Shotgun Shooting Sports: Learning to Compete with the Pros

By Luke Brandenburg

Are you ready to take your shooting skills to the next level? Competing with professional shotgun shooters may be a lofty goal, but with solid fundamentals, a determination to perfect your game and a lot of good advice along the way, you will be on your way!

Let’s face it. Since the day you first saw that clay target disintegrate into tiny pieces in mid-air, you have been hooked on shotgun shooting sports. Now, after years of practice and small competitions with your buddies, you have become a pretty decent shooter. So what’s next?

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Whether you plan on actually making a professional circuit or simply want to raise your shooting skill to the next level, learning to compete with the pros of shotgun shooting sports is no easy task. There are thousands of tiny details that result in a “lost bird.” However, those with some natural ability and a lot of determination can make it to the professional level. These tips, techniques, and insights can give you a place to start!

The Fundamentals

Before you can truly compete at the professional level, you have to master the fundamentals. From basic foot and leg position to weight distribution, use of the hips and gun mount, the best shooters are constantly working to improve their fundamentals.

Foot Position

When you step into your shooting station, your first priority should be focused on getting into a good foot position. It is very difficult to get a great shot without a firm and sturdy base. To get into the best foot position for shooting, you should place your front foot in the front-center of the shooting station and your back foot at a 45 degree angle on your shooting side. This position provides the best mobility for all targets. However, you can adjust this angle to hit right or left-hand targets more easily when necessary.

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Weight Distribution

The way you distribute your weight also plays a key role in your ability to move with the clay targets. All of your weight should be placed on the balls of your feet, away from your heels. This weight distribution allows you to move your legs more easily. Between 60 and 70 percent of your total weight should be placed on your front foot to improve your general mobility. Make sure that your knees are never locked, as this can restrict mobility.

Hip Movement

No matter what type of shotgun shooting sport you are competing in, you will need to move with your hips to track targets as they change angle. Inexperienced shooters often try to move only the gun with the target, making the shot very difficult at some angles. Those who learn to move with their hips have the advantage of a much more consistent tracking motion.

Gun Mount

After you get your body position down, you can focus on your gun mount. Your mounting motion may be the most essential step to success on the range. While there are many different techniques for mounting a shotgun, it is essential that this motion is consistently replicated each time you take a shot. Every shooter has their own specific mounting motion that feels best to them. Just make sure that yours is the same every time.

Hand Control

After you have mounted your gun, an array of other basic fundamentals come into play. One of these basic principles involves the use of your dominant hand. Since this hand should be the one that directs the gun to the clay, it is important to keep your non-dominant hand loose enough to allow your dominant hand to move the gun freely.

If you get even the slightest feeling that your gun is not completely in control, your non-dominant hand may be restricting your movement. Focus on loosening the grip of your non-dominant to gain control. Many of the professionals actually tuck their pinky finger under the forearm to prevent the non-dominant hand from gripping to tightly.

By mastering the basic fundamentals, most shooters can greatly improve their shooting scores. These fundamentals serve as a foundation for pulling you through shooting slumps and helping you find problems quickly. When a shooter with bad fundamentals hits a slump, they are forced to go through many more potential issues before finding a fix.

Tips and Techniques from the Pros: The Process of Change

Once you get the fundamentals of shotgun shooting down, you can dive deeper into the techniques of the pros. However, just like a good magician never reveals his tricks, many of the best pros are not necessarily transparent about the things that make them great shotgun shooters. As a result, you may find it difficult to find helpful information that you have not already seen and practiced many times before.

Sometimes, the best tips you can get simply involve a new way of thinking about the sport. For example, if you spoke with a number of different professional shooters, you would probably hear a lot about “the process of perfecting your game.” While this may seem like a cliché, you should really take some time to think about what they mean by this “process.”

Many would agree that it all revolves around the principle of “change” and how adept you are at putting it into action. This principle plays a major role in all sports, but specifically in individual sports like many track & field events, golf, swimming, cycling and yes, shooting. The best shooters are in a constant cycle of finding what they can improve, or change, within their game, and how they can implement those changes.

A sporting clay disintegrates after being hit by a shot from a shooter.

The key to competing at the professional level is understanding this cycle or process, but it is not as easy as it sounds. Pinpointing the things that need to be changed within your game takes experience, knowledge, skill and a lot of repetition. These inconsistencies or problems are specific only to your specific situation and, if you change the wrong thing, you could actually be doing long-term damage to your scores.

Once you have found the right thing to change in your game, you need to be determined to implement it effectively and consistently. It can be easy to get frustrated with setbacks and mistakes along the way, and the easier path is always pointing back to your old ways.

Each time you implement a change to your game, it must be perfected to the point where you no longer think about it. At that point, you simply move on to the next change in your game to continue the process of change and “perfecting your game.”

Clubs, Groups and Associations

Every shooter needs a lot of guidance and good advice on the way to competing at a professional level. Man shooting clubs, groups and associations offer the perfect option for continued learning and improvement. If you haven’t already joined your local shooting club, this should be one of the first steps you take to improving as a shooter. Most clubs have experienced shooters that can provide invaluable advice throughout your journey.

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There are also many different associations on both the state and national levels that can be great resources to becoming a better shooter. The National Skeet Shooting Association, the National Sporting Clays Association, the The Amateur Trapshooting Association and the Professional Sporting Clays Association can all be good sources of information and continued learning.

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