We suppose that ultimately everyone wants to improve at anything that they are passionate about and shotgunning just happens to be high on our priority list for obvious reasons. The over whelming majority of our students not only are passionate about sporting clays but bird hunting as well. Truth be known, the majority of our students are hunters wanting to improve their field shooting be it at doves, pheasants, waterfowl or whatever makes them happy. In our experience if you can hold your own in a dove field with a 10 to 15 mph wind you can shoot anything flying which is why we made the decision to go to Argentina to coach shooters in the field on the real thing.
Our decision to use the dove as the target of choice for hunters wanting to get better at all field shots is that it can change lines and speeds so quickly when you compare it to other larger birds. Now all you arm chair quarterbacks hold on, we don’t mean that the other birds are not challenging and are by no means easy to hit, in our experience if you can hit a morning dove consistently in a 12 mph wind then “podna you can shoot a shotgun”. This coupled with the abundance of targets that can be shot in a day in Argentina makes for a perfect teaching scenario.
Doves in Argentina are so abundant because they have 4 hatches each year (do the math, we only have one hatch per year) and these birds come from all directions so working on a certain trajectory or distance is usually an easy task. We handled our shooters much like we handle our shooters in our all day clinics. There were more birds in the air in the afternoons than in the mornings so we spent 20 to 30 minutes with each shooter in the morning working on a specific trajectory and getting them a lesson plan for the afternoon. If their particular trajectory needed a certain place in the field to be able to practice it then we shuffled the shooters around so everyone could work on what they wanted to work on.
As the afternoon hunt began we took some shots on our own trying to shoot the shots we knew we were going to be teaching on as we walked through our shooters later on that day. Vicki and Gil had discussed which of the shooters they would coach each day because they each have different things that they are best at and Vicki is always right when she tells Gil what to do and where to go. Gil will be the first to tell you that he is always on the correct side of what happens when he does as Vicki says. This ability to shift shooters between each other is an advantage not only for them as instructors but for their shooters because they are able to offer their customers the best person for the specific problem they have. There are some common problems in the field that it seems we always have to deal with and most of them stem from a persons inability to mount the gun consistently and correctly.
Lets profile three shooters we had on a recent trip to El Cortijo lodge about an hours drive from the Cordoba air port. Bob McCandless, retired radiologist and rancher, came to work on only one shot, the left to right crosser. He like so many right hander shooters is really good in the field on right to left shots but he will be the first to tell you that “he sucks” on left to right shots from any distance or angle. George Gummerman, archeologist from Albuquerque, has taken up shot gunning late in life and wanted to become a better field shot and clays shot and for him it would be the right to left shots that gave him the most problems. Bruce Sanderson, systems mapping specialists in the oil field, has had 6 lesson from Gil and went dove hunting several times this past season and had not gotten to shoot much and wanted to be a good field shot so he wanted to apply the OSP system of shooting on the real thing.
We met Bob about 3 years ago in our annual dove clinics we give in August in Houston each year. His comment to us then was “I’ve hunted birds all over the world and am a good shot on some days and not on others. I’ve talked to other people who have mentioned your names and so here I am.” He has been coming back each year and has improved each year and because he has improved each year he was able to isolate what his problem trajectory really was. It was left to right targets and he wanted to shoot nothing but left to right birds for 4 days in an effort to “bottle that move” so he could take it with him where ever he went to hunt.
Bob has a lot of experience hunting all over the world but it has only been in the last few years that he has concentrated on getting better with his shooting. He will be the first to tell you that he should have been trying to get better years ago instead of waiting till he was on the wrong side of 70 to start trying to get better. He had been doing his flashlight drill a little which means he thought about it more than he actually did it but none the less we began the afternoon he arrived. His problem arose from what we call not making the reciprocal move that is required to get the stock to the face on left to right birds for a right handed shooter. This is a common problem we see a lot in hunters and was also George’s problem but on right to left birds because he is left handed.
