Hard Targets: To Practice, or Not to Practice?

We recently attended a tournament of 400 plus shooters. The targets were a little more difficult than usual. Our observation was that they were a little longer than the norm, which required a smoother, more precise move coupled with a precise breakpoint to be successful. The poor fools who mounted the gun and chased the lead were eaten alive.

We overheard two shooters talking about the targets. They both thought they were great targets. However, they complained about the host club not ever setting targets hard like these so they could practice them. We don’t know how well they actually did on the “hard” ones. But it could not have been too good, or they wouldn’t have been so hard!

We have noticed several traits of competitive shooters:

1. When faced with hard targets – instead of slowing down, relaxing, and trusting themselves, they typically speed up, get tense, mount the gun and chase the lead and miss the target.

2. They typically hang around the scoreboard lamenting the misses on the hard targets and just lying to themselves that if they were able to practice the hard ones more they would score better.

What we see without exception is that it is not the failure on the difficult targets that cause the sub-par performance. It is missing the two or three of eight on the easy stations. But because the shooter would have to look at themselves and say "I failed,” they had much rather blame the failure on the “hard targets” or on the local gun club for not offering hard targets to practice on.

A target is “hard” for one of two reasons:

1. You don’t have a consistent enough move that will allow you to break that target consistently. 

2. You don’t have a decisive plan. More often than not, the shooter that thinks they should practice “hard Presentations” in order to shoot well in a tournament is a fool.

What makes a presentation hard? No plan or doubt in the plan. Doubt in your ability to do it. Lack of a consistent approach to all targets (both mentally and mechanically). If the approach is consistent on all targets, there are no hard targets.

The more variables in your move and approach, the greater the possibilities for unsuccessful combinations. The fewer the variables in your move and approach, the greater the possibility for successful combinations. You will never shoot better than the quality of your basic move and mount.

We see people consistently making the same basic mistakes over and over:

- Moving their eyes as they call for the target
- Moving the gun prior to seeing the target
- Mounting the gun and chasing after the lead
- The gun moves faster than the bird
- They check the lead and pull the trigger


They have not taken the time or made the commitment to develop a constant in their game. “No improvement happens without a constant.”

In sporting clays, there is no constant. In trap and skeet, the targets are the constant. The target presentations are the same worldwide. In a game with as many variables as sporting clays, something has to become a constant. The consistency and quality of your move and mount must become the constant. The better and more consistent your move and mount become, the slower the targets appear to fly and the easier they become to break consistently.

The only hard target is one you don’t have a plan for. It’s your belief in the plan that yields confidence and success. The next time you go to a tournament that has a particularly hard station, ask the winner or someone who shot it well what they did. Our guess is that you will hear more about the plan to break the first bird in one certain spot to make the second shot easier, and less about how much lead it took.

Now, think back to when you shot it.

Did you have a decisive plan for the pair, or were you worrying about lead? Our guess is that you were so intimidated by the targets that lead was all you thought about! When you called "pull," you were under such target panic when you saw a flash you made the dash. Your muzzles were waving about the sky like a paper bag in a tornado, which kept your vision securely locked on your gun and that lime-green florescent bead sight you installed. You saw what looked like a clay target and pulled the trigger twice, only to hear the ref say "Lost pair."

Because you had no plan for the first pair, you now have nowhere to go to make a change for the next pair! Now you are lost in the “logic of the loser": do the same thing again and again and expect a different result!

Sooner or later if you are going to be successful at this game you must understand and accept this one basic concept:

You will never shoot better than your basic move and mount.

The quality of your move controls many things:

- The relative velocity of the target (how fast it appears to move).
- Your ability to hold sharp focus on the target.
- Your ability to make a decisive plan.
- Your ability to duplicate the plan if successful.
- Your ability to know what to change if unsuccessful.

To name a few.

Learning mechanical excellence with a shotgun is more about eliminating excesses or variables, which in turn allows you to eliminate risk, regardless of how difficult the shot seems. When your swing becomes smooth, effortless, and deep in the subconscious and you develop a feel for the target in your hands, there are no hard targets - only targets you make hard.