Every shotgunner can benefit from a professional shooting coach.
Most waterfowl hunters don't think much about needing a shooting coach. Unless duck and/or goose buffs shoot clay targets competitively or for recreation, pure waterfowlers don't realize that their shooting could profit with some instruction. However, I'm convinced that any of us could profit by spending time with a professional shooting coach.
Instructor Will Fennell explains a shotgunning basic to the author.
If true professionals like Albert Pujols, Dustin Pedroia and Tiger Woods have coaches, guys at the top of their respective games, how in the world can't those of us at much lower levels of skill profit from instruction? Obviously, all of us can.
Every baseball team has a batting coach and a pitching coach. Every football team has a defensive line coach, an offensive line coach, a linebacker coach, a quarterback coach and more. This is particularly true at the NFL level but also in college, sometimes even in high school. But don't forget the NFL players are the best in the world and they still profit from coaching.
Shooting instruction has been popular for a long time in England, for many decades, actually. Some feel this transpired because of driven shooting over there. Such shooting was/is very expensive, or, if a shooter was "invited" and didn't do well that person was not invited back. So, instruction became popular for both reasons; the expense involved as well as the possibility of not being invited back. Sporting clays became popular in England many years before the sport even came to our shores, so shotgunning instruction gained even more popularity across the water because of sporting clays.
It was a few years after sporting clays arrived in America that the need was seen for a lot more instruction here. That's because the Brits were beating the American shooters at the game, and beating them badly. So the National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) began instructing and certifying instructors. Shortly thereafter the National Skeet Shooting Association (NSSA) began certifying skeet instructors. Both programs have become very successful. Both organizations now have Level I, Level II and Level III instructors. For the most part these certified instructors teach sporting clays or skeet, but the bottom line is they teach the basics of shotgunning.
Thus instructors from either discipline can help virtually any shotgunner increase their skills. How can they do that? Like any sport there are certain basics that have to be both learned and practiced. This is true of, say, a football lineman and how he takes up his position, how a baseball pitcher goes through his wind-up, how a golfer grips the golf club. But we all have to realize that even when we know shotgunning basics we still have to practice them, and we have to realize that it's easy to slip and not even know it.
I remember watching a Gary Player golf video, and one of his important comments was that he always told his golf pro friends, "Keep a watch on my grip." He knew that, as much as he knew about his club grip, it was still easy for him to grip the club incorrectly.
Just a few of the important shotgunning basics as far as clay target shooting is concerned would be your stance and where you are facing, your muzzle position before calling for the target, and exactly where you look before calling for the target. Believe me, there are many others. So how can your stance, your muzzle position and where you look aid your duck and goose shooting?
It's the fact that during instruction it's easy for you to see how important these basics are, how much easier the target is to break if you follow these simple basics. Once you see this importance you are on your way to realizing some of what it takes to be more productive in your waterfowl shooting.
Obviously, I am urging all of you to take some instruction. You'll be much better for it regardless of how well (or how poorly) you score in the field. I have a friend who is an excellent shot on most game birds, but he began hunting crows with two friends of his who were exceptional at making very long shots on those black marauders. Jim asked them, "How much lead are you putting on those birds?" One replied like eight, 10 and 12 feet, depending on the distance. But Jim is a swing-through shooter. He comes from behind the bird and pulls the trigger as he passes the bird. But on a 55-yard crow that system wasn't working for him.
As well as Jim knows the swing through for most of his shooting, he needs to also know the sustained lead method and the pull away method. An instructor could show him (or you) how to practice the two methods that he is not now familiar with. Every top shotgunner can use any of the three methods in a waterfowling situation.
Another facet of shotgunning basics you will learn if you spend time with an instructor is the importance of very hard focus on the bird. Maybe you are aware of this already. If not, I assure you hard focus will have you scoring a lot better on ducks and geese. This is a learned skill and one that benefits from practice. An instructor can have you not only seeing the entire target better; that person can have you making a sharp focus on the target's leading edge.
This you can transfer over to a very sharp focus on the eye of a close-range duck, the greenhead of a more distant mallard, the white cheek patch of a Canada goose. Sure, you might see all of these small details now but with instruction and practice you can see them even better. The better you see these small target details the more effective your shooting will become.
Assuming you are willing to try a shooting lesson you must go at it with the correct attitude. I know some students begin their lesson thinking they already know a lot, or they know nearly as much as the instructor. But the best attitude is to be a listener.
If your attitude is that you are going to offer instructions of your own from time to time, the instructor might not care, but you will not be benefiting from the lesson as much as you possibly could.
If you do take instruction, take along your notebook. If you are taking the lesson alone don't hesitate to stop from time to time to write down key points about what you have been taught. But maybe a hunting partner or two have signed up to take a lesson from a professional with you. If that's the case two things are important. Number one, make your notes while the teacher is giving instruction to one of your friends.
Number two, don't back off away from the action when the other person is being instructed. Instead stay very close by listening to the instructions being given to your buddy. This is when you will probably also be making more notes. In a
shotgun column a couple of years ago I suggested keeping a gunning log with notes covering every hunt you have made, every scouting trip, etc. I hope some of you have done that and are benefiting from it. Making notes during a shooting lesson is even more important. Why?
Because you are not going to be able to retain everything you learn. Even if you take notes this is true, but if you don't take notes that you can refer to later you will forget even more. Taking a shooting lesson is only the tip of the iceberg, however. It would be like spending weeks learning a new language, never practicing that language for six months and then expecting to remember anything you learned previously.
To make a shooting lesson really pay off you have to make the commitment to go out and practice what you have learned. The more you practice the basics you have been taught the more you are going to be enriched by your shooting lesson.
Continue keeping records about your practice sessions. Doing so will verify that you are making progress, and as progress is being made your confidence in your shooting will increase, plus that will be added impetus for you to continue practicing. Most who take a shooting lesson and follow that up with persistent practice almost invariably go back for another lesson. No doubt they realize (1) how much they have learned, (2) how much the lesson has benefited them, and (3) they realize how much more they can learn.
Once you are signed up for a lesson, come prepared. Bring lots of shells; four boxes will never do. Take more than you know you will need. It won't be unusual if you fire 500 shells in a day! Select a gun that does not have a lot of recoil. You'll quickly quit on a hard-kicking gun long before your lesson is over.
Take eye and ear protection. Electronic ear protection is excellent for lesson taking because you can hear what the instructor is telling you with ease, plus you will be able to hear the instructions given to others in your shooting party. Take clothes commensurate with the season, but don't wear so much clothing that it could affect your freedom of swinging.
I hope you will give serious consideration to this month's column suggestion. I know you won't be sorry. Over the years I must have taken at least 30 shooting lessons, and I continue to take them. I learned plenty from every such lesson. I have never been with an instructor who didn't pick up something I was doing incorrectly. Successful shotgun shooting is not easy; that skill is not something we are born with, although it's certainly true that some are born with more natural ability than others. But there is so much everyone can learn from taking a lesson that it makes doing it very worthwhile.
Nick Sisley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.