Kids and Clays - Part II
While the monetary rewards for teaching kids how to shoot may be small, your heart will be overflowing when you see the huge smiles they will give you the first time they break a target.
It has been over six years since I wrote the original Kids and Clays article which appeared in Shotgun Sports. This is the 11th year I have been teaching kids to shoot clay targets through the auspices of the 4H program and the cooperation of the Paris, Texas, Skeet and Trap Club. The following are some of the lessons I have learned over the past years.
Until you participate in an effort like this, you will not believe what a rewarding experience this can be. So if you have an inclination toward teaching and have paid your dues by shooting in the clay target sports, you really should consider getting involved through your local 4H program.
One of the first problems I encountered not taught in the 4H instructor course is the use of the gun safety. Most states now require youngsters to take a hunter safety course before they can obtain a hunting license. Nearly all the courses teach the child to immediately put the gun ON safety after firing a shot. You would be amazed how many of the children remember to put their gun ON safety after firing at a clay target, but the majority don’t remember to take it back off when it is time to take the next shot. While this is not a safety issue, it is disruptive to the teaching process, and it is confusing to the child as to why the gun didn’t go off. It is best if you can convince the child the action of the gun must be open with the safety off until they are standing firmly on the shooting station.
Quite a few of the lower-priced break-open guns will have an automatic safety, so you will have to be alert to whether or not the child takes the safety OFF. I teach my kids to load one round at a time unless they are shooting doubles. This enables you to be aware of the gun status and also gives the shooter more time to consider what he or she is going to do on the next shot.
You will save yourself a few grey hairs if you can convince the organization you represent to obtain a couple of guns for you to use in your program. A good example of what to buy would be the Youth version of a Remington or a Mossberg Youth model pump-action gun in 20 gauge. There are others but these are proven performers for which parts are readily available if needed.
One of the possible gun problems you will encounter is the parents want the kid to shoot a gun belonging to some relative who was always a terrific shot in his day. Usually it will be too long, a 12 or 16-gauge gun with a Full choke and pretty much unsuitable for the task at hand. Usually it is easily demonstrated not to be in the child’s best interest to let the student shoot with Uncle Charley’s gun and then have the child shoot with one of the program’s guns. The opposite end of this is a parent who rushes out to the nearest big box sporting goods store and buys an inexpensive over/under made in some far off foreign land. For a variety of reasons, these guns are unsuitable for the task at hand. Your pupil will fire more rounds in one year than most folks will shoot in a lifetime, and this type of gun cannot stand up to this type of use. It is a much better deal to spend the money on a quality semi-automatic shotgun such as an A400Beretta or Remington 1100, to name a few, than to spend the same amount on an inexpensive over/under or side-by-side shotgun.
Another very important tool you will need is a patterning board. If the range you are using does not have one, you will need to build one for your own use. A 4’x4’, 1/4” sheet of particle board and a couple of 2”x2”s, 8 feet long are all you need. Paint a 3” bullseye in the center of the particle board and nail the particle board to the 2”x2”s. Dig a couple of holes to set the board up to where the bottom edge of the particle board is 2½’ to 3’ above the ground. Set up two distance markers, one at 21 yards from the particle board, which is the distance where the targets cross on a skeet field and one at 32 yards, which is the distance the average person shoots a 16-yard trap target.
Any time you run into a problem that has you baffled, a few shots at the patterning board will usually show you what the problem is. One example of this was a young boy I was teaching who was very inconsistent. One round of skeet he would score in the high teens and the next round would be in the single digits. It did not seem to make any difference whether it was the first or second round, so I knew it wasn’t a flinching problem. One day the child and his dad arrived a little early, so I suggested we go shoot a few shots on the patterning board.
His shots were all over the place, and I noticed he did not have his head down on the stock. I went over to the child and showed him how to properly mount the gun, and then I asked him what he saw when he looked down the rib. The boy looked up at me and said, “I don’t see anything”. It turned out he was holding his head off the gun to see the stacked bead sight picture I had drawn on the blackboard during one of the first lessons I had given his group of children. Once we built up the comb of the stock on his gun to the point where he could keep his head on the gun and still see the beads, he was on his way.
Another recent incident involved two 17-year-old female athletes. I had received a call from the mother of one of my pupils who was trying to set up a 4H shooting program at her school. Both girls and a lot of relatives show up to shoot with totally inappropriate shotguns. This is very common with girls. It became obvious that neither girl had shot much but one had shot a rifle some. I took the girls over to Station 7 to shoot the Low House target. The girl who had shot the rifle struggled because she wanted to aim the shotgun like a rifle. The other girl picked it up right away and could bust both the High and Low House birds off 7 with ease.
They each shot a box of shells, then wanted to try shooting trap. It was the same story. I noticed the girl who was breaking targets did not hold her head down on the gun at all but still broke quite a few targets. The girl who hit most of the targets wanted to come back the next day with her Dad. So the next day the girl and her father came to shoot, and they were most interested in trap. That was fine with me so we set things up. I showed the young lady how to hold the gun and where to put her face on the stock and off we went to shoot some trap targets along with her Dad.
