The Improvement Journey

Shotgun tips

Brian Ash is coaching a group of shooters in a total emersion class at the 74 Ranch.

For the past four years on our podcasts, we have been discussing how you can bring your game to new levels.  When you understand that you have to build your own game and that you cannot use anyone else’s game, it pretty much puts things in perspective!

Most wing and clay shooters continue hoping they will some day just understand better what it looks like to become consistent at shooting a moving target.  Most are satisfied with their ability, but they don’t go to the range and practice because they don’t understand what they must practice to get better and become more consistent.  

Everyone out there wants to become more consistent with their shotgun.  Shooters think there is a magic bullet out there and that tournament winners know what it is. If they could just know or see what the pros see, then they, too, could shoot like the pros.  Our research shows that the attitude of a quick easy fix is there and continues being there because it fits a shooter’s paradigm of wanting to get better but not wanting to have to work for it.

To get a different result you gotta change your approach. That requires the one thing that shooters will not do — put in the time and work to build the skill the right way so you can depend on it.  Almost without exception, shooters will not really put in the work to build their skill level so their game can elevate to higher levels.  They take lessons that are built around learning a technique that someone else has put in the time to master, but they think that if they just understand the technique well enough, that they will be able to reproduce it well enough to improve their consistency.  We are afraid it doesn’t work that way. 

Trying to hit a moving target with a shotgun is perhaps the most visually confusing task anyone could attempt, and what it looks like must be learned and then repeated enough so that it becomes a skill.  Taking a lesson from a professional coach is the quickest way to improve your shooting, and we find that learning in a group for two to three days optimizes the learning.  Shooters are amazed as how much they learn from hearing the same thing said in different ways and, by the time they are in the box to shoot, they “get it” so much faster.

There is a lot of shooting advice out there, but few if any have studied skill building in the brain as much as we have. Focus is an evolving phenomenon from beginner to master class, and the conundrum is that the better you get the LESS YOU MUST SEE TO PERFORM AT HIGHER AND HIGHER LEVELS!

What the brain perceives as you become more skillful is an amazing evolution and something that we have been studying and documenting for 27 years as professional coaches. There are certain steps you must go through as a shooter to keep pushing your skill to higher and higher levels! Those steps are not based on how someone else did it or what someone else sees; it is based on what specifically you have done and where you are in the evolution of your vision when shooting a moving target with a shotgun.

In the end, it takes a greater and greater commitment to train longer and at higher levels to achieve higher and higher successes.   Sooner rather than later that commitment is not met with the desire of shooters to put in the time, which leads to looking for the shortcut by trying to see or do what some other shooters are doing.

News flash — you can’t do what another shooter, who has put in the effort and work to achieve higher and higher successes, can do. Skill is not built that way.  The brain understands skill as a sequence of events that, through repetition, allows for it to anticipate ahead of what you are about to do and take over the tasking of orchestrating the shot while you focus on the target. 

Skill is what you do when you are not thinking!  Yet shooters world wide are still trying to understand technique as it is described in articles just like this one and, when they try to implement even the most simple technique while they are thinking about what they are doing, they fall way short.  Vicki said in a seminar somewhere in our past, “Thinking while performing is a distraction!”  Wow what a concept!

Most shooters never take their practice game to higher levels and are not building the long-term memory that they can trust, so they begin to hope and try to think their way through the sequence. 

When it comes to practice, how you should practice and what you should do when practicing, there are four basic trajectories in wing and clay shooting: right-to-left and left-to-right crossing and quartering.  Our advice is to pick one of the crossing trajectories and shoot nothing but that trajectory for a whole session. 

The reason we pick the crossing trajectory is that it requires the most movement and the most amount of lead, and sooner or later you must face both and get comfortable with them.  It will take about three or four trips to the range shooting from 150-250 targets each time to begin getting comfortable with the move and mount.  While that might be boring, the discipline to single out one trajectory to train on is a necessity for improving your ability to shoot a shotgun with any consistency. 

Once you have spent your time and shot 1,000 crossers from the same side, then switch the direction to the opposite side and begin the process over again.  Once you have done your 1,000 shots on that crossing trajectory, go to the quartering shots and do 750 shots at each.  At that point, you will begin creating a feel for each move and mount.  If you want that to happen sooner rather than later, then do your mounting at home doing the OSP Three-Bullet Drill and the OSP Flashlight Drill.  In fact, we can say from experience that if you will touch your gun every day for 10 minutes or so and combine the home drills with trips to the range, you will see improvement much more quickly!

There will be some of you out there who will say that sporting clays is a game of pairs, not singles, and ask why should we spend time shooting singles instead of pairs?  First, you will never shoot better than your basic move and mount, and you will never master the moving and mounting of your shotgun, which means that it is a continuing journey of improvement.  Second, from a strategy standpoint, the game is really about the first bird in the pair because if you can consistently hit the first bird in the pair where it makes the second bird easier to see and move to, then you can play it safe on the second bird when breaking the first bird. 

As you might guess, once you begin moving and mounting the gun consistently on all four trajectories, then your practice should move from not just hitting the bird, but hitting the bird where you need to so the second bird is easy to see and easy to hit. 

We call that moving the break point on single targets. So while you are practicing your move and mount, you are also practicing the timing it takes to make everything you are doing to come together in the chosen break point.  Our research shows that if you hit the first bird on a pair that your percentage goes up to 80 percent on the second shot and, if you miss the first bird, your percentage goes to 20 percent on the second bird, which shows you how important the first bird is in a pair. 

All of these shots must be preceded by a detailed visualization of the last 10-15-percent of the shot, and your shot must be executed based on that prediction.  That is the only way for every shot you take in practice to be filed in your long-term memory.  The more shots you have deliberately filed in your long–term memory, the greater the number of shots in your library and the easier it becomes to trust yourself and not think during the shot.  The problem most shooters have is that they do not predict and execute based on their prediction and, regardless of their result, they don’t get better, and they can’t trust themselves to take the shot without thinking.  

You must build your own library of shots and, through repetition, the brain recognizes what you are about to do as the sequence begins and it takes over the shot.  The more deliberate you are in your practice, the earlier in the shot the brain takes over and actually changes what you are doing as you are doing it. You just come along for the ride.  When that happens shooting/performing with a shotgun really gets fun whether you are keeping score or not, and whether the birds have feathers or paint on them.–Gil and Vicki Ash

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