Let us explain from a right handed perspective. When mounting the gun on a right to left bird both the hand on the for end (front hand) and the one on the grip (back hand) move in the same direction pulling the gun into the face and as a result the gun mounts to the face where it needs to be and the shooter is successful. When the same shooter shoots a left to right bird and both hands move to the right the gun mounts out on the end of the shoulder or the bicep and the shooter must push his head down to the gun and nothing good happens because unknowingly to the shooter the gun is now shooting high left about three feet at 20 yards and the shooter gets a nasty bruise on their bicep. The remedy for this problem is what we call the reciprocal move (see photos). When making this move the shooters front hand pushes the muzzles to the right and the back hand at the same time pulls the butt stock into the cheek where it is supposed to be and the gun is now shooting where the shooter is expecting it to shoot. We spend most of our time with hunters working with their gun mounts because they don’t practice it and if they do they don’t practice it the correct way. Because you don’t aim a shotgun, you point the muzzles ahead of what you are looking at and pull the trigger the gun mount must be correct and consistent and subconscious in order for anyone to be consistent or successful for that matter.
Well by the end of the third hunt Bob had begun to “bottle” that move and at breakfast that next morning he said that he had been up since 3 am and was not feeling his best but was going to hunt anyway so we left and he shot well that morning but the afternoon was not good. Rather than being slow and smooth he had begun to move late on the bird and was choppy, starting and stopping the gun and was very frustrated when I walked up to him. We sat down and talked and I mentioned that he did not get as much rest as he needed last night and that he was tired and he needed to rest for 20 minutes or so. That was like talking to an empty coffee cup so I stayed there for 20 minutes and shot a few birds as he watched and he began to get a mental picture of what he had been working on the last few days. As he watched he began to settle down and I encouraged him to do what we tell water fowlers in the states to do after they have shot their limit. Instead of picking up and going home if the birds are still flying WITH AN EMPTY GUN practice moving and mounting on the birds as they come by. We use this technique frequently in the field coaching hunters and we have them move and mount until we know they are doing it correctly and it is like a miracle, they all of a sudden get smooth and begin to connect with the birds. So I left Bob doing his dry firing drill on the birds and went on over to see what was going on with George.
George turned 74 the day he arrived at the lodge in Cordoba so he was resting when I got to him. He remarked to me that Vicki had worked with him on choosing one trajectory and sticking with it and how he had been doing a lot of dry firing. He was amazed at how much that had helped him actually realize why he was missing and as a result he began to change what he was doing and was actually getting better. What a novel concept! George asked when we were coming back and said whenever it was to sign him up because he liked learning on the real thing. When I asked why he responded, “Because clay targets don’t juke and dive like the real thing!” We couldn’t agree more Joerje
By the last hunt Bruce had changed into a different person shooting a shotgun. Vicki had as she always does, prescribed the perfect sequence of things for me and her to work with Bruce on and being the perfect student he went to work. Bruce had about 6 one hour lessons from Gil over a 3 or 4 month period and had done his gun mount drill as asked and as a result had gotten better quickly. This made his transition from clays to birds not only easy but muy rapido! He was like a dry sponge in a bucket of water. One of the goals Bruce had while on this trip was to try different guns. His gun was a Beretta 686 silver pigeon 20 ga with 28 inch barrels that I had put a Galco leather recoil pad on it to help him with the correct length. I had assured him that while he was on this trip he could use some different guns in the field and he would be able to understand the advantages and disadvantages of certain types of guns. He tried a couple of semi-automatics but when I put that leather pad on my gun and handed it to him he was silent for about 20 shots.
Vicki and I both were shooting Krieghoff K-20 20ga shotguns with 32 inch barrels with Isis recoil pads on them and when Bruce shot mine he not only shot it well but he understood what balance was and what it meant in a shotgun. He understood what longer barrels did to the feel of a shotgun and he could not get over how our guns did not kick. He said, “Now I know why you and Vicki are always so smooth when I watch you shoot! Gil explained that it was the fact that we were shooting trained guns! After a good laugh Bruce said when we all got back to the states we needed to look at some guns because he wanted to move up to a better more user friendly gun. Gil said he would be glad to train his new gun for him but it would be very expensive and that the shell bill would be the least of the expenses!