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Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect - Part Six

'Shooting Straight At Competition'.

To help illustrate this article, I am privileged to have been granted permission to use extracts from the Roger Silcox instructional video “Shooting Straight At Competition”, which I assisted in the making of during 1993 at the Roundwood Shooting Ground, Hampshire.

Over the previous two articles we have reviewed in depth the correct techniques for shooting gun down using the “Parallel Mount”, so now it’s time to look at how we apply these skills to the individual targets we are going to encounter on the Sporting Clays course and how we can achieve the goal of “Shooting Straight at Competition”.


Now if there is one target that at some time or other during a shooters life inevitably becomes their “Bogey Bird” then it’s the good old Bolting Rabbit and it’s when tackling this particular target that shooting gun down with the correct parallel mount technique, will prove devastatingly successful.

The most common fault is in the start point, where a shooter waits with the barrels elevated upwards and set above the line of the rabbit run with the eye looking down over the end of the muzzles. This will mean that when the mount starts the gun comes up in a stock/muzzle see-sawing action resulting in poor elevation control of the barrels, so getting the line correct and making accurate contact with the target becomes far more difficult than necessary, which in turn makes accurately assessing the Rabbits speed more difficult.

In this picture we see how the shooter is starting with his muzzles set above the line of the Rabbit run which is approx.30 meters away, with the trap positioned behind the screen to the right of the cage upright. If you look closely you will see his eyes are looking down over the top of the barrels, so when the mount begins his back hand will lift the stock in a see-saw motion and the muzzles will drop below the line instead of coming up to it!, also his high gun hold will mean the mount will be too quick, this will result in the gun coming up to his eye ahead of the target (Not on it) and if he shoots as the gun comes into the shoulder it will mean a Miss in Front, or if he stops the swing in order for the rabbit to catch up, we know this will be an ambush shot and result in a Miss Behind!

A little concentration on how you set your start point and stance will pay dividends, if you have your muzzles too high, you will never really read the line of the target, and if you haven’t got the line you have no base point to work from, without the line the speed of the target becomes a secondary consideration.

So the muzzles must be placed below the line of the Rabbit Run, parallel with it, at a level and at a pick up point that enables you to easily correlate the gun movement with both the speed of the target and the distance it is away. Remember the further the target is away from you, the barrels start lower down in order to generate a bigger movement and the closer it is, the gun hold point is higher up for a smaller mount movement. Think of it in the Golf analogy we have used before, the further you want to hit the ball down the Fairway, the further back you take the club head to make a bigger swing, to Chip the ball onto the Green you only take the club head back a short way for a smaller swing!.

Image 1. Correct Parallel Muzzle Start Point. Image 2. Incorrect Muzzle Elevation above the line.

In the following sequence of pictures (below) we see Roger Silcox shooting a Rabbit Target set at a distance of 20 meters running left to right. He begins with the muzzles set below the line of the run, at a point out from the trap house where he can make solid visual contact with the target so it doesn’t get the jump on him.

This is where the shot just becomes a case of simple geometry combined with natural pointing ability, as the eye locks on to the Rabbit, at the visual pick up point, start the mount with the barrels coming up from underneath the line and converge on to the target in a flat diagonal approach. As the gun comes into your face, at the exact moment you make contact with the clay, the barrels will have automatically matched the speed of the Rabbit and will be accelerating with the swing as you squeeze the trigger generating the “Natural Lead” and placing the shot where the target’s going not where it has been.

Here is the sequence again from the shooters view and shows the barrels coming up to make contact with the target on that flat diagonal approach.

When most shooters miss a Rabbit target they and the other shooters around them will see a dust cloud appear behind it as the pellets strike the ground, so they all naturally assume that the shot went behind and applying extra lead is what’s required to hit the next target. But did they really shoot behind it?

In fact the majority of lost Rabbits are either missed over the top or more commonly, missed in front! This is because unlike all the other targets on the Sporting course the Rabbit, being launched along the ground, has a background against which we visually measure its speed so it fools us in to thinking its traveling faster than it really is, especially as a rabbit will slow down much quicker after it leaves the trap than an air launched clay, purely because of its contact with the ground.

Think about an airplane flying across a clear sky. If it is a big plane, it will probably look like it is barely moving, while, in reality, it is moving at several hundred miles per hour. This is because there is nothing to get a reference from up in the sky (just like a tower target). When that same plane is landing (at a much slower speed), it looks a lot faster than when in the sky. The reason it looks faster is now you have reference points — the ground and different things along the plane’s path. The same applies to a Rabbit target.

So if you see a dust cloud behind the Rabbit after you shoot, how could you possibly have missed in front? Well it’s all down to this “Speed Thing”, no doubt by the time the shooter enters the Stand they have already observed numerous targets being shot at (no doubt seeing many missed) and have been concentrating their mind on the question of “How Much Lead Do I Give That”, which as mentioned before in this series is the very last thing they should be thinking of.

So by the time it comes for them to step up to the Cage, they have been fooled by that Rabbit and have convinced themselves that it needs “X” amount of lead to hit it, which will be the first thing they will be concentrating on when they call Pull, not the last thing. This means as soon as the Rabbit appears they will rush the mount, go roaring away with the barrels, forgetting about the prime objective of making accurate contact with it, and end up out -running the Rabbit as they continue to accelerate whilst the target is in fact slowing down, thus the “Miss In Front”. The problem is, what we now see is the shot string, that’s been ahead of the Rabbit, striking the ground behind a second or so after the target rolls by, giving the visual impression of “Missing Behind”

There is also a second optical illusion, as when the shot string kicks up dust; our eyes stop for a fraction of a second to look at the movement of the dirt. When we look back at the target, it has rolled past the dust cloud, so again it re-enforces that we were behind the target.

