The first article in the Shotgun Shooting series focused on the necessary foundation needed to shoot a shotgun consistently. While most of shotgun shooting depends on that solid foundation, the art of successful shotgunning comes more from understanding how to move with the target to intercept it in the air. It’s essential that you have your basic stance and mount engrained in your muscle memory so that you can adapt your shot to the variables of a flying target. This summer I shot with Sporting Clays All-American Cynthia Kruger to get instruction on these finer points of shooting. Cynthia teaches at Kiowa Creek Sporting Club outside of Denver and is also a shooting instructor at the Beretta-endorsed Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming with her husband, Jon Kruger. Cynthia had several tips to improve the consistency in your clay shooting.
Also See: Shotgun Shooting 101
Pick your Points
At the clays range, targets will be launching from a variety of directions. When you practice, you can see where the target is coming from and know where that target is going. This helps you to practice the concept of picking your intercept point and your break point. The intercept point is the point when the moving shotgun barrel will intercept the target in the air. Then, moving at the speed of the target, push past the intercept point to move ahead of the target until you reach the lead or break point where you fire the gun. When you step into the sporting clays cage or out on the trap or skeet range, start by identifying where the clay is coming from and then pick your intercept and break points.
Stand in the Right Direction
While your shotgun stance is one of those basics to master, knowing where to line up your feet for the shot you will be taking is important too. After you’ve identified the point of origin, the intercept point and the break point, set your stance so that your lead foot is pointing at the break point that you have identified. Setting up facing the right direction allows you to move your hips smoothly to meet the intercept point and continue rotating your hips to swing through the break point. This will allow you to keep your barrel steady and even when following the target as it moves through the air.
Get the Rhythm
Kruger teaches that there is a cadence to every shot and that getting into this rhythm will develop the muscle memory to be consistent. Keeping your gun in a high mount position (loosely sitting in your shoulder’s pocket but without mounted to your face yet), move the barrel with the target when you see it. Then mount your face to
the stock when the target reaches the intercept point, pushing past the target at the same rate of speed. When the barrel reaches the break point, pull the trigger so that the target enters the cone of shot in front of it. Count each of these steps in a steady manner at the same pace as the target is flying – one as you start to move, two as the target reaches the intercept point and the gun is mounted, and three as you pull the trigger at the break point. Developing a cadence to this count will allow you to get into the rhythm of your swing. Since different targets move at a different rate of speed, the pace of your count will adjust to match the speed of the target.
Trust your peripheral vision
In Shotgun Shooting 101, the two points of “keep your eyes open” and “point, don’t aim” were made. To improve your shooting, remember these points and learn to trust your peripheral vision. You will pick up the target in your peripheral vision before it reaches your intercept point and begin moving the barrel until the target is in your direct line of sight. Once the target reaches your hard focus, keep your head on the stock and follow the leading edge of the target. You should not be focusing on the front bead sight, but now seeing the barrel in your peripheral vision so that you know it is on track and moving at the same pace as the target. Following these steps will ensure that you are not focusing too hard on the sight or the target so that you are pointing the gun where it needs to be to break the target.
Swing through your shot
When you push ahead to your break point, fire the gun, keep your head down and keep moving the barrel at the same speed as the target to follow through with your shot. Because the target is in motion, you need the shot cone to be ahead of the target so that it moves into the shot to break. If you lift your head or stop the gun as soon as you pull the trigger, you are preventing the shot from moving ahead of the target, and more than likely you will miss behind the clay. Your follow through after the shot is just as important as the preparation that goes into getting your gun mounted and held in the same position every time.
And Finally, Keep it instinctive
I know that my biggest fault when shooting is to overthink the process. If you master the basic shooting position and work through the details of picking your points, getting into the rhythm and following through, shooting should become instinctive. The less you have to focus on getting each of these steps right, the more consistent you will become. Get out on the range and practice a lot (and make sure you use light target loads so that your shoulder doesn’t take a pounding during the practice). And when you reach a point that you cannot diagnose what specifically you’re doing wrong, take the time to get one-on-one instruction. Having an expert like Cynthia Kruger looking over your shoulder will help you to fix your mistakes and get back on the track of being an instinctive shotgun shooter.