Clays Shooting: Tips from the Shotgun Pros
Three of the nation’s most accomplished trap, skeet, and sporting clays shooters offer their tips to help you improve your game.
Whether you’re trying to learn the shotgun shooting sports or looking to break your first 100 straight on the trap field, this advice from some of the top shooters in various shotgun sports disciplines will help you become a better shooter.
Dingler grew up shooting at his family’s ranch in Texas, and his passion for the shooting sports has made him one of the nation’s toughest competitors with shotgun, rifle, and pistol. He’s a Benelli Pro Shooter and currently competes in the Three Gun Nation Pro Series. Here’s his advice:
1. Be familiar with your firearm. Accomplished shooters have no problem manipulating the controls on their gun. Handling your gun easily and properly helps you develop a rhythm, and rhythm helps break birds. “Understanding how to operate and manipulate the controls of your shotgun is very important,” Dingler says. “Operating the safety, a bolt release, loading, and so forth should all be instinctive actions.”
2. Create a natural index. “Practice shouldering and dry-firing,” Dingler says. “You want the shotgun to have a natural index on the target the moment you mount the gun, meaning the instant the gun touches your shoulder, the barrel should be lined up on the target. This takes repetition, and a garage or basement can be an excellent place to master the mount and natural index.”
3. Pattern your shotgun. Very few skeet shooters ever take the time to do this. But without patterning, you don’t have clear evidence of your gun’s point of impact. “To pattern a shotgun you need a large piece of cardboard, plywood, or something similar,” Dingler says. “At a minimum, I recommend testing patterns at 10, 20, and 30 yards with your three main chokes. I actually test my guns at 5-yard increments all the way out to 40 yards with every choke.”
4. Practice. It may seem axiomatic, but practice is essential to developing the motor skills needed to become a natural shooter. You don’t have to commit hundreds of hours and thousands of shells a year to shotgunning, like Dingler does, but if you don’t spend ample time at the range, none of the other tips mentioned here will help.
Sorantino has amassed several national and world championship titles in sporting clays and is a member of the National Sporting Clays Association Hall of Fame. The Cedarville, New Jersey, native has earned 19 gold medals, 5 silver medals, and 4 bronze medals in international competitions during her impressive shooting career, and is currently one of the most sought-after instructors in the industry.
1. Make sure your gun fits. Many people know that gun fit is important, but few understand just how critical it is. “More than a matter of comfort, an ill-fitting gun will cost you targets,” says Sorantino. “Proper gun fit limits stress on the shooter because it reduces felt recoil. A gun that fits properly helps you maintain your line on the target for your follow-up shots, and it reduces fatigue.”
2. Work on your gun mount. Sorantino says bad gun mounts equal misses. Period. To prevent this, she advises new shooters to start with a mounted gun. Only after her students understand the basics of breaking clays, while practicing with the gun already up, does she incorporate gun mount.
“You can’t elevate as a shooter unless the basics are covered,” she says. “You have to crawl before you can walk.” One trick is a “cheat mount,” where the gun is very close to mounted and the head is raised slightly above the stock, keeping the gun barrel on the target line.
3. Maintain a line to the bird. One of the least-addressed topics in shotgun sports is learning to maintain a line to the target. That means knowing where the target is coming from and then selecting a break point (the position in the air where the target appears clearest or largest) and a hold point (starting position) that allow you to visually connect to the target. Gun movement should be fluid, allowing your eyes and hands to sync with the bird.
4. Take a balanced stance. Stance is one of the fundamentals of sporting clays, but how often do you evaluate it? Sorantino emphasizes a comfortable, weight-forward stance that isn’t exaggerated, with approximately 60 percent of the weight on the front foot. The key, she says, is balance and control in your stance. Pointing the front foot toward the intended break point helps crush more clays.
During his 40-year trapshooting career, Maxwell has registered more than 148,000 single targets, almost 100,000 handicap targets, and 57,000 doubles targets. That experience makes him one of the premier trap instructors in the country. One of his students, Evelyn Kazen, won the 2007 Grand American Clay Target Ladies Championship in Sparta, Illinois. Maxwell is a member of the Connecticut Trapshooting Hall of Fame.
1. Identify the target and focus. “There is an area, a 3-by-2-foot rectangle about 15 yards out and 3 yards up off the roof [of the trap house], where all the targets must fly,” Maxwell says. “Look for the emerging target there. I call it the ‘window.’ Gaze into the window [soft focus] and see the target in the bottom of your peripheral vision, then ‘lock’ onto the target [hard focus].”
2. Track the gun to the target. “When tracking the emerging target, look only at the target. Do not aim as with a pistol or a rifle. Think of the target as a balloon, with a string back to the trap house. Just run up the string and hit the balloon. Do not aim or even look at the gun—look at the target only and your eyes will guide the gun.”
3. Have patience before the shot. “Never rush your calling for the target,” Maxwell says. “It takes about two seconds for your eyes to settle down and totally focus on the target for tracking up the string and hitting the balloon. The typical shooter calls one second after the gun butt hits his shoulder. That’s too fast, so forget the old ‘rhythm of the squad’ stuff—trying to keep all the calls and all the shots evenly spaced. Don’t rush your call.”
4. Don’t break away. One of the most common mistakes among shooters of all disciplines, including trap, is dropping the gun early.
“Keep the gun mounted for several seconds after the shot is made. This will make your shot much smoother as you move into the target,” Maxwell says. “Many shooters rush the dismount because in their mind think they are finished. They aren’t.”
5. Go light. Serious trap shooters rack up round counts in the thousands. With this in mind, Maxwell prefers to go with a less punishing trap load. “I like to shoot Federal’s 2 ¾ dram, 1 ounce No. 8s,” he says. “This keeps you from getting recoil-sensitive.”