Shooting under pressure.
Now, although I’ve never really considered selling a few extra loo rolls and the like to be that important, I reckon improving our scores on a shooting ground definitely is - and that’s where thinking positively might really help.
As you know, every month I’ll try and offer advice on either how to hit specific types of targets or shooting in general.
But irrespective of whatever hints and tips I can offer, the one thing I can’t influence is what’s going on inside your head before you’re about to pull the trigger.
As such, I think the psychology side of shooting is really rather important.
GOOD DAYS BAD DAYS
First and foremost you’ve got to accept that you’re going to have an off day every now and again.
In a similar vein, there’ll be days when seemingly all you have to do is look at the bird and the clay will be smashed to smithereens.
It’s the bad days that I’m more concerned with, though, and I’m sure you’re familiar with what I mean.
The days when you’re shooting familiar targets at your local ground and regularly missing birds you dusted only the week before!
To make matters worse it often seems that whatever you try to do to rectify the situation, however much you experiment with different aspects of your technique, you can’t seem to get your shot within a mile of the target.
Now you don’t have to be a coach to realise there’s no logical reason for this - at least as far as style and technique goes - so in my book it must be all in the mind.
So, is it possible to condition yourself to hit more targets, and if not, are there any tricks you can use to give yourself an edge?
To be honest, there’s quite a lot you can do to keep cool under pressure and the vast majority is done long before you get to pull the trigger.
Here are a few ideas worth looking at.
Ask a boy scout (or anyone on ‘The Apprentice’) for a motto and they’ll all give you the same answer, be prepared - as ‘failure to prepare means prepare to fail.’
Get everything you need for the following day’s shooting ready the night before. And I mean everything; clothes, gun, cartridges, ear-protectors the lot.
Chasing round like an idiot in the morning because you can’t find your cartridge bag - and then becoming paranoid that you’re going to be late - certainly isn’t going to put you in the right frame of mind to shoot well.
And even getting to the shooting ground can cause you headaches, especially if you haven’t been there before.
Have your route planned in advance and make sure you leave home with loads of time to spare.
Simply being well organised is half the battle towards reducing your stress levels and goes a long way towards improving your scores.
I know it’s not always possible but given a choice it’s always best to try and get to the shooting ground as early as you can.
This means you’ll be relaxed from the outset.
You’ll then have the opportunity to familiarise yourself with the layouts and find out where everything is.
Find out straight away which squad you’re in and what time you’re going to shoot.
If you know where you’re meant to be, and when, anxiety is kept to a minimum.
Arriving at the venue with a bit of time to spare also means you can check to see if there are any specific rules that might only apply on that particular ground which could be important if you haven’t shot there before.
If you’re taking part in a proper competition you’ll always get a chance to view the bird before you shoot.
In FITASC competitions, for example, it’s the first shooter in the squad who calls for the bird and the rest of the squad watch from behind the hoop.
This could be your only chance to see how the bird is presented without someone shooting at it so you must pay attention.
Get caught chatting to your mates now and it could be disastrous - your stress levels will go through the roof when you realise you haven’t got a clue where the target is coming from when it’s your turn to shoot.
Miss the first bird while you’re trying to work out the pick up and kill points and your confidence will fly out of the window quicker than the bird itself!
If possible make sure you watch the other shooters closely to see where they’re breaking the targets. (I appreciate that their chosen kill point might not be exactly where you might choose, but at least you’ll know that particular kill zone is effective.)
If you’ve got a clear picture in your mind of exactly how, and where you’re going to kill the bird before you step onto the stand, your ‘worry level’ is kept to a minimum and you’ll shoot better than normal because of your increased confidence.
Remember, don’t call for the bird until you’re 100% sure you’re ready, and don’t let other members of your squad try and hurry you, or get you flustered.
As we’ve already said, good preparation is a major element to successful, stress-free shooting, but another important factor is staying sharp and staying focused.
Being focused is purely a state of mind.
It’s about putting all unnecessary thoughts out of your head and simply concentrating on the job in hand - breaking the next clay.
And unless you really want to hit that target - more than anything else in the world - you’re no better than your fellow shooters.
For the focused shooter it’s a make or break thing, to them it really is that important.
To stay sharp you’ve got to believe that you can and will smash that bird.
Any self-doubt will result in stress, and as we’ve already determined, worrying about missing a bird will usually result in just that - a zero on your scorecard.
If your bad shooting days still seem to outweigh the good ones try not to get downhearted.
If you do you’ll find yourself on a downward spiral and your shooting will never improve.
Remember that there’s always a helping hand if you need it. Book yourself in for a refresher course or a series of lessons.
An instructor will work on your technique and get you hitting targets again. Hitting targets boosts your confidence, and with confidence comes success.