I’m stuck in a slump.

I have my bad days like everyone, but usually most clays I shoot at break, and most birds I shoot at are dead when they hit the ground. This pheasant season is an exception. It’s discouraging and it hasn’t happened in a long time, but it’s sure happening now.

I have switched guns, gone to the gun club for remedial shooting practice, and nothing seems to help. For whatever reason, I am rushing and shooting without first locking my eyes onto the bird. As another shooter (who is similarly afflicted right now) says: “It’s like I’m 12 years old again.”

The only thing to do is keep going. Slumps end. It doesn’t seem like they will at the time, but they do, and all of a sudden shooting seems like the most natural thing in the world again.

The best way to keep a slump going is to let it eat away at your self-esteem. As soon as you start thinking, “I stink, I’m a terrible shot,” the slump gets worse. You miss more, you kick yourself more, you miss more because of that, and you spiral downward into despair. You’ll find yourself being too careful to try to make good shots, and being overly careful makes you look at your bead and miss.

So how do you get out of a slump? When I was young I had a book called “Great Hitters of the Major Leagues.” In it, Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, gave this advice: when he was in a slump, he stopped thinking about getting hits and thought only about hitting the ball back to the pitcher. Pretty soon he was making contact again, and after that, he was back to getting hits.

That is simple and brilliant. By thinking about what he had to do (eye on the ball, make contact) Musial took himself out of the anxious “I’m no good, I hope I get a hit this time” mindset that prolongs slumps and focused his mind only on the act of hitting.

If you’re in a shooting slump, forget about the shots you have missed (except to analyze why you missed) and concentrate only on your shooting fundamentals: your stance and form, keeping your focus on the bird, deliberately following through on your swing. The clays will start breaking and the birds will start falling again.

You may not look back at your slump and laugh, but you will look back at it. Keep that in mind as you’re going through a slump. It, too, shall pass.