Keith Coyle - Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
"A Correct Gun Mount is the Bedrock of all Good Technique"
The first in a series of coaching articles!
As this is my first article for Hunting & Safari magazine, I, of course, spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what the content should be and at what level of expertise it should appeal to.
Well the best place to start, as always, is at the beginning, go back to the basics, which is what we should all do every now and again. How often when you go to the shooting club do you go there to practice your technique, as opposed to shoot a round and chase a score.
Serious golfers spend as much time on the driving range and putting green, practicing their swing, as they do playing on the course, and how many golfers do you know that have brought a bag full of expensive clubs and walked on the first tee without having had lessons with a good golf pro?
So why do the majority of novice clay shooters start off in the sport by going to the local ground with a friend who gives a few phrases of well-meant advice, then they borrow a badly fitting gun and then attempt to shoot a full course relying on a technique they believe is right but based on the principles of shooting a rifle. Invariably they hit a few targets, and despite maybe having a bruised shoulder/upper arm or cheek bone, they get hooked, buy a gun and then set out with the belief that the more targets they shoot the better they will automatically get.
The truth is its only perfect practice that makes perfect! Bad practice just makes things worse and you can invest considerable amounts of money in compounding bad technique and inconsistency.
Few things are more satisfying than a perfect shot. The skill required is a product of sound basic techniques, perfect practice and smoothly honed reactions but these don’t come overnight. First you must know what it is you need to practice; only then can you do something about it. In shooting, as in other Endeavour’s, ignorance prevents progress.
As a professional Coach, over the last 25 years, I have regularly seen shooters struggling with the same basic problems – stance, gun mount, eye dominance or gun fit. Sometimes they will need to correct just one of these – at other times, a combination.
Ok, let’s look at the most important of all the “basics” that needs to be perfect, the ‘Gun Mount’; this is the bedrock of all good shooting – get it wrong and you’ll never produce your best, no matter how many cartridges you put through the barrels.
I was told by that great coach Chris Craddock – “A miss-mount is a missed shot”. This applies without exception to both the “Gun Up” and the “Gun down” shooter. Invariably we all start out believing that the first priority is to place the gun in the shoulder pocket and that this will naturally line the rib of the barrels with our eye. Novice shooters instinctively mount the gun using just the back hand to lift the stock to the shoulder with a pivotal movement, this, however, creates a see saw action at the end of the barrel and encourages dropping the head down to the stock to get the eye (the back site) in the right place to see the target.
The prime objective of a gun mount is to bring the gun up to the dominant eye first, placing the comb under the cheekbone (your kinematic buttress) and the secondary objective is to place the stock butt plate back into the shoulder pocket, which is no more than a platform to keep the gun in place.
This is normally the reverse of what our brain tells us is the right thing to do. Let’s not forget we are shooting a shotgun which we just have to point, not a rifle that has to be aimed!
The most efficient, effective and consistent way to bring the gun up to the eye (the back sight) is to use both arms in unison lifting the gun with a parallel action. To practice this properly and to overcome the natural temptation to lift the gun with the back hand only you must begin with the gun parallel to the floor, with the toe of the stock, you’re back hand elbow and the top of your hip all in a line forming the start point. Then push the gun away from your body (to do it right, its feels as if you have to exaggerate this movement) as you start to raise your arms. Keeping the head still, as the stock comes up in line with the cheek draw the gun back (creating a reversing Piston Action) this should then bring the gun up to the face first and then back into the shoulder pocket second.
If you raise your trigger hand elbow up to 90 degrees as you mount the gun you will create the maximum width shoulder pocket for the stock to sit in, the lower your elbow is, the smaller the area becomes and this increases the instability of the gun and creates the opportunity for bruising to your upper arm.
Parallel Elbow shoulder pocket Elbow too low, no shoulder pocket
Now, the dismount is just as important as the mount and it must be the same movement using both arms together but in reverse, it’s imperative not to allow the back hand to drop the gun down first. Return the toe of the stock back to your start line and finish the movement with the barrels parallel to the floor.
Practicing the mount in this way is not only bringing the gun up to the eye accurately and efficiently, it is also training your front hand to be the motive force in pointing the barrels instinctively to where your eye is looking.
