How To Practice

Hi Bruce,

I have a question that I thought you must get asked several hundred times, but when I searched the site, I couldn’t find any applicable questions, so here goes:

I’m a shooter that has been shooting recreationally for the last several years, but is interested in progressing from an intermediate shooter to something better, what are your thoughts on how to improve?

I know that lessons and a good coach are very important, but if you can only see a coach every six months, you’ve got a lot of time to work by yourself. I’ve read articles indicating that some of the pros use tighter chokes, lighter loads, or both. Others have indicated you should practice exactly as you shoot in competition. What are your thoughts? If chokes and lighter loads are the answer, at what point is it too much? Full choke on every stand? One choke constriction above what you would normally shoot? Or should a person on a budget shoot less often to afford a coach every month or two instead?

Thanks in advance for the info!


Dear Dave,

Since your discipline is sporting clays, I would train a little differently than I would for fixed bird games like skeet and trap.

A coach is a great idea. As I tell my students, I won’t teach you anything you wouldn’t find out for yourself eventually, but I will save you a lot of time and money. The hard part of finding a coach is to pick one who jibes with your style. It is much easier for a coach if you are a “tabula rasa” (clean slate). Most of us aren’t and have already started on a shooting style, whether dictated by some physical limitation or years of shooting in a certain way. Since there are many, many ways to properly kill a clay bird, a good coach will work with you as far as possible, unless you are just plain doing horrible things. As I said, find a coach who is a good “fit” in both personality and style for the way you shoot.

When you are taking your lesson, run a small tape recorder and transcribe the session later. Lessons are too expensive to trust to memory. You are paying for that advice. Get your money’s worth. Ideally, I would think that a lesson every two to three months would be perfect. More often perhaps at first, and less later as you matured as a shooter. There isn’t any real point in taking a lesson every week. I know people who do that and nothing has time to settle in. Take a second lesson when you have faithfully practiced what you were taught in the first. I certainly wouldn’t take more than one a month at first. It really depends on how much opportunity you have to shoot.

The big thing about sporting clays is that “He who travels, wins.” You may scribe this not-so-original Technoid quote on the nearest piece of granite. The key to shooting well at sporting clays is to develop a good basic style and then build the biggest “target book” you can. I actually believe that familiarity with a broad range of target presentations is more important than some types of shooting skill in this game. A shooter of average skill who has traveled around to all the courses and seen all the presentations possible, can often beat a shooter of somewhat higher skill who has only practiced on a few presentations at his local club. This is not true in trap and skeet because the targets are more or less the same where ever you go, but it is true in sporting clays. I have seen it time and time again. I don’t mean to imply that a zero talent shooter can beat a miracle worker just by knowing all the birds, but if the two shooters are sort of close, the guy with the biggest mental target book wins. In sporting clays it is very often true that money talks and talent walks. It’s a nasty world out there.

Not everyone is able to constantly travel around to shoot different courses. No one, I repeat, no one, is able to shoot as much, as often or in as many different locations as they would like. Most sporting clays shooters with real lives find that they have to do most of their shooting within a day trip of home. That means fairly constant practice at one or two local clubs where the presentations don’t change all that often.

Shooting at familiar ranges won’t do much to add to your “target book”, but it is the right time to work on your shooting style. Since you will be familiar with the targets, it is a good time to try different techniques to see what works for you. Your coach will have shown you four different methods of lead and when he thinks that each one is useful. The home course familiarity will give you the chance to try some secondary methods and see how they work. If you have the opportunity to do it safely, see if you can take the birds from different shooting positions to get some variation.

Should you use lighter loads or tighter chokes? I don’t think so. Use exactly what you would use in a match. Using a tighter choke than necessary will cause you to shoot differently. It will subconsciously make you “aim” a bit more. There is no point in practicing one way and then shooting another in a match.

Ditto shells. I do NOT like to practice with light loads and then use heavy ones in a match. The whole point of practice is just that- practice. If you switch everything around when you get in a match, then you haven’t really practiced, have you? If your gun kicks too much with standard loads when you practice, either always shoot lighter loads in practice and matches, or get a gun that doesn’t kick so much.

Lastly, when you practice, be serious. Keep a log book and read it. Have a specific goal in mind every time you go out to practice. Write down what the goal is and how you attempted to reach it. It’s great fun shooting with your buddies and fooling around, but each and every shot you fire at a sporting clays practice target costs you around fifty cents. Joke it up with your buddies before and after you shoot, not during.

Also, always try to squad with the best shooters you can find. Never, ever squad with poorer shooters if you can help it. Yes, I know that this sounds like drowning puppies, but if you are determined to get better and yet maximize your time and money, you have to be focused. If you want to help a new shooter (and you should help and encourage every new shooter you can), go out with them without your gun and devote your full attention to helping them. This will maximize their benefit and will allow you to remain focused when you shoot at another time. You will also be surprised at how much you yourself learn when you are helping someone else to learn.

As an intermediate shooter, don’t pretend to be something you are not, but you can help as a novitiate coach by repeating the basics that your coach taught you. You can also help any shooter by watching him (not his targets) as he shoots. We shooters are great at knowing where we are shooting in relation to the bird, but we aren’t so good at judging how our bodies move during the delivery of the shot. Most shooters can’t tell when they have stopped their swing because they didn’t have an open enough stance. Even a casual bystander can see it though.

Bottom line: shooting well is a little like that old taxi joke of how to get to Carnegie hall, but only part of the answer is “practice, practice, practice”. You have to practice smart and get as much variety as possible.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid at <>
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

This entry was posted in Shotgun related. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.