Famed New York Yankee Yogi Berra and chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer couldn’t be two more different people. What are the odds they’d both espouse philosophies applicable to hitting a flying target with a shotgun? Well, so they did.
Berra is known for saying “…90 percent of the game is half mental.” Fisher once said, “I give 98 percent of my mental energy to chess. Others give only two percent.
Wingshooting, done properly and successfully, is primarily a mental endeavor. Once you collect the mental pictures of what it takes to hit a goose, grouse, or clay target and train your muscles to make the right moves, the difference between a hit or a miss all relies on your ability to focus.
On the range and in the field there are dozens, even hundreds of distractions clawing at your ability to focus. Those who have developed the mental discipline to overcome the distractions will shoot higher scores and bag more game than those who have not. It’s what separates the great shotgunners from the rest of us.
Defeating internal distractions
These are the distractions you bring on yourself. I know if I go to trap league to shoot for score after a lousy day at work or after having to fight mega-traffic to make it to the range on time, my scores will suffer. Great shooters develop the ability to leave problems at work and road rage in the car.
One way to overcome internal distractions is uncompromising, never-changing adherence to a pre-shot routine. Using singles trap as an example, you always start from the same station. On the line, you establish a routine you unfailingly follow. Some trap shooters want to watch every bird launched. Others never look at a bird other than those they call. Whichever you choose—always do it the same way. Develop a pre-shot routine which includes when you close your gun, how you mount, where you hold on the house for each station, the picture you see, how you call for the target, and so on.
A pre-shot mantra is also essential. This is a phrase with which to clear your mind before you call for the bird. I found myself trying too hard to “aim” at targets, so my mantra is “Go get ‘em!” It reminds me to be aggressive and just shoot the bird where it’s at. This takes over my mind as I lean slightly into the shot before I call for the bird.
The very best shooters develop the ability to go in and out of the trance with each shot. They don’t maintain the intense focus for the entire round. To do so would be incredibly fatiguing over the course of an event, and that could inhibit focus in later rounds.
Beating external distractions
External distractions are those things in your environment that could break your focus—if you allow them to do so. Developing true focus allows you to block these out, but why not try to avoid them in the first place?
For example, one of the most common external distractions is a trapper who is either fast or slow when you call “pull.” This could be because he or she is having difficulty hearing the calls. You can help ensure proper pulls by making your call loudly and clearly. Try it. You’ll be amazed at how effectively it will reduce bad pulls—which, in turn, reduces the number of troublesome distractions.
Flying insects are another common external distraction most anywhere. Just wait until a mosquito lands on the rib of your shotgun as you’re about to call for a bird or pull the trigger. It suddenly looks big as a buzzard!
Mosquitoes in the sight picture and biting arms, legs, and neck cost me lots of birds before I started wearing a ThermaCELL on my shell bag.
Like physical training, focus takes practice—perhaps even more. Developing the mental discipline for shooting is similar to martial arts. A strong mind will make you a better wingshooter than strong muscles ever will!
Even better than wearing a ThermaCELL for clay shooting is having a unit running at each shooting station. The torch lantern model, with its own in-ground stake, is perfect for this. Fire them up about 10 minutes before you start and your whole round will be mosquito-(and distraction-)free! Talk to the manager at your shooting range and tell him about this great product.