By: Earl Mclean
This article is a continuation of my previous piece on “Sporting Clays: Tips for Mastering Your Positioning” (read here). All the basics we talked about before still apply: weight forward, muzzle on or just below the flight line, etc. These things in general help to make moving to the target more efficient. I like to talk efficiency rather than saying “move your gun less,” because what you think is what you do. If you think, “Don’t move your gun,” guess what happens?
Before we dive into things, it maybe helpful to refresh your memory of some sporting clay terminology, defined below courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation:
A round of sporting clays can be 50 or 100 shots, and some big competitions will shoot up to 300 targets or more over two or three days of tournament play. With 10 to 15 stations, then, you’ll shoot four to eight targets at each one before moving on to the next station. Targets can be thrown as:
• Singles—One clay bird is thrown each time the competitor calls for the target.
• Following pairs—On the shooter’s call, one bird is launched. After a predetermined amount of time, usually a few seconds, the person operating the traps on that station will throw a second target.
• Report pairs—On the shooter’s call, one bird is launched. When the competitor fires (and whether they hit or miss the target), the second target is launched. Thus, it is launched “on the report” from the first shot.
• True pair: Two clays are thrown at the exact same time. This is also called a “dedicated” or “sim” pair.
We talked before about “view pairs,” meaning watching the launch of the birds so you know what to expect before you actually shoot. These views will give you the information you need to make your decisions on breaking the targets. Whether “true pairs” or “report pairs,” watch them from the first visible point to the last visible point. This is very important!
As we said before, learning to break the target most anywhere along the flight line is a plus. If you have ever watched a good pool or billiards player, he will set up his next shot off the first by placing his cue ball. He may, for instance, play the ball in the side rather than the corner to get better position for the next shot. There are many times we can use this same technique with shooting clays.
I am going to explain the "report pair" first. Some questions to ask yourself:
Is the first bird taking you nearer or farther from the flight line of the second bird? Sometimes it may be better to wait later in the flight because when the gun is fired, the second bird is released.
Will taking the first bird early give me the advantage?
These two simple questions can make a dramatic difference in your score. For instance, if your first bird is on the right side of the field heading left, and the second is a low fast bird heading for the trees, shooting the bird early in flight would put you racing across the field to catch up with the second. Shooting it late would bring your gun much closer to the target line before it is released, making your move to the bird easier and more efficient.
Another situation may require you to take the first bird early, such as the traps facing each other going in opposite directions. The mistake would be making your hold point too close to the trap, thus the bird outrunning your move and you having to play catch up, pulling you farther away from the flight line of the second bird or shooting it late. By moving your hold point out to where you see the bird clearly, you can stay ahead with a very efficient move to the first bird and not pull your muzzle too far from the second, giving you a much better shot on the second.
“True Pairs,” as we covered, is when both targets are launched simultaneously. You will need to watch the “view pair” twice. The first time watch the "A" bird first. Break it in your mind, then look at the "B" bird. A question to ask yourself:
- Can I hit this bird without rushing?
Now watch the "B" bird, break it in your mind, look at the "A" bird again, and ask yourself the same question.
Usually, one way is a lot easier and permits a more efficient move from target to target. Sometimes, they will push your gun speed to the limits; then again, one target may be going away at blinding speed, and the other is a long floater coming in. Occasionally, this will trick the shooter into rushing first on the going away and the incomer. Holding out in front and intercepting the going away makes it appear slower, reducing the need to rush, which is, in itself, efficient gun movement.
Bringing the gun off your cheek and locking your eyes on the second will almost automatically coax you into bringing you muzzle over to intercept the second. Now you can easily pick a place on the flight line to take the second bird.
The combinations are endless. More times than not, there is a more efficient way. Making these plans beforehand will help you immensely build your efficiency. This, in turn, actually slows things down and takes the panic mode out when the birds are launched.
As a reminder, be sure to practice your "look points" (this is where you soft focus on where you expect to see the bird), "hold points" (where you place your muzzle just ahead of where you want to intercept the bird), and "break points"(where you intend to trigger the shot). These will guarantee more efficiency. More efficiency equals more broken targets.
True Pair Walk Through
I have included a few photos of a true pair as seen from behind the gun. I will try to walk you through this one step at the time.
- I watched the pair twice. "A" bird first, then "B" bird first. Each time I am breaking the first bird I see in my mind, then looking to see where the break point would be on the second bird is. Here I chose the "A" (coming from left and quartering away.) This was critical because both birds are leaving fast.
(2) I intercepted the first bird as soon as possible without letting it pass my muzzle. Having to catch up would be inefficient and taking time from the second bird.
Frame 1: I am intersecting the "A" bird.
Frame 2: I have locked on the bird.
Frame 3: The shot is triggered.
(3) Immediately after the shot is triggered, you can see the "B" bird in frame 3 entering the picture.
(4) I move the muzzle to intercept the "B" (frame 4) bird, then trigger the shot, as you can see the follow-through (frame 5).
As you read this, it may take a minute or two, but in reality, all of this, from the time you call "PULL" and the second shot is triggered is only about 3.5 to 4 seconds. This is why, if you have a coach working with you, he should and will emphasize the things we have gone over: Foot Position. Look Points. Hold Points. Break Points, and so forth. ALL these things are vital to good scores.
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.