So, for those of us that are able to store our guns at home, you should practice your gun mount for a minimum of ten minutes, three times a week or more, it takes approximately 2,500 repetitive movements before it becomes lodged in your muscle memory and you can carry out the action without conscious thought (A Kinesthetic movement).
The best way to practice this routine (with an empty and safe gun of course) is to stand in front of a full length mirror, stance should be for a right hander with the front (left) foot pointing at 12 o’clock and the back foot (right) at 2 o’clock, for left hander’s it’s 12 o’clock and 10 o’clock. Feet should be shoulder width apart and most importantly the front leg knee should be relaxed and bent, this allows your weight to naturally come forward. Your shoulders should be as square as comfortable facing front. This stops the front hand shoulder going forward and you incorrectly mounting the gun across the upper body, like a rifle stance.
Close the gun with the barrels parallel to the floor, you will now see that the gun is not actually pointing straight ahead but naturally across your body, so realign the barrels till they point straight ahead (towards your dominant eye) in the mirror, this will feel odd and seem like your pointing off to one side but you will see that’s not the case. If you don’t already do this, extend your front hand for finger so it’s directly under the fore end, not next to it, so it’s now in line with the barrels above, remember shooting a shot gun is just a pointing game so let your pointing finger do what it needs to and point the barrels at what your eye is looking at (The target).
Now keeping the head perfectly still, start raising the gun up to your eye using both hands together with the reversing piston action (you will see in the mirror if you are dropping or lifting your head, which you must not do!) bringing it to your face first then shoulder second. Whilst the gun is mounted shut your opposite eye and by doing this you will see if you dominant eye is placed in line with the rib and giving the correct sight picture at the end of the barrel. Do three mounts and correct dismounts then break the gun and rest your arms, wait for few seconds, then another set of three. You can carry on but don’t go beyond a point where your arms are tiring and your muscles are stressed.
To add variation and develop your natural pointing ability, now do some sets of gun mounts using the wall and ceiling corners as a target contact point. Just raise the muzzles up slightly and start the mount on a parallel diagonal approach to the target point, placing the gun in your face and in line with your eye at the exact same time (not before) as the barrels make contact with the corner.
So now, not are you only practicing the perfect mount, your are now able to bring the gun up to your eye with the barrels making accurate contact with whatever you point at, efficiently, consistently and instinctively without having to think about it (A kinesthetic movement).
Practicing your gun mount with these routine exercises will create muscle memory, improve your hand and eye co-ordination and enable you to get the eye, muzzle, target alignment right every time.
Regrettably in clay shooting as in other sports there is no such thing as a “Quick Fix” and new techniques must be practiced before they become effective, as you can’t train for and play the game at the same time. When making the effort to improve our skills patience is a virtue and sometimes we have to accept that when trying something new we get a little worse before we get better. This is because when in training we are consciously thinking about what we are trying to achieve, it’s only after we have spent time practicing and honing these new skills, will our overall performance improve and keep on improving as we develop confidence in our abilities and experience increasing successes.
I hope my coaching advice and the accompanying photographs will give you something to think about and practice when you can. Having now covered “Gun Mount’, the most important “Basic”, in future editions we can move on to look at the importance of “Gunfit’ (Totally dependent on a correct mount), Eye dominance and what affects it.
Then there is the never ending question of “Lead” the subject that fascinates and frustrates clay shooters (and Wing shooters) the world over, and then what is the best way of applying it. Is it swing through, Maintained lead or Contact and Pull Away Method?. We shall look at the benefits and pitfalls of each, which clay disciplines they are best applied to and ultimately when you don’t need “lead” at all.
My aim in writing these articles for Hunting & Safari magazine is to give readers the enjoyment that comes from shooting with confidence and consistency. Using an effective technique for whichever clay discipline(s) they shoot and most importantly to shoot “Safely and with Style”.
Remember it’s only “Perfect Practice That Makes You Perfect” and doing this will stack the odds in your favor. Acquire sound, basic techniques and even on a bad day you’ll shoot well but on a Good Day You’ll Be Absolutely Brilliant!!
Keith Coyle, M.I.C.S.I., Senior C.P.S.A. & Academy Coach,
Proprietor of the Classic Wing & Game Safaris, Sporting Agency
* Posted with permission of Keith Coyle.