When I was young, my grandfather and his buddies had a trap and skeet club. We spent many wonderful hours with friends and family at “Happy Acres” enjoying big parties and, of course, shooting. As I got older, I got instruction from my dad and many other good intentioned shooters at the club, many of whom were outstanding shots. Not a lot of the women or girls ever shot that much so it was a bit of a novelty to have a female enjoying time on the range.
My years at the gun club provided a foundation of clay shooting fundamentals. I never got formal instruction, and I stopped shooting for many years, but those fundamentals came back when I stepped back on the clays range about a decade ago.
Still, my shooting has never been consistent, so when I recently got the opportunity to shoot with Syren Pro Staffer Cynthia Kruger at the Kiowa Creek Sporting Club east of Denver, I jumped at the opportunity.
Cynthia is a professional shooter, a sporting clays All American from 2010-2015 and an All American in FITASC (an international form of sporting clays) in 2015 with many ladies’ championships to her credit. However, she did not start shooting until about 15 years ago, and it was incredible to absorb her vast knowledge and put to use on the clays range.
Here are six tips from Cynthia on how to break more clays consistently:
1. Don’t Let the Guys Get You Down
When Kruger first started shooting, she feels things were different for women shooters. More women wanted to get engaged in the sport, but there weren’t as many opportunities as there are today. At one point, as part of her “real” job, she went to a Women’s Shooting Sports Foundation event in Texas.
“It was incredible to see those women become empowered,” Kruger commented. “These were often brand new shooters but after one day they would be like, ‘I got this!’”
After being busy with work for several years, she decided to give it a more serious effort and took some lessons. That’s when the shooting bug hit her hard. She reminisced about the first gun she bought. She was living in Chicago at the time and went prepared to a gun shop, holding her Firearms Owners’ Identification card as mandated by the state. She found the gun she liked and the gun store clerk had to call an Illinois state patrol to vet the card and do a background check.
“I remember the trooper saying, ‘Tell that lady it’s not like buying a pair of shoes – she’s not going to buy a gun today!’ I guess I should have been more surprised, but I wasn’t – I also wasn’t deterred,” Kruger said.
She finally got her gun and started shooting every weekend. She remembers often being the only woman at the range, but it never bothered her because she loved it so much. Many women face similar hurdles on their way to being a shooter. Cynthia’s biggest advice is to stick with it.
“It shouldn’t be so difficult for women to get engaged in shooting sports, at least it’s better now than when I started,” she concluded.
The Takeaway: Shooting is a male dominated sport, but don’t let it be intimidating. Find ranges where you are comfortable shooting, take lessons, and shoot a lot – but don’t get intimidated. If it is something you love and are passionate about, it is worth pushing through, and today there are many more shooting opportunities dedicated to women then even just a decade ago.
2. Get a Gun that Gets You
Cynthia’s first gun, just like the first gun I purchased for myself, was a 20-gauge Beretta 391, and it worked well as she was getting started. When she was competing, she shot different big-name guns – Perazzi, Krieghoff and Kolar – and she shot them well. But this year she picked up a Syren and couldn’t believe the difference. Other guns she’d shot had to be significantly modified to get the stock to fit just right. They were also heavy and were making it increasingly difficult to finish a round of clays because of the weight.
“Syrens are more agile and well-balanced for women shooters. Their stock modifications are built just like my custom stocks, allowing your cheek to fall right into place and have clear sight down the barrel. In fact, I had to learn NOT to compensate with my shooting form. Most women, and even smaller girls, can take a Syren out of the box and it will fit them well,” Kruger said.
Having shot several Syren guns as well as Franchi’s Catalyst shotguns that are also designed for women, I completely agree. It is an adjustment when you’ve become habituated to various techniques to compensate for guns that don’t fit quite right. However, manufacturers of women’s shotguns have done significant research to get the right designs to fit the majority of women. It’s worth considering women’s shotguns when it’s time to make a purchase.
“It’s also very important to find distributors of gun manufacturers that are affiliated with a shooting range,” she continued. “This allows you to try out demo guns and make sure it is the right fit for you.”
While we were shooting, another woman shooter arrived at the range. She was looking to purchase a new gun and tried one of Cynthia’s Syren Tempio Sporting guns. This trial sealed the deal for her when she realized how well it fit her and how much better she shot.
The Takeaway: Take advantage of reps or distributors at shooting ranges to try different guns and buy the one that fits you. There are several guns designed and built for women, and these typically work for most women. But it’s still important to try out several different types of guns before you buy. When you are talking about a purchase that could cost up to several thousand dollars, this becomes even more important.
3. Love Light Loads
When it comes to keeping women engaged in shooting, Cynthia says there is one quick and easy fix that will make a big difference for everyone – use the right load.
“If a new woman shooter is handed a box of 1 1/8-ounce, 1350 feet per second shells, she’s done – that’s going to hurt and she’s not going to want to come back,” she noted, shaking her head. “With clay target shooting, the clays are launched at their fastest rate of speed and are slowing down from that point on. You don’t need a shell that packs a high rate of speed, the key is matching the speed and pulling to the lead so that the clay runs into the shot.”
Kruger says lighter loads make it much easier to put more rounds through your gun, something that is essential when you’re working on becoming a better shot. “Ballistically, when you’re shooting any kind of clay sport, there’s no reason you need anything more than 1 ounce of shot that travels at 1250 fps or less. For kids, you can even go to 7/8 shot at 1150 fps and they will do just fine.”
Of course, this pertains mainly to over/unders, which are often the gun of choice in sporting clays and have the most felt recoil. For semi-automatic shotguns, buy the lightest ammunition your gun will cycle.
