Simple Things, Little Things, Incremental Improvement
Sweat the Small Stuff, It's ALL Small Stuff
You step to the line, skeet, trap, sporting clays, international doubles trap, whatever the game, are you ready? What makes you think so? What keeps you from believing it is so? Let's explore a number of areas we can clean out so at that point, before you call for your first bird, you are as close to 100% as you possibly can be.
Big stuff, your gun, ammunition, clothes, glasses, shoes, ear plugs, shooting vest, "magic dot," hair bow...well not in my case. All of this is checked prior to shooting. The gun you have been shooting is cleaned, checked for all parts functioning properly, no problems in operation - feeding shells for semi-autos, it is right. Or as right as it can be - right? I mean you just went to great extent to pay someone to fit it for you specifically and now when you mount it, the feeling is just not the same.
Now you are stepping up to the line, you just had a gun-fitter make adjustments to your comb, kick-eze shoulder, trigger weight, and you expect to shoot better. Really? How many times did you mount the gun after it was "fitted?" 1? 10? 100? 500? How many times did you mount the same gun before it was fitted? 5,000 times? And you are going to change the feeling of that mount by throwing it up 10 times before a competition? Not going to happen. Stand in front of a mirror, every day for weeks prior to a competition, and do 100 mounts looking right down the barrel in the mirror and see how it is fitting. Make it feel right before you need it to feel right.
Don't assume this is only if you have decided to have changes made. It is just after duck season and you have been shooting a lot of ducks with your favorite pump gun. Now your first sporting clays venue is coming up and you feel like your should be ready because of all that shooting - but of course you won't be shooting that old 870 pump, you are going to be shooting your Beretta 391 custom that doesn't shoot anything like that 870, or feel like it, or have the same weight or balance or loads, but you expect good things. It ain't gonna happen.
Bring that Beretta out of the safe and start mounting that gun every day. You are back in the game so get back in the game with your equipment.
Now this is for the above average shooter. What if you are attempting to move up to an elite shooter? Move up to that next level where you compete as much against yourself as you do against others? You want to raise your game to a level of very high competitive nature. I have some bad news for you. Although I am a strong believer in the truth that it IS the magician, NOT the wand, that is not how our mental game works. Anytime you can possibly believe that there is a better piece of equipment out there above what you are shooting - you will mentally default to that in your psyche. Why do you think the official gun of the US Olympic teams (Army too) are Perazzi? $14,000-15,000 for the primary choice. And you have in your mind you spent a lot of money getting that $800 used Beretta. That is a jump. But remember, you are eliminating possible thoughts of being able to be beaten because someone else has better equipment. It costs money to have the best equipment. Remove all doubt, move up to whatever the bank can afford. It doesn't have to be a Perazzi, Kreighoff, or my preference, Kolar (made in the USA).
And then there is the other challenge...what to shoot? Not what gun, what sport. Have you reached the point that you have decided you are going to own trap, or International Trap Doubles, or Sporting Clays? If so - is that the right gun? Sure, you can be a "good" all around shooter. It is nearly impossible to own a sport, be the very best at that sport - and be at the same level in others (unless your level of competition is really limited). So, again, you have chosen your sport that you are going to own and you have the best shotgun for that sport tuned for your shooting pleasure. Well at least that is out of the way.
First, some games have their own limits - like international requiring 24 gram loads of shot, period. Not 1 ounce, just 24 grams (7/8 ounce is pretty darn close, just 0.8 grams too much). And in some other games, limits exist on relationship between amount of shot and speed of load. Be sure you are within the rules anytime you shoot, but let's take another look at the subject.
Consistency is very important when it comes to your ammunition. Consistent patterns, reliability in firing, reliability in shot size and in some cases the ability to reload if that is desired. Sometimes it pays to cut open 3 or 4 shells out of a flat and just 1. count shot, 2. weigh shot, 3 weigh powder, 4, look over the shot for size variations. In cheap loads (where are those today??) it is not uncommon for quality control to be less involved and I have seen 6 shot mixed in with 9 shot skeet loads. Not good for a number of reasons, including safety. Some ranges have designated "fall out" areas set aside beyond the shotgun ranges. #6 shot will carry about 60 yards further than #8 shot.
The same mind game here is applicable as was for your choice of guns. Is this the best ammunition available for this sport today, period. If your confidence in your gun and your ammunition is good, at the peak, then it eliminates that little voice in your head saying I wish I had the gun the girl next to me is shooting - and I just know one of these shells is going to misfire! Eliminate those thoughts through preparation.
Of course there is the basic choices as well. #9 shot for skeet, of course, if allowed. #9 is fine for trap at 16 yards, and if you are shooting trap doubles make your second shot 7 1/2s. If it is windy, 8 and 7 1/2. Sporting clays can almost always be shot with 9s except shots over 25 yards. Then you should have a few 71/2 shot in your vest. International has there convention so you are just limited there.
I have written quite a bit about shooting glasses. There is a lot to learn about one of the most important aspects of the shooting world. Light is critical and what you do with that light can make or break you in any shotgun game. It is best here to say do the research, read what is available, try to sift through any "marketing" stuff to find the reality of limited tint of the right colors that offer the greatest differentiation of the targets from the background. Use that one if it works with YOUR eyes. You must try it to be sure it is good for you. If you need prescription glasses - get them.
The day you step to the line to compete, are you wearing something you have worn before and found, from your shooting log you keep, to be the right clothes for the current weather conditions? If so - you have, again, removed that from being a big surprise when you raise that gun and the new shirt doesn't have a gusset where the old one does and won't let you swing. Or those new cowboy boots really look cool, but the hard heel won't let you pivot like you normally do on a hard right target.
What else do you have that you changed? Decided to use a "magic spot" for the first time? New choke in your gun? Custom ear plugs you just made that may or may not fit right? Why would you do something that may have an effect on your mind when you are going to be competing? Don't do it - practice with it first before ever considering competing. You are looking for one more bird, or maybe 1/2 of a new bird average improvement.
Finally, get your head right. See every target in your minds eye before you actually step to the line to shoot. See the target fly, see you mounting your gun properly, see the shot and the target break. Have that as the last video your brain has in it. Then you may be ready to take a deep breath, let out half, say pull with the other half and begin the absolute concentration on the target. Zoom in to the target, read the writing on the front edge of the target. Look at the little bumps in the surface of the target and then listen to your brain say "now" as you pull the trigger and follow through. Now you have another visual of a target breaking for your brain to be satisfied with. Good shooting.
What Do You Feel Keeps You From Your Top Game
If I could change one thing, I would
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