In this picture (left) we see the classic “Dust Cloud’ appearing behind the Rabbit which indicates the illusion, just look how far ahead the shooters barrels are, there is no way he has missed behind, it’s just the time difference between the shot string hitting the ground behind and the Rabbit running on, also look how far above the run the barrels are pointing which means the shot has gone high over the top as well as in front, taking even more time for the shot string to hit the ground beyond and increasing the impression of “Missing Behind”.

The secret of successfully and consistently hitting a Rabbit Clay, using the flat diagonal approach to make accurate contact, is to just point at and shoot the bottom front edge of the target, in effect shooting its “Front Legs Off”, as long as you have made the right amount of movement, controlling the speed to converge with the target, the natural momentum will place the barrels on the run the right distance ahead.

Secondly and just as important is to shoot at the base of the Rabbit, remember 60% of the shot is set to be above the rib, so this ensures the maximum force of the pattern strikes the target with the remaining 40% bouncing back up of the ground adding to the impact, pointing the barrels any higher will inevitably send the majority of shot above reducing the chances of a successful break.

Rabbit clays are made a lot thicker and stronger than standard clays to withstand the force of being thrown along the ground and there are many a target picked up after a shoot that have survived to run another day with several pellet holes through them .

The one “Predictable” thing about when shooting Rabbits is that they will be “Unpredictable” in their behavior, as much as they are called “Bolting Rabbits” they are very often “Bouncing Rabbits” launching themselves skywards as they hit a bump in the ground or even debris from broken clays, this can even suddenly slow them down.

This is where shooting gun down at these targets gives the considerable advantage of freedom of movement, again as stated in previous articles, whilst the Gun is out of the face and shoulder it is so much easier to respond to and match any change in the targets behavior, so if it decides to jump just keep pointing, go with it and dust it whilst its airborne.

The most missed rabbit target I ever saw at a shoot was one that was just dropped down a ramp (Manually) which rolled very slowly along a run for approx 6 or 7 meters and at a distance of only 3 to 4 meters away from the stand.

It caused both a huge amount of frustration and a huge amount of laughter as shooter after shooter struggled to consistently hit this “Wascally Wabbit”.

The majority decided to shoot this target “Gun Up” squeezing the trigger almost the instant the clay appeared, however they were too quick and most missed in front every time, it wasn’t until one elderly gentleman came along that the stand was shot straight for the first time on the day. How did he do it? He simply put his barrels below the line, called pull and mounted his gun up to his face at exactly the same speed as the Rabbit was moving, very slowly; as the gun came into his cheek he just shot straight at the clay breaking all 8 ex.8. For many of those shooters this was a classic case of “You don’t miss them because you can’t hit them, you miss them because you’re not doing it right”.

Over the many years I spent as a Sporting & F.I.T.A.S.C competitor, I would so often witness a shooter turn the corner and come to the “Rabbit Stand” with a look of desperation on their face at the prospect of that “Bogey “ target but this should never have been the case. The Rabbit is most often the easiest of all targets to shoot and should be a “Card Filler” and a “Straight Strand”, their apprehension was only because, those shooters didn’t have a solid technique and practiced system that they could rely on to produce consistency and success.

There is no truer saying than “Knowledge Dispels Fear” so armed with the information contained in this article you should now be able to visit any shooting ground and approach the “Rabbit Stand” without any fear and have the confidence in knowing that you will be “Shooting It Straight”.

Practice! Practice! Practice! And More Practice!

Like it or not we only improve our skills, regardless of what they are, with Practice and this especially applies when we are trying something new or different to what we have been previously using and are used to, what we consider is the “Norm”, what in fact, we are comfortable with.

It is common when during a lesson when I change the way a pupil mounts their gun or alter their stance that they turn and say “That Feels Very Odd”, and of course it will do, because it is “Different” to what their Brain has become comfortable with and considers the norm. Just because it feels right, it doesn’t always mean it is right.

It takes time to develop new skills and invariably the “Learning Curve” means we often get worse before we get better as the new technique becomes the “Norm” and imbeds itself in the Brains comfort zone.

You should never be afraid to change something. It is better to miss a target in ten different places than ten times in the same place – at least you are trying and all the time that you are trying something different, you are learning. There is definitely no such thing in Shooting as a quick fix and patience when practicing is the true virtue.

The most important thing is to set aside some separate time at your Club range to just “Practice”, you can’t combine it with your Social or Competitive Shooting and you must resist the temptation to ask other shooters where you missed. To accurately evaluate your shot, they must be in the correct position, close to you, looking over your shoulder at where the gun is in relation to the target when you pull the trigger – not beside you or maybe two or three yards behind you. What other shooters (not in the correct position) see is a paradox, not what really happened.

Fellow shooters tend to look at your targets, not at what you are physically doing. They will only look at your set up when you have missed – and then see that the gun is behind the target because you have completed the shot and already stopped the gun.

That’s why 99% of shooters just tell friends “You Missed That Behind” and not “You Missed That Because”.

These final pictures show my Coaching Mentor and Great Friend, Sam Grice, Proprietor of Long Acres shooting School, Newmarket, UK, where I was his Senior Instructor from 1993 to 2008.

It takes many years to become a professional shotgun coach and to see the faults that occur in the three to five seconds it takes to execute a shot.

I sincerely hope my coaching methods, advice and the accompanying photographs in this series of articles will give you something to consider, practice and most importantly bring you the enjoyment of shooting with confidence and style that

produces that “Perfect Shot” every time.

Remember, Good Shooting & Safe Shooting Are No Accident!

Best wishes... Keith..


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