The Takeaway: Practice is more important than power. Shoot lighter ammunition (1 ounce or less) that travels no more than 1250 feet per second. The key with clay target shooting is learning to place the cloud of shot in the right place at the right time. Faster ammunition doesn’t make this any easier, it’s all about lots of practice, which is a whole lot easier when the gun isn’t pounding you after only one box of shells.
4. Stand Strong
In spite of my “farmer taught” instruction, Kruger was impressed with my fundamentals, part of what she referred to as the “hard knowledge.” Having a solid foundation in your basic shooting stance is essential so that it becomes natural to mount the gun in the same place, in the same way, every single time.
The key is to first master the basic stance: legs slightly apart, front foot facing forward, leaning in to the front foot and slightly forward; bringing the gun up to meet your cheek not dropping your head to meet the stock; holding the butt of the gun firmly in your shoulder pocket, not too high or low; keeping both eyes open so you can see the target.
Work with a coach in the early stages to make sure that you have everything right – if you get in the habit of being off balance or tilting your head or lifting it off the stock, it can be very hard to break that habit. Once you get the proper position, repeat it over and over until it becomes second nature.
The second part of the hard knowledge – and this is the part where my lack of instruction started to show – is assessing where the target is and when to pull the trigger. At each station, sporting clay shooters need to locate the origin of the clay, the intercept point (the point at which your barrel catches up to the target), and the break point or lead point where you will actually fire the gun (usually in front of the clay).
“Sporting clays shooters walk into the cage, assess where the target is coming from and choose the break point, and then come back to the hold point or intercept point,” Kruger instructed. “You then allow that target to leave the machine and fly into your intercept point. At that point, your hand-eye coordination will kick in. You match the speed of the target, moving the barrel to the break point where you pull the trigger, and following through to send the shot spray in front of the target so that it simply moves into your shot. It’s really very easy if you just allow it to happen that way and don’t think too much about it.”
Right…but much easier said than done, at least for me. This is definitely where spending time with an instructor and simply shooting lots of rounds of clays will make a difference. It takes time to have these fundamental techniques become instinctive, and that can only be done by actually shooting.
The Takeaway: Make your stance instinctive. Work on the stance and understand how to stand in relation to the target’s origin so you can pick your intercept point and break point. After you master these fundamentals, you can move on to mastering the “soft knowledge” of recognizing the variables, like wind, that are presented. Your basic foundation will allow you to adapt to changing presentations and be creative (this also helps when you move from the sporting clays range to the hunting field).
5. Get Your Cadence Down
As part of your hard knowledge training, Cynthia teaches to have a consistent move-mount-shoot cadence to every shot. Start with a high mount position with the gun resting gently in the shoulder pocket, aligning your muzzle with the target when you call pull. Move when you see the target, mount the gun to your cheek when it reaches the intercept point, and then pull the trigger as you reach the break point, moving the barrel through that point at the same rate of speed as the target. Practice counting 1-2-3 with each step, out load or in your head, pulling your trigger on “3”.
“Every target has its own rhythm and timing, it’s like a waltz. One target might be very close and very fast – and you count quickly because you have to get on that thing. But another is 60 yards out and slower so you change the cadence,” Kruger said. “You apply and rely on your timing. The targets are what they are, but you impose your timing on it.”
The Takeaway: There’s a rhythm to shooting. Good shotgunning requires a consistent rhythm of the move, mount, shoot cadence. Learning that rhythm takes time and, again, lots of shots. I admit, I struggled with this part of the lesson, but it is logical and builds the consistency necessary to shoot well.
6. Relax Your Eyes
Kruger explained that you have peripheral and hard vision. After you call pull, look to your intercept point and you will pick up the target in your peripheral focus to start your 1-2-3 count. This enables you to start moving your gun with the speed of the target before it reaches your intercept point. At the intercept point, the target comes into your hard focus and you mount the gun, pull the trigger at 3 when it hits your break point and continue pushing through the break point – moving your eyes with the target from the intercept point on.
“You want your eyes relaxed when you call pull because it relaxes your whole body,” Cynthia told me. “If you stare too hard at the target from the time it is launched, it’s just going to make you overthink – you start to question, start to try and apply conscious decision-making to something that you need to override with instinct.”
The Takeaway: Let your eyes do the work naturally. By allowing the target to move into your field of vision as you are looking toward where you will intercept the target, you can rely more on your fundamental skills. Relaxing the eyes relaxes the whole body which in turn brings you back to being an instinctive and more consistent shooter.
7. Shoot with Women
For women just getting into shooting sporting clays or other clay targets, practice time can be intimidating – but that practice time is key to mastering the hard knowledge. Finding a supportive group of shooters can make that time more enjoyable, and for many women the most supportive group is one made up of other women.
Tamara, the woman testing the Syren Tempio, joined me and Cynthia on the course after my lesson and I have never had a more enjoyable time shooting sporting clays. We had great conversations, supported each other in our shooting, and gave and received subtle teaching moments that were never imposed. This relaxed experience had me shooting more consistently than I did throughout my actual lesson.
The Takeaway: Let yourself have fun! The bottom line to mastering these skills is to put plenty of rounds through your gun. Shooting by yourself certainly works – and there are many times this is a good option when you simply need repetition – but shooting with a supportive group is far more enjoyable. Ask your gun range if there are women’s shooting events or other women looking to shoot together. Do an internet search of women’s shooting clubs. Find a group that practices together, not just a league where it’s always competitive. Building a group of friends to get you out shooting regularly will make that practice a lot more fun.
Cynthia Kruger (773-330-8230; firstname.lastname@example.org) is available for shooting instruction and will assist shooters who want to try out Syren shotguns at Kiowa Creek Sporting Clubs. If you are not in the Denver area, but would like to find out where you can demo a Syren shotgun, contact brand manager Lynne Green (410-901-1131; Lynne@SyrenUSA.com).