Seven Steps to Shotgun Heaven

(Learn Quickly How to Break Clay Birds)

I wrote the original version circa 1995. I’ve re-read and updated it. The changes/comments can be found in bold and italics. What is interesting is that there are no fundamental changes, but I just expanded some details.

Short version

  1.  Find a good teacher/coach.
  2.  Buy a gas operated autoloader.
  3.  Have the gun fitted.
  4.  Take instruction for a full day twice a year.
  5.  Shoot the one gun exclusively for one year.
  6.  If you decide to get serious, mortgage the farm and buy the best gun.
  7.  Have the gun fitted and shoot this gun for the rest of your life.

Long version

1. Find a good teacher/coach.

A. You may very well get lucky and find a fellow shooter who is a good teacher/coach, but often a fellow shooter’s advice is at best, only part of the whole solution and at worst, totally wrong. You may be getting advice from someone who can’t determine what his own mistakes are much less tell you what your mistakes are.

B. A good teacher/coach will have a teaching system that will break down the act of shooting into simple, easily memorized parts. Once the component parts are memorized, the parts when put together will result in good form without physical mistakes. Once the physical mistakes are minimized, or eliminated, then one can concentrate on the mental part of the game, the equally, if not more challenging part of the game. Vital teaching skills: Observation, Communication.

C. When you pay for instruction, you pay attention.

2. Buy a gas operated autoloader in 12 or 20 gauge

A. Relatively inexpensive. For about $500.00 you can get started in the game without spending all the children’s college tuition. Chances are it will last about 10,000-15,000 rounds before you’ll need to replace parts, and that can be done inexpensively. Buying cases of 12 or 20 gauge ammo when the discount store is having specials will cost just a little more than reloading, so reloading may not be cost effective. By not reloading, you won’t need to chase the empties around the field. The price of gas operated autoloaders has increased to the $1500 level. Inflation, shooters. Don’t worry that I’m telling you to buy an gas operated autoloader here, and later I will tell you to buy an Over and Under. You will keep this gun to use as a “bad weather gun” or a loaner gun when you take friends and relatives shotgunning for their first time. Let’s get serious now, you’re not going to let some novice handle and shoot your expensive O/U are you? But for now, you are just learning how to shoot, and you don’t know how committed you are to the game, so it does not make sense to spend a bunch of money at this time, so get the gas autoloader. If you decide you don’t like the game, you can sell your autoloader for at least half of what you paid for it, and you won’t feel like you tossed too much money down the drain.

B. Reduces felt recoil–less Kick, less fatigue, more broken birds.

3. Have the gun fitted. Individuals are different. (Well, now that’s a revelation.) The physical dimensions of a stock shotgun are made to fit the average person, but will not fit everyone. A properly fitted gun will meet the shoulder and face and present a consistent and repeatable sight picture that will allow the shooter to concentrate on the clay target, not the gun. Most modern autoloaders have an eccentric washer/shim system in the buttstock that allows the buttstock to be moved so that almost every individual can have a properly fitted gun without needing a gunsmith to change anything on the shotgun. The problem of knowing which direction to change the buttstock still exists, so gun fitting is vitally important.

A Try Gun is a shotgun with a fully adjustable stock that an experience fitter uses to find your proper stock dimensions.

4. Take instruction for a full day twice a year.

You’ve selected your teacher/coach; you should have confidence in you teacher/coach. Invariably you will develop small irregularities in your style that will need to be corrected. Who better to correct you that the person who taught you. At worst he will correct some major flaws. At best, he will tell you that you are doing nothing wrong, but simply need to practice more. Don’t feel you need to stay with your original coaching selection. There are plenty of ways to teach shooting. In fact I would recommend switching if you don’t feel you are progressing as a shooter.

5. Shoot the one gun exclusively for one year. A whole year. Don’t pick up another, and certainly don’t buy another gun. Learn to shoot one gun for a whole year. Shoot a lot, shoot often. You want the gun to be part of you, too feel like part of your body, with movements that require no thought or pause. You don’t need to think about your hand position when you pick up a pen to sign your name. You shouldn’t have to think about anything other than the target when you shoot. Putting another variable, a different gun, at this time can be confusing and regressive. Learn to shoot one gun well before picking another. Then after the year if you decide you enjoy the game and want to continue, go to step 6.

6. If you decide to get serious, mortgage the farm and buy the best gun.

Rather than take little baby steps to the ultimate gun purchase, characterized by buying less expensive guns than what you really want, and using the excuse that you are getting something “just as good,” and that the top of the line is an overpriced piece of European marketing. Stop kidding yourself, mortgage the farm, and buy the damm gun that you really want, whether that gun is a Belgium Browning, a Perazzi or a Kreighoff, or whatever.

The envy of seeing others possess and shoot O/Us is too mighty a force to resist. It is like gravity; inexorable and constant. It is futile to resist. Just get it. There are three reasons people leave gas operated semi-autos and go to over and unders, but the real reason is pride of ownership. They want a nice O/U just like the other shooters. Envy, Pride, they a couple of the 7 Deadly Sins, no? Need more excuses? Here are the “rational” reasons for having an O/U:

A. I don’t want to pick up empty hulls. If I use an autoloader, I have to pick up hulls because it is a requirement to clean up after oneself at most clubs; and besides, I want the hulls for reloading and I don’t want them dirty or stepped on or otherwise mucked up.

B. I’m tired of cleaning gas operated guns. Even though most gas operated guns can run for a long, long time without cleaning, I’m a clean shooter, I clean my guns. Gas guns are more dirty than O/Us and require more time and attention than I’m willing to give.

C. I feel the need to have the option of having two chokes of choice when shooting. The two barrels of an O/U can be choked differently, so if one has a barrel selector, I can pick the choke sequence to use at a target pair. Not so with a gas gun. On a target pair, the first and second shot will have the same choke.

“Yeah, but RL, I can’t take the recoil shooting an O/U” No worries, mate. Most ammunition manufacturers make 1 oz. 12 gauge shells that are low recoil. Most experienced 12 gauge shooters use these shells or make their own. If you can’t take the recoil of these 1 oz. loads, you may have to stick to a gas gun in 12 or even 20 gauge. This isn’t a bad thing. After all that’s what I recommended in #2. Just patronize a range where you don’t have to pick up your empties, hope that the cost of ammo is within your budget, and use an IC or MOD choke and don’t worry about chokes. Oh and find someone to clean your gun for you.

7. Have the gun fitted and shoot this gun for the rest of your life. You’ve got the ultimate shotgun, have it fitted and shoot this for the rest of your life. There is no higher plane. There is not a better gun than what you’ve got. It may take you some time, perhaps as long as a season to get used to this new gun, because it will weigh, point and swing differently than what you are familiar with. Be patient. Your scores may very well drop and then plateau at a lower level than when you had the cheap autoloader. Go back to your teacher/coach and work out your problems with him/her. You’ve bought the best and if there is any problem it’s you, not the gun. OK? Next target please. PULL!

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1 Response to Seven Steps to Shotgun Heaven

  1. Bruce Ramsey says:

    i shoot for fun.. not money ..i enjoy shooting 3 different guns..sometimes at 70 years old ..the guns of choice become heavy…the 1100 trap has become my trap gun..and my o/u now goes for doves.


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