By Shawn Yates, Trainer Wildrose Carolinas
Shooting season is around the corner. Whether you are after clay targets, waterfowl, or upland game, one thing they all have in common is a firearm. Shawn Yates, head trainer at Wildrose Carolinas, grew up hunting with his family in Southern Virginia and later went on to become a member of the Virginia Tech Clay Target team. Following college, he was a hunt guide on 6500 acres of private quail plantation in Central Florida. He is a class B shooter with the NSCA and enjoys teaching others how to become better shots.
You hear it all the time when you miss that bird or clay target. “Keep your head down next time.” Though it may not make much sense, this is very sound advice. All too often,
shooters who are new to the sport pick their head up off of the gun which can be attributed to one of two different reactions. The first is the anticipation to see if they broke the target. The second and much more difficult to correct is the anticipation of the recoil. Keeping your cheek firmly pressed to the stock of the gun ensures that you are pointing the shotgun where you are actually looking, which is very important if you want to hit anything at all.
Practice not shooting. Practice mounting your shotgun and pointing it at the same spot time and time again. Building muscle memory and getting comfortable holding and mounting your shotgun will lead to more bagged birds and broken clays. Another extension of this is to practice watching birds fly around. This may seem strange, but this gets you accustomed to following an object along its flight path making it easier for you to match speed when you are shooting.
Another tip to help you when you are in doubt about how to hit a target is to “miss” in front of the “bird.” Let’s break this down. When a target is flying through the air, it is moving quickly. If your aim point is directly at the target, you are most likely going to “miss behind”. By the time your brain decides to pull the trigger and your finger moves and the shot from the shotgun shell gets to the target, it will have moved several feet. The correction for this is to lead the target. This means that you have to aim where the target is heading not where it is or has been. When in doubt, always add more lead and get out in front to help you get more birds in your bag or hits on your score card. The correct amount of lead comes with practice. Even if you aren’t shooting clays competitively, working through the setup at a local clay course can allow even an experienced hunter to become more proficient.
Lastly, the most important tip to becoming a better shooter has nothing to do with your gun or with your body, other than protecting yourself. Safety should always be your first priority when you are around firearms, even if you are not the shooter. Shooters should always be aware of their surroundings. This includes having the barrel pointed in a safe direction, having the gun in the open/breach position, making sure the gun is unloaded, or (if the gun is loaded) that the gun has the safety on and is not pointed toward anyone. Everyone should have the basic safety equipment in their vest; eye protection and hearing protection. There is a wide variety of both options available today from five-dollar safety glasses and foam ear buds to specialized sporting glasses and electronic hearing protection such as Grizzly Ears, a Wildrose partner! The most important thing is to have both and utilize them consistently.