After missing an all time high of fifty shots in a row, the cure for despair is the sound of a pump-action shotgun chambering a round and vaporizing the clay into a fine mist. “Drive the Gun, Renee!” Mark hucked another disk and it was obliterated by my cool handed, laser focused, transcendental determination. The key to successful clay shooting has not only to do with where you swing your gun, but where you focus your mind.
Meditation and yoga have improved every aspect of my life from shooting guns to how I think. Shooting with accuracy is a lot like holding a handstand. It is essential to be strong in the body, but also soften one’s inner focus enough to find a still-point. Frustration is not conducive to balance. We have to find a way to move through it and alchemize negative thinking.
I practice over and over again until my mind is out of the picture and I trust my fine tuned reflexes. When that happens I can stand on my hands forever or I can hit the clay almost every time. Everything falls apart when my mind enters the game like a troubled monkey minion. 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 load up the bikes, jimmy-rig guns to tattered backpacks, tape up the clays so they don’t break and we’re off. Rolling on beastly fatbikes through the old trails of the Talkeetna and Chugach Mountain Ranges is step one to getting my head together. There is meditation in the action of pedaling. It is supremely quiet. There is consideration of the weather. Observation of animal signs. Awakening of our wild senses.
Out there, we are away from a highway, work, the to-do list and 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 also take care in cleaning up after ourselves and shooting responsibly. Part of right mind is right action. That means what we do, and how we do it.
Sling and Shoot
We survey our shooting domain. We know what’s beyond our range and it’s clear. We get our eye and ear protection on. Next we load the gun with our ammo of choice: Winchester AA trAAckers. Instead of a clear plug, the Trackers are black or orange depending on the backdrop. When you shoot, you can see where you miss by spotting the easier to see plug.
We threw the clays ourselves with a WingOne Clay Pigeon Thrower. It beats the pants off slightly less expensive clay throwers that leave your bicep utterly abused the next day. Mark enjoys pitching the clays; it adds the element of surprise and frustration. The experience lends itself to a more realistic bird hunting scenario. Outside the traditional range you learn to shoot with wildly inconsistent and sometimes absolutely awful throws. That is how you become a Zen Master of the 12 gauge meditation.
A twelve gauge is the workhorse of a gun collection. With a pump action shotgun you can put anything in it from slugs, to birdshot, to buckshot which makes it a good low maintenance all around gun. We shoot a Winchester XSP 12 gauge. It’s a mid-range shotgun which isn’t fancy but breaks clays all the same.
Harness Your Chi
Again and again I shot high and to the left. Mark reminded me to follow through. Follow through means to keep moving the shotgun through the target as you pull the trigger instead of stopping your swing and then shooting. Moreover, if you track behind the clay instead of just in front of it you’ll often bugger up your shot. Get in front of the bird!
I watched Mark’s technique and saw that he embodied the advice he gave me: Be aggressive, drive the gun, follow through. I noticed his shoulders stayed square and level, his right arm usually stayed parallel to the ground and his cheek was in the same place tight to the stock every time. Another pro tip is where you place the butt of the gun; right in the space between your shoulder and collar-bone. Consistent, correct gun placement is crucial.
Our motivation for shooting clays is mainly to refine skills for shooting birds on the wing. We sometimes go out to a local lake with an unloaded shotgun to practice our follow through on live birds without harming our feathered friends. This was the key to clearing my mental obstruction. Water. Be like water.
I dispelled the micromanaging monkey in my head and pressed through frustration into determination. The clays were blasted to bits and I had redeemed myself.
If you go to your local trap range you can often rent or borrow club guns. Ladies guns have a better fit and bigger recoil pad which is nice for kids, beginners and smaller frame shooters. A semi-auto gun drastically reduces recoil. So does a recoil spring which is an aftermarket part.
I recommend going out with a pro who can watch your form. The harder you try the more you’ll miss. That’s part of learning. When you really start missing, you know you’re on the verge of greatness. It means you’re working on assimilating all the information you’ve absorbed. Once you break through the mental barriers and let your well oiled machine of a body do what you’ve trained it to, I promise your shooting consistency will improve drastically.