the game well but because they can teach it and improve a player. Exceptional players are many, but exceptional coaches are few.

A couple lessons from a professional coach can make the difference between staying in the game or walking away. It is a well–spent price of admission for a new player in the shotgun sports. Check out the books and videos from coaches on our website. Contact one of these great coaches to get your new shooter started on the right foot!