By: Earl Mclean
When I first started shooting sporting clays in 1989, the sport was really new in the U.S. All the traps were manually operated and required a trapper to go along with you to operate them. Tournaments were the same way. Even though the trappers were usually teens trying to make a little spending money, it was a pretty expensive sport: $20.00 for a round of 50 was the norm.
Today, many shooters grumble at $25.00. Personally, I think the range owners have done very well considering upkeep, target prices, the increase cost of labor, etc. But, nonetheless, shooters are always looking for more economical ways to practice.
Choosing a Mechanical Trap
A practice that was common when I got started in this sport was to go to the local mart, buy a small mechanical trap and clay targets, and go to the back 40 with a couple of friends and have at it. This is a good start, and today there are many more affordable traps than there were back then – including some made by Champion, Atlas, Do-All, and many others. These start at around $300.00 and go up to $1,000.00. Some have a foot petal that can be used by the shooter if he or she is practicing alone.
Others have a wireless remote that can be operated from several hundred feet away. Those with a little bigger budget to work with may consider a model by MEC, which has a wobble trap that moves left and right approximately 120 degrees, and up and down approximately 60 degrees. The controls allow continuous wobble, or you can lock in at any position to practice. This is a lot of machine for less than $3,000.00. When looking for one of these, it would be best to get a trap with as much adjustment and tilt as possible. All targets, as you know, don’t fly on one plane. The target setter will tilt not only up and down, but left and right, or whatever he can do to give the shooter a challenge.
How to Practice
A target doesn’t have to be at a great distance or coming at a blinding speed to give the shooter a challenge. Curling, falling, quartering, Going away, coming in. High teals, chandelles. Rabbits flying, bouncing, or a combination of these are common. Being able to set these yourself is a big plus when practicing.
For instance, take a simple target launched to travel 40-50 yards with a little curl on it. Try shooting it directly from behind at different distances. Then move clockwise 10-15 degrees at a time, and continue this practice at different distances. If you have to shoot in only one direction for safety or space concerns, simply spin the machine around. When you have mastered one shot, change the angle and pitch, and begin again. The presentations are endless.
Easy and Free Ways to Practice
Most of you reading this likely don’t have a back 40 to practice on. Luckily for us, some of the least practiced and most important sporting clays skills to master are easy and free. (I kind of like free myself.)
(Note: Anytime you practice indoors, check and double-check to make sure your gun is empty!)
Gun to Cheek
Your gun mount is critical to good shooting. When you bring your gun to your cheek – not your cheek to the gun – it should be almost effortless. About two-thirds of your weight should be on your front foot, your body leaning forward. When you bring the gun to your cheek and shoulder simultaneously, your head should not move. When the gun is cheeked, your dominate eye should be looking directly over the rib, which should almost look flat.
Modified Mount Practice
Another modified mount you can practice involves simply mounting your gun, then dropping your shoulder while keeping the gun in the shoulder pocket, breaking the cheek form the gun for a better view of the target, raising your shoulder, and finally bringing the gun back to the cheek without moving your head. While practicing this technique, keep the muzzle on or just below your target or focal point.
Doing this exercise in a mirror will greatly help your move to the target. You should be looking directly into the muzzle when using a mirror for reference, with your eye being the focal point. Repeat, starting with the muzzle away from the focal point, shoulder dropped, looking over the gun. Practice bringing the gun back to your eye in the mirror and cheeking the gun all in one movement.
The first few times you will be erratic. As you practice a few minutes a day, you will notice it becomes quicker and easier, and you won’t have to rush. This simple exercise will help immensely with your accuracy in the field.
Efficient Eye Movement
Another way to practice is shouldering your gun is to set up multiple targets (again, ensure your gun is empty first) and practice the same routine as before, but move from target to target while dropping your shoulder, breaking the cheek weld, and re-cheeking as you go to the next target. If the targets are near the same plane, move your eyes to the target as quickly as possible without taking the gun from your cheek, then follow with the gun. Your eyes always go first; where they look, your hands will follow – taking the gun to the target. Start slowly and then add some speed. Your movement should be swift and controlled, but rushed.
This exercise helps you to focus on the target and not the bead. Looking back at the bead breaks your focus from the target. Once your eyes lock on the target, do not take them off until after the shot is triggered. The more efficiently you use your eyes, the slower the target will appear.
These exercises only need to be done a few minutes at the time. When you start to get tired and erratic, take a break. These exercises may not seem like much, but you will feel pretty quickly the gun start to get heavy. By practicing, though, your stamina will start to increase, and your movements will become quicker and more accurate in just a few days whether or not you actually fire a shot.
Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Going from E class to AA or Masters isn’t going to happen for you overnight, either, but practicing these exercises regularly will certainly give you a boost.
Earl Mclean is a coach and target setter at Drake Landing and is the owner of Heads Up Shooting System LLC, writing from Fuquay Varina, North Carolina.