By: Serena Juchnowski

“Best” is a relative term. Every day on the range you learn something that you bring with you the next time. (If you don’t, then it keeps coming back until you finally take it to heart.) Without the former instruction, lessons learned, or advice, you would likely not receive the present. You cannot teach someone to throw a curveball, for example, without teaching them first to throw.

What is advice? I would venture to say that anything offered by another individual in an attempt to help another may be considered advice. Not all advice is asked for; not all advice is helpful. You must learn, especially in shooting, to take in everything that others tell you, and find what works for you. (As long as all firearm safety rules are followed, of course.)

There are different types of advice you receive on the range. Some apply directly to your technique and the equipment you use. Focusing on the front sight or on the reticle of a scope rather than on the target is one of the first things you learn in precision marksmanship. To aim a rifle and point a shotgun is another. Many tried and true pieces of advice have evolved into adages. They no longer come from one person but have been passed on over generations. Aim small miss small. Treat each shot as a match. Most of shooting is between the ears.

While all of these are important and one never stops learning, one sentence uttered by a shooting legend forever changed my perspective.

“It’s air-conditioned inside the coat.”

I had barely noticed his presence. Doctor Jack Jones was standing behind the firing line at Sycamore Hill Rifle Club, watching my dad and me shoot. Though largely shady on the range, the heat and humidity made shooting, especially in a canvas and leather shooting jacket, extremely uncomfortable.

I remember the slight smile on Doc’s face as I turned to look at him following a string of rapid-fire sitting. He has always had a certain way about him that one can’t quite describe. An all-knowingness mixed with humility and a sense of humor. Not only a repeat Ohio state high power rifle champion, Doc has a reputation within the high-power community as a mysterious and talented sling-maker – a legend in his own right.

“It’s air-conditioned inside the coat.”

It wasn’t a directive Doc gave me. It was an entirely new way of looking at a situation. The mind is an incredibly powerful thing. Most realize that the mental game is just as, if not more important, than the firing process in competitive shooting. I had of course heard, and knew to focus, to not let extra thoughts creep into my head while shooting. What I had not been taught, is to reframe the entire situation in a way that allows me to do so.

Firing at 200 yards from the sitting position at Sycamore Hill Rifle Club.

I do not remember how I shot that day, but I remember how I felt. I remember relaxing, falling into the rhythm of a rapid-fire string. No longer was I eagerly waiting for the end of the practice session, to shed the heavy coat sticking to my skin. For those 60 seconds, inside the coat was the place I needed to be. It was the coolest place I could be, the place I could focus most.

This does not mean to risk heatstroke, to ignore medical problems, or to find yourself in a bad situation. It does mean that how you look at things greatly affects your performance.

A powerful lesson encapsulated into a neat little phrase. On the outside it is seemingly bereft of meaning and easily misconstrued as something uttered in jest. When you take it for what Doc intended it to mean, you realize how powerful the mind is. This lesson applies not only in shooting, but in life. Sometimes it takes a little imagination or a new frame of mind to see something you were first blind to.