Back in my younger days, I competed for three years on the Valley Forge Military Academies pistol team. Under the direction of our coach, Sgt. Robert Ross, we learned a lot and competed against some of the best. Then later, I got into skeet and moved up the ladder competing on the local level. Then after some coaching by Ralph Holtz, a national champion, I then competed on state and international levels. My skills constantly improved—and aging had nothing to do with it. It was the constant competition, getting comfortable with various equipment and analyzing what I did or did not do correctly. All of this helped my scores to continually rise!
My wife and I still compete to this day, as do our grandkids, and with each event or game, everyone improves. This is why competition is important for us all, no matter the age or discipline. Such experiences are why I have incorporated a few more concepts into my teaching of skeet and handgun that hopefully will benefit others.
Helping Others Also Helps Us
One day, after competing, I was asked if I would help a husband and wife improve at the game of skeet. I quickly agreed! Then I learned that they didn’t have their gear with them; that day they were there simply to observe the shooters in hopes of getting a better idea of what is required in that game. I told them that was a great idea, and they should ask any questions they wanted. I then sat with them so to cover each station ... and found myself remembering things I had forgotten while I was “on stage” shooting. We may not always realize it, but observing and understanding the basics is important to getting started on the right track!
Watching and Learning
While observing others shoot, throw a football or bat a ball, you can usually see why they hit or missed. It’s the same with skeet. Each of the eight stations requires a specific lead to break the moving clay target. Then after some observation and actually shooting a few rounds, it may become obvious what went wrong when someone missed. With that, when we then shoot a round, we tend to pay a little more attention. It is good to observe what someone did wrong so not to repeat what may be obvious blunders.
Get the Correct Gear for You
This is critical! If the firearm does not fit, you’re setting yourself up for failure. When it comes to rifles and shotguns, here is where stock length is so important. Too short or too long are both bad. If the stock is too short, consider using a slip-on recoil pad. If it’s too long, there’s not much you can do without a visit to a gunsmith. In my own family, I selected a T/C Encore rifle or shotgun for the grandkids, then added Choate M4 telescoping stocks. With this upgrade, the stock offers a length of pull range from 12 ¾ to 16 inches. Now no matter the age, the length can be adjusted for whoever. If you’re planning on having a shotgun just for your own use, consider getting it professionally fitted.
Be Very Serious When Practicing
Here’s a tip to stimulate that all-important “mental game.” When firing any firearm, even a bow and arrow, pretend that you’re really doing this to bring home dinner. If you hit, you eat tonight; if you miss, we’re going home hungry. Remember, in the 21st century, this is just a game … but back in the day, it was as serious as an empty belly. When on the range practicing, stay focused on success!
Miss One Here and There
Firing in competition causes most of us to bear down and concentrate. Years ago, when at a Penn State Skeet Shoot, I was doing well … almost too well. Then it was the last event of the day, 100 shots with the .410. I was first up in my squad of five, calling for the high house (usually an easy-enough target). The clay target kept on its path unbroken. What a wake-up call; I was getting too cocky! That miss was an early factor to wake me up and I then ran the next 24. Then for the next three rounds or 75 targets, I broke them all and ended with a 99 x 100. I often think that without that first miss with target 1, I may not have gotten a 99, possibly less.
Good luck, always bear down and never quit!