On some days – all too rare days – wingshooting seems so easy. It’s as easy as pointing your finger and thinking, “bang!” When that happens, it’s because the clays seem as big as trashcan lids or the pheasants seem to fly in slow motion.
While such days are the ultimate in shotgunning fun and the stuff of the best glory days’ memories, at some point I usually remember that glory never happens without paying for it!
When your shotgun is responding like Harry Potter’s magic wand, it’s not by chance. It’s because you planned, prepared, and trained to make it happen. You conditioned your brain to focus on the details required to make the tough shots seem easy. You polished it so much it truly became instinctive – at least, for that day.
One such detail is simply pointing your finger.
When I’m working with beginning shotgun shooters, or helping semi-experienced shooters correct bad habits, I get a lot of questioning looks because I’m so insistent on the index finger of the off-hand being outstretched and pointed at the target. Some have accused me of being militant about it, calling me “The Finger Cop.”
Every time the shooter mounts the gun, one of my checkpoints of proper form is to see if he or she is pointing the index finger alongside or below the forestock. It’s a tiny detail, but a crucially important one in my estimation.
There are many drills to improve wingshooting skills that don’t require a gun in your hands. One of them is simply extending your arm, pointing the index finger on your off hand at a moving target, tracking it, pulling ahead of it, saying “bang” when the lead looks right, and keeping your finger moving online in perfect follow-through. I can’t tell you how many robins, out-of-season doves, and other birds I’ve “shot” this way, occasionally to the embarrassment of my long-suffering wife.
Once this kind of shooting drill becomes second nature, it’s also a great way to develop a deeper mental image of the types of leads wingshooters use. A real gun in your hands and real targets you’re really trying to break are both distractions. Trying out different lead types with your finger and the trigger in your brain allows you to focus solely on what the picture of pass-through looks like versus pull away or sustained lead. You can analyze why one would work better than another on a particular type of target presentation. When you’re actually shooting, there are so many ancillary things to think about like safety, recoil, breaking the target, and keeping your squad moving. That’s way too much to deal with when you’re learning.
Think all this finger-pointing folderol is silly? Go to a sporting clays tournament and watch good shooters who are analyzing targets they will shoot. Many of those serious about shooting high scores will track the target with an outstretched arm and pointed fingers and say (likely in a whisper) “bang.” They are following the target to determine the breakpoint. Then they work back from there to determine hold point and pickup point. They are putting concrete pictures into their brains for when it’s their turn on the station.
This kind of drilling and visualization is foundational in developing solid, winning wingshooting skills. The next step is to transfer what you’ve learned to an actual mounted gun and rubber-meets-the-road moments in competition or in the field.
As I see it, there couldn’t be a more natural link between practice and real shooting than continuing to point that index finger when the gun is in your hands. Sure, it’s a tiny detail – a nuance – but an important part of the routine of success. If you adopt a dedication to this level of detail, you’ll be amazed how ingrained it becomes in your wingshooting routine.
The development of a consistent pre-shot routine is essential to clay target shooting success. Pre-shot ritual is often thought of as primarily a mental aspect of shooting, but physical and mechanical routines are critical to the mental rituals and vice versa.
Once you’ve pointed that index finger alongside the stock enough times, it won’t feel right if you don’t do it. I know that’s how it works for me, and probably contributes to my dislike of Schnabel forends on target guns. When my finger butts up against the Schnabel, it just doesn’t feel right. And in competition, any distraction is a big distraction.
Few movements of the human body are more natural - more instinctive – than pointing a finger to call out or highlight a distant object. That’s the ultimate goal in developing the mount and swing of a shotgun – natural and instinctive. It just makes sense to use your finger to make it happen.
Give pointing your finger a try. It might just make those glory days a little more frequent.