Over many years of shooting, we tend to observe and experience cause-and-effect sequences that can help us improve our shooting skills. This includes our abilities with handgun, rifle or shotgun. Simply put, by improving with one type of firearm, what we learned can help us to shoot them all better since there are many techniques or modifications that are interrelated. Keep this in mind while reviewing the following suggestions as applied to our physical well-being.
1. Keeping in Shape
This topic is a first concern to anyone who participates in sports, and that includes shooting. Keep in mind that conditioning for shooting boils down to one element: If you cannot hold your firearm out, you tend not to do well. Before doing any exercise, make sure it is safe as per any medical conditions you may have and what your physician approves. If all is O.K., here is how to get started!
To begin a routine, I would suggest standing erect with 5-pound hand weights, one in each hand. Now extend each arm up and forward and hold them for a count of 10. Next, slowly move each arm sideways and hold for a count of 10 and then gradually move both arms back down to your sides. With that sequence completed, repeat this for 10 repetitions. Once this becomes easy, increase the weight and how long you hold the two weights out, and/or increase the repetitions. To check your physical improvements, after two weeks of doing this at least every other day, pick up your verified unloaded firearm and aim. Due to the exercising, I would bet that it feels lighter and with that, easier to keep steady. When I was a cadet at Valley Forge Military Academy, my pistol coach suggested this routine which I still do. It is simple and it works!
Another quick routine is to hold a weight in each hand and look at a point on the wall and slowly punch at it with the right hand, then the left for 10 to 15 repetitions with each arm. This also strengthens the upper-body muscles you need in order to shoot well, especially over long periods as during a round of skeet, trap or handgun competition.
For a third strengthening procedure, I get out my hand grip, which I squeeze for a count of 10 or 15. Then I remove my trigger finger from the grip and hold it up and out so it does not touch the gripping area. Next, I hold that same pressure on the grip, still pulled inward with fingers 3, 4 and 5, and aim at the wall for a count of 20. I then do this with the other hand and repeat the routine for 5 or 10 times with each hand. This will especially help with pistol shooting!
Once we've strengthened the various muscles we use to hold and steady any firearm, we usually can shoot more accurately and with more endurance. Exercise helps us not become tired...unless mental stress works against us.
2. Eliminating Mental Stress
I would bet that we all know someone who was hunting, saw a big buck and came apart due to that self-inflicted mental pressure and missed the shot. What happened was that just seeing a trophy got to them and all their training went out the window. How to overcome this? The same way we overcome physical obstacles: practice. To control stress as when hunting, I found that shooting competition is the most helpful.
Years ago when competing in a 4-gun/gauge skeet tournament, I realized on day 2 that I was ranked on top with a few others. Then when it was my turn to shoot 100 in another gauge, I noticed that those leaders and others came to watch, which was interesting. Then I soon realized that was only part of the story. They were noisy, jacking around, all in an effort to distract me and knock me out of the competition. As soon as I recognized what was happening, what that did was to make me focus even harder...all I saw was my target and heard nothing. In reality, they did me a favor. Control your own destiny on the field or in the woods and do what you have been training to do through practice. Now if you come apart mentally, you did it to yourself.
3. Building Endurance
I try to walk daily at a fast rate when shopping, which is why I park as far away from the stores as possible. When time permits, to increase my endurance even more, I ride a bike for a few miles while pushing myself (race my wife and granddaughters) so to get the full benefit. Obviously this is helpful when hunting since you are usually moving and do not need to be winded when it comes time to shoot.
4. Bolster Balance
Years ago I attended a series of shotgun seminars by professional shooters/instructors Gil and Vicki Ash at 7 Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania. During one of those sessions, Gil stressed the importance of how improving one's balance can carry over to improving shooting skills. He and another pro, Nick Sisley, brought to the seminar two fitness or balance discs which look like a half basketball that is ¾ full of air. To use them, the shooter puts one under each foot and tries to stand upright, which at first is not easy. Therefore, as a safety measure, stand behind a chair in case you do lose your balance. For a routine, stand on them for 5 to 10 minutes a day and after a week or two, it will become obvious just how much your balance has improved. After a few weeks of using these, I got to where I could stand on uneven ground and break clay targets or hit what I aimed at with a handgun. In general, as we age our balance can suffer! In my experience, these have helped me to get back a lot of what was lost over time and therefore continue to shoot accurately.
In Part II, I will cover how changes to our equipment can reduce perceived recoil and help to make our firearm fit us better. Safe Shooting!