I’ve missed an all-time high of 50 shots in a row when the medicine comes. I hone in on the sound of my pump-action shotgun chambering a round, then watch the clay dispersing into a fine mist. It almost seems to happen without me.
This is the state I must achieve to shoot accurately—a cool-handed, laser-focused sort of transcendence that has as much to do with where I point my mind as where I swing my gun.
Mark hucks another clay, and I repeat.
Like other aspects of my life, my shooting has been improved by meditation and yoga. Accurate shooting is not unlike holding a handstand—it demands strength in the body and the ability to soften one’s inner focus and find a point of stillness. I practice over and over again until my mind is out of the picture. When that happens, I can stand on my hands forever or I can hit the clay almost every time.
Everything falls apart when my troubled monkey mind enters the game. It tries micromanage what my body can do just fine without the extra help. Maybe that goes for the rest of life, too. Don’t overthink it. The mind is for refinement, not management.
We are deep in the wild. We’ve ridden our fatbikes on the old trails of Alaska’s Talkeetna and Chugach ranges, our clays taped together and our guns jimmy-rigged onto our tattered backpacks.
The approach helps me get my head together. There is meditation in the act of pedaling. There is consideration of the weather. Observation of animal signs. Awakening of our wild senses. It is quiet.
Out here, we are away from the highway, work, the to-do list, and the thirty other people firing at the range. In Alaska, we are lucky to have this opportunity beyond the private property and barbed wire boundaries that shred up so many once wild places in the US. For that reason, we take care in cleaning up after ourselves and shooting responsibly.
Sling and Shoot
We load our gun with Winchester AA trAAckers. Instead of a clear plug, the Trackers are black or orange (depending on the backdrop). When we miss, we can see where by spotting the easier-to-see plug. We throw with a WingOne Clay Pigeon Thrower. It beats the pants off slightly less expensive clay throwers that leave the user’s bicep utterly abused the next day.
Mark enjoys pitching the clays; it adds the element of surprise and frustration, which makes it a realistic imitation of bird hunting. Outside the traditional range, we learn to shoot with wildly inconsistent and sometimes absolutely awful throws. That’s necessary to become a master of this 12-gauge meditation.
The 12-gauge is the workhorse of a gun collection. A pump-action shotgun can shoot anything from slugs to birdshot to buckshot, which makes it a good, low-maintenance, all-purpose gun. We shoot a Winchester XSP 12 gauge—it’s not a fancy gun, but it breaks clays all the same.
Harness The Chi
Again and again, I shoot high and to the left. Mark reminds me to follow through—to move the shotgun through the target instead of stopping to shoot. To track just in front of the clay instead of following behind.
Mark’s technique is flawless. He keeps his shoulders square and level, his right arm parallel to the ground, and his cheek tight to the stock. Before every shot, he aligns the butt of the gun in the space between his shoulder and his collar bone.
We shoot clays to refine our skills for shooting birds on the wing. For the same purpose, we sometimes take the shotgun unloaded to a local lake to practice our follow-through on live birds. We practice our movements and our form again and again and again. It’s a moving meditation—a practice we maintain to keep the micromanaging monkey of the mind at bay.
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