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Sporting clays keep your wingshooting skills sharp

June 22, 2011 by Dave Spratt

Of all the clay pigeon shooting sports — skeet, trap and sporting clays — the latter most closely resembles wingshooting. Targets are thrown from different directions, at different angles and different speeds. One pigeon may scream across your view like a scalded canvasback. The next may arc up slowly like a gorged pheasant. You’re never quite sure what you’ll see until you see it, so you have to make split-second adjustments to hit your target — just like you do when you're hunting.

“Sporting clays are directly related to wingshooting,” said Jim Siudara, the shooting pro at the Huntsman Club in Dryden, Mich. “You’re using a shotgun and you have a moving target. If you’re good at sporting clays you’re good at wingshooting.”

And shooting sporting clays throughout the off-season doesn’t only keep your shooting skills sharp for the fall. It also hones your trash-talking skills when you watch your buddies miss. Siudara was a renowned competitive shooter before he became one of two National Sporting Clays Association Level 3 instructors in Michigan (there are fewer than 50 in the world). Here are his tips for keeping sharp during the off season.

Focus, focus, focus

Remember as a kid, when you were learning how to hit a baseball and your dad kept telling you to keep your eye on the ball? Well, that same principle holds true for sporting clays. Siudara says above all a shooter must focus on the target, because if your eyes are in the right place, your hands will automatically know what to do. “It’s a sport, and in any sport the main thing that every athlete does is focus,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your eye on the target. Your eyes will take your hands where you’re looking.”

Jim SiudaraWith repetition a shooter can develop what Siudara calls “hard focus,” which he likens to a baseball hitter seeing the seams of the ball even when it’s traveling at high speed. That can be most easily developed by shooting sporting clays year-round rather than expecting to hone your shooting skill within, say, a 60-day duck season. “You really can develop hard focus, where you pick out part of the target rather than seeing the whole thing. With hard focus the target becomes clearer and slower. Someone who shoots a lot of clays knows how to focus like that.”

 Never look at the gun

Ever seen a quarterback drop back to pass, then take a quick look at his arm before he lets a pass fly? Or a golfer stop on his backswing to peek at his club one last time before impact? Um, no. Didn’t think so. The same applies for shooting. “If you’re trying to follow a moving target and you take your eyes off it, you’ll lose it,” Siudara said. “By the time you pull the trigger, the target will be someplace else.”

 Keep both eyes open

If you started out shooting a .22 at cans, chances are you were doing it with one eye closed. And that’s fine for sending a small projectile at a small target. But shotguns are not such an exact science. You’re just trying to make sure that your moving target and some of your hundreds of pellets arrive at the same place at the same time. “A shotgun is a splatter gun,” Siudara said. “You point, not aim.”

What’s the rush?

 Your weapon is equipped to make speed a non-issue. So there’s no need to slam the gun up to your eye and fire away in an instant. “Remember that the fastest duck flies 75 miles per hour, and most fly between 25 and 35 mph,” Siudara said. “Shotgun pellets fly 800 mph. Take your time, and if you’re really looking at something you’re going to hit it. Those 400 pellets are going to spread out in a pattern. Your target can fly into the back part, the middle part or the front part.”

 Know your eyes

This is not about color, or even strength of vision. This is about knowing which eye you rely on in a pinch: Your dominant eye. Here’s a test: Pick out a small object in the distance. With both eyes open, block that object from your view with your thumb. Holding your thumb in the same place, close each eye one at a time. One eye will see your thumb blocking the object. That is your dominant eye. It’s the one that needs to be directly over the gun looking down the barrel.

It seems simple enough, but if you’re a right-handed shooter with a dominant left eye, learning to shoot properly will be a little more complicated. Siudara said 70 percent of the women he has worked with were right-handed shooters with left-eye dominance. The remedy is really to work with a shooting instructor to retrain your eyes. Siudara’s method is to put a chapstick-sized dot on the shooting glasses, right where the dominant eye sees the barrel tip with the gun mounted. That requires the shooter to rely on the weaker eye to see the target and takes the dominant eye out of the equation even though both eyes remain open.

 Keep ahead

Siudara said there are numerous methods for aiming at a moving target, including pointing your muzzle just behind the target, then swinging through to the front and pulling the trigger as your muzzle reaches the front. For a target moving straight away or straight toward you, the technique is to aim directly at it. Another method Siudara teaches beginners is something he calls the “bump and grind” method. On a crossing target the shooter holds the muzzle directly on the line where the target will travel. Imagining the gun’s barrel is so long that the target will hit it, the shooter moves the barrel when the target “bumps” it, then pulls the trigger.

Lesson up

You would expect a shooting coach to advise people to take a shooting lesson, and Suidara is no different. But he’ll also tell you why. For one thing, doing it right never hurts. And if you’ve been nursing a bad habit or two, a session with a shooting coach can clean things up.

“A good lesson is worth a million bucks,” he said. “People say ‘I’ll just go to the range and fix it.’ But that’s just going to make it worse. You can never break one of your habits. You will always go back to that habit, I don’t care what it is. You can’t break it, you can only replace it with another habit. If you learn new habits you’ll get worse, but then once you can do it subconsciously you’ll become a better shooter.”

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