Written by Deborah McKown
If you try to learn the shotgun sports in mid-life, you go through different stages than when starting out as a youngster from a family of shooters.
In the beginning, as a mature adult, you welcome and encourage all the direction you can get. Because after all, given your age, you really want to improve fast – making up for lost time, if you will. But given your limited skills, the advice typically comes down to the same two refrains of “you’re behind it,” and “you’re stopping the gun.”
As you shoot with a wider circle of people and become more experienced, the advice from your squad mates becomes more varied as they now attempt to help you break some of the bad habits you’ve started to develop. In addition to “you’re behind it” and “you’re stopping the gun,” you now start to hear things like “you’re in front,” “you’re over,” “you’re under,” “your gun doesn’t fit,” “your feet are in the wrong position,” “you’re lifting your head off the stock.”
The help becomes a frustrating torrent of tips, all with an underlying tone of encouragement. At this point you must never discourage their assistance. The worst thing you can do is get angry at them. If you attempt to actively reject this stream of confusing and often conflicting advice, and continue missing targets, you will receive something far more discouraging, and that is the heartbreaking and deafening silence of pity
This is an important lesson to learn. Because once you reach the level where you really do know what’s best for yourself, where you stay in the gun after the shot is fired to analyze your miss, you’ve finally reached the level of proficiency of a developed shooter. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll break every target, but it does mean you can be absolutely honest with yourself in terms of that critical self-assessment necessary to refine your game and take it to the next level. At that point, you can tune out the cacophony behind you and focus 100 percent on the target.
I’ve been privileged to shoot with a supportive and congenial group during my formative shotgun years. Only once have I really wanted to strangle a squad mate. And that was when his advice contained an element of condescension as in “let me show the little lady how to shoot that big gun.” He did, however, inadvertently encourage me to really want to shoot better than him (another helpful lesson, I guess).
I’ve reached the stage in my progress where I can recognize the style and skills in others that I most want to emulate. When I’m fortunate enough to shoot with these people I watch closely, listen and encourage their critiques of my shooting. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge by listening to the shooters I most respect as they dissect their approach to a given station.
One of my greatest pleasures in shooting is listening to the strategizing that takes place among my squad to unravel a particularly challenging sporting clays presentation. By doing this I’ve gained enough confidence to trust my own judgments more and make my own personalized plan at each station. Often my plan for a true pair will run against common opinions, by I have the confidence in my own skills to trust it, to my advantage. I’m not a competitive shotgunner, but I sure enjoy a day of shooting a lot more when the targets are breaking more often than not.
When I was consistently running 25 straight in skeet, I got a hold of some little round, orange clay target pins imprinted with BEAT BY A GIRL on the front. I’ve had several opportunities to bestow these on some of my fellow skeet shooters and it’s been amusing to gauge the reactions from these (un)lucky recipients.
Some guys actually think it’s humiliating and embarrassing. One of my local skeet club pals, an early supporter and ad hoc coach, wears his pin proudly on his shooting vest and considers it an accomplishment on his part (as he should). Other of my shooting friends seem to actually dread the day when they too will get one. (Note to self: I have to be more sensitive to their feelings).
Once, I pinned “Beat by a Girl” on the vest of a stranger and veteran shooter I had just shot with at an unfamiliar skeet club and I’ll never do that again. So, you see, some guys just don’t enjoy this sort of thing. My husband, for one, adamantly refuses to wear his hard-earned pins.
I’m sure many of you ladies know exactly what I’m talking about…