After the first round of trap, neither one had broken more than seven birds, so off to the patterning board we went. Dad shot his new autoloader, and it turned out to have a 90/10 pattern but the 90% was below the point of aim, so that explained his poor showing. Then we had the young lady shoot the patterning board from 32 yards away, and she put about 20 pellets in the upper left-hand corner of the patterning board. Turned out the girl was very much left-eye dominant even though she was right-handed. So whenever you have a really puzzling problem, go to the patterning board for answers.
I had one young lady who did not have a dominant eye. Your best bet in this case is to put tape on one side of his or her glasses to block out whichever eye he or she chooses not to use. You can get an idea of where to locate the tape by having them mount the EMPTY gun, then have the child point the gun at your dominant eye. Take a black magic marker and make a spot on the child’s glasses that blocks the non-aiming eye. This is a trial-and-error process, so it may take several tries to get the spot in the right place.
The following are methods I have developed over the years to teach beginners how to shoot trap and skeet. When using these methods, be sure to keep a close watch on each pupil. When they show signs of tiring, it is time to quit and take up where you left off another day.
An important piece of equipment for anyone shooting shotguns, but especially when teaching beginners and kids, is the patterning board. More problems than you would imagine are made very obvious after a few properly aimed shots are taken on the patterning board.
Usually the students will shoot better at trap than skeet, as the leads are much shorter. Most of your children will start out with a field gun, so most of the misses at trap will be under the bird. For this reason, I start my students out with a low-gun point, and usually I tell them to point their gun at the top edge of the traphouse. This helps them to have some gun speed as their barrel approaches the bird. If they follow-through, they will break the target. To keep things simple, I teach the kids to hold on the top right corner of the traphouse when shooting off Station 1. For Station 2, have them come in about 1/3 of the length of the trap. For Station 3, hold just to the right of center. For Station 4, hold on the right-hand corner of the traphouse, and for Station 5 about 1 foot off the right corner.
One drill I have found to be very useful in teaching students to hit the angle targets of trap is as follows: Set the trap to throw the extreme-left target and turn the oscillator off. Line all your pupils up one behind the other on Station 1. Let each child in turn fire four shots at four left-angle targets and then go back to the end of the line. This enables you to tell the pupil what corrections need to be made to hit the target.
After each pupil has shot at eight targets, move the children to the center station (3) and set the trap to throw straightaway targets. Again, let each pupil in turn shoot two sets of four targets with you telling them what they need to do on each target.
Lastly, take the children to Station 5. Set the machine to throw hard rights and repeat the regimen of each child shooting two sets of four targets with you observing each one and offering advice and encouragement on each target.
The following is a method of teaching skeet to raw beginners. Start your student out on the Low House target on Station 7. Have your student point their empty gun at the crossing marker for the targets and follow the Low House target. Tell the student to pull the trigger when they are on the bird. Usually the student will be very late and pull the trigger when the bird is falling. Repeat this several times and encourage the student to shoot sooner.
It’s important to make sure your students learn proper stance and foot positions on the trap and/or skeet stations This will help them better understand the logic behind the different eye and gun hold points.
Load the gun with one shell and tell the student to shoot the target. Nearly every child can break this target by the third target thrown. Once the shooter can break this target reliably, have them shoot at the High House incomer. Again use an empty gun and tell the pupil to follow the bird across the field and pull the trigger when they are just in front of the target. Once you see the student is pulling the trigger in front of the bird, load one shell and have them shoot the target. As soon as the student can break this target regularly, move the student to their left towards Station 6. When the student can break the target at High 6, move to Station 5. Keep moving the student to his/her left until the student is breaking the High House at Station 4.
At this point, take the student to Station 1 and have them shoot at Low 1. When they can hit Low 1, move to the right and repeat just as you did with the High House target. By this time, your student will have a good idea of what lead is and why it is necessary to shoot in front of the target. This will put the student well on the road to learning how to shoot skeet or any other game that has crossing targets. When you first introduce your student to the doubles, it will help them pick up the idea of shooting two targets if you will use report pairs until the student has an idea of the timing involved.
One common problem to all the clay bird games is teaching your student the proper stance. Most beginners want to stand such they are pointing the gun at where the target will appear. They will have much better success if you can get them to stand where they can easily point the gun at the place where they intend to shoot the target.
While the monetary awards for teaching the kids to shoot are few, you will be rewarded many times by the smiles the children give you when they break a target for the first time. SS
Dave Robinson was raised in a small town in North Texas and has been around guns and hunting all his life. After spending time in the service and college, he moved to Dallas. He shot his first registered skeet targets in 1973 and trap in 1976. Along the way, he was lucky enough to meet Ken Sedlecky, Tommy Oliver, Fred Missildine and Phil Kiner, all of whom had an impact on his shooting. Dave retired from Texas Instruments/Raytheon Corp. as a Senior Design Engineer in 1999. He thought he would spend a lot of time shooting registered targets but fate intervened, and cancer and back surgeries made that impossible. He wrote his first article for Shotgun Sports in 1973. In 1974 he became a certified instructor for the 4H Shooting Sports and has taught children to shoot for over a decade. He often feels they have taught him more than he has taught them.