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How I Got Ready for Nationals

How I Got Ready for Nationals

I got to practice a lot more than last year – about 500 targets before leaving for San Antonio. And man, did I learn a lot about what I’ll need to do to get ready next year!

In my next post, I’ll talk more about Nationals and what I learned from it.

Practice Session #1: Getting My Timing Back

Two weeks before Nationals, I went out to Able’s Gun Club in Huntsville with my youngest son. I took out a case of shells and got to shoot a little bit while he pulled for me. That was more about getting my timing back because it was way off.

I found that I could break the first and second targets just fine. But the third and fourth and fifth were pretty rough. It took about a case of shells at Able’s, shooting fast, quartering shots. That’s always been a downfall for me.

After about a 20-minute break, I picked up the gun again and was more focused on pre-shot and clearing my workspace. I did this by having a detailed plan and visualizing exactly what was about to happen.

The results were amazing, and the consistency in my shots went up dramatically! It seemed like I had more time to make the shot happen. The moves were slow and on the money.

Besides working on my timing, my goal was to shoot those moves in the trees. At our field in Houston, there is no place to practice in the trees. But on the main course at Nationals, you do shoot in the trees and everything looks different.

After about three boxes, my right arm was tired. This is how I found out that I was out of shape both physically and mentally. My brain was done trying to focus on pre-shot visualization.

I felt very connected to every target I shot. Because I was shooting solo, I had to force myself to slow down or I would be exhausted within a half-hour.

Practice Session #2: Getting My Confidence Back

After that day at Able’s, our friend and customer Doss called me. Because we were going to be shooting the main event at Nationals together, we decided to go shoot at our home field.

We started with some very tough birds on the north course, focusing on the pre-shot routine. While shooting, we would tell each other what move we were going to use and where we were going to break the target. And I wasn’t hitting anything.

“Look, you’re used to shooting this stuff,” I told Doss. “Let’s go find something easy so I can at least hit something and get some confidence back.”

So we went and found something I can hit. After hitting a few in a row, we went to another station on another course and we shot it. I finally got some timing and confidence back as the day went on. It’s amazing how using the priming words (“I’m going to challenge the bird right there”) allows me to just let the gun do whatever it wanted to do. All I had to do was look and keep my nose on the bird.

We shot all single targets, picking multiple breakpoints – about 150 each. I didn’t want to push much more than that because of how tired I got. Though to be honest, I wanted to just keep shooting. I had forgotten how fun this stupid game is!

Doss had some trouble with the tower shot, which I’ve never seen him struggle with. For some reason his sight pictures were way too big; he was missing everything in front. And after about a box of shells, we just left the tower and shot other stations. It seemed that we were both in the same boat about how we felt about our performances.

I also tried to remember all that we’ve discussed about staying hydrated – I made sure to drink lots of water.

We went back to the north course, where 45 yards is an easy shot. None of the targets was a straight line. They were all looping, with subtle quartering, rolling presentations. But as I got my confidence back, I would put the gun way out in front. When the line got straight, I pulled the trigger.

Everything worked out once my brain made sense of “Look, the target’s there. When it becomes straight and slow, pull the trigger.”

But by about the fourth or fifth station, I was just done. I could hit the first two targets, but then my brain was just like mush coming out of my earmuffs. It was just exhausting mentally and physically. My gun has never felt that heavy before.

“Hey, kid,” I realized to myself. “You’re not a kid anymore. You’re actually going to have to do something now. You’ve got to train. You can’t rely on those skills.”

I’ve got a lot of work to do before next year…

Practice Session #3: Singles in Multiple Breakpoints Are All You Need

The next day at Greater Houston Gun Club, I arrived 20 minutes early to find Doss waiting in the buggy for me!

He couldn’t stand it; he had come early and gone to the tower to figure out what was going on there. He told me he walked right out to it and killed everything. This just goes to show that some days you see the birds the way you need to.

We both went to the south course where we did the same as the day before: single targets in multiple breakpoints. This was the only thing we practiced, and all you need to.

I think I stopped shooting on Station 9 because everything I was seeing was a straight line and my plans were on the money. My timing was as good as it’d been since last year.

When we first started shooting the harder targets. I was getting involved in the process. It was like there was a little voice in the back of my head – an argument. Even though I was hitting the targets, there was something wrong. “I’m breaking them,” I told Doss. “But it feels more like luck.”

Finally, everything connected and became a straight line. I shot a hard going away teal-type target that was drifting from left to right. I missed the first three in a row, then all of a sudden connected with it and broke it four times in a row.

“Everything looks straight,” I told Doss. “Visually, I’m good. I don’t need to shoot anymore.” It had been a long time since I had seen everything in slow motion. I felt confident that I didn’t need to see any more targets.

I offered to pull for Doss and he continued for one or two stations before started to get tired. He did shoot the 20-gauge a few times throughout the section that day.

I can’t tell you the last time I shot 500 rounds in three days. I shot more in a week than I had in a whole year and was absolutely worn out trying to figure this stuff out.

Now that I’m getting older, I’ve learned that if I want to perform at a higher level, I’ve got to put in a lot more work. This was a big awakening to me. That means working out again, eating right, practicing… and of course, shooting more tournaments.