Saturday, June 6, 2009

How to Run Station 2 on Skeet Each and Every Time

This article originally appeared in Shotgun Life's free weekly e-letter. To sign up, please visit

by Bob Uknalis

If the devil took up residence on the skeet field, most people think it would be on Station 2.

Many shooters believe that to beat the station you need to combine the skills of a gunslinger and a contortionist. As they approach the station they’re thinking “No way.”

After all, Station 2 does call for you to break two singles and then a double. On the singles, the high house screams out of the hole from your extreme left, while the low house takes so long to get across the field you actually get impatient waiting for it -- and then you miss it because you mistakenly think it’s a “gimme.”

When it comes to the doubles on Station 2, your anxiety really gets tweaked up. First you have to break the high house real fast, and then you have to find the low-house target. Usually, by time you do locate the low-house target you have only a few feet left before it disappears behind the high house. By that time, you’re off balance, frantic and desperate to catch up.

In reality, though, all it takes to consistently run Station 2 is a fundamental understanding of some shooting basics -- and of course practice.

Once you master the basics, your anxiety of the station will disappear. You’ll find yourself running shooting Station 2 with complete confidence.

Let’s start with foot position.

The proper placement of your feet is one of the most over-looked requirements to successful skeet shooting. A lot of shooters either ignore proper foot placement or follow a common rule of thumb that says your belt buckle should always point towards the low house -- putting your feet in that direction as well.

But I have a different approach that has always worked for me. I call it the clock method. By following the clock method, you’ll have a greater range of motion for Station 2 (and other stations as well.)

Unlike the belt-buckle rule, the clock method gives you permission to recalibrate your foot position according to the station. As a result, your torso can twist to wider angles for solid breaks. With the clock method, you don’t “run out of swing” as quickly as you do with the belt-buckle rule.

The clock method got its name from when skeet was originally called Shooting Around the Clock in 1920. The trap house was located at 12:00 and the shooters basically shot in a circle around it with each station on the hour of the clock face.

Legend has it that a nearby chicken farmer complained about the shot hitting the roof of his coop. In consideration, the skeet shooters cut the field in half, giving us the modern skeet field.

Applying the clock method today, the 12:00 position is Station 4. At Station 4, both feet are facing the center post. Counting back, then, at Station 2 your left foot is at 10:00 (for right-hand shooters).

It’s only your left foot that follows the hours. Your right foot should be in a neutral, comfortable position. Left-hand shooters follow the clock face with their right foot.

I find the clock method provides a full range of motion at every station. For example, if you were to follow the belt-buckle theory, you could easily run out of swing on Station 2 if you were trying to catch up with the low-house target. By comparison, if your left foot is at 10:00, you have a far greater range of motion to nail that low-house bird.

First thing you do, then, is look at your feet to make sure they are properly placed. Don’t take it for granted. Look at your feet every time you take your position.

Once your feet are pointing in the right direction, the next thing you need to concern yourself with is gun mount.

What I do is face the break point of the station. Ideally, you want to break all the targets over the center stake. At the same time, you have to be realistic about your own capabilities.

If you feel that haven’t mastered the station to break it over the center stake, then go to the right of the center state 1½ - 2 feet. The ability to break a target within a certain area versus a specific point is called zone shooting. I find zone shooting most effective and it’s the approach that I use.

Now, you’re facing the zone where you will break the target. Mount the shotgun and point it the place where you expect to break the target. With the gun mounted, you then move it the hold point, which is the final place you will hold the gun before calling for the target.

For Station 2, you now pull back the gun until its parallel with the high house. The best way to consistently find the parallel position is to look for the distance marker that is 60 yards out. These markers should always be in the same, standard place at each skeet field. Being parallel with the high house equals having your muzzle pointing at the distance marker.

Now that your gun is parallel with the high house, move it slightly to the right. This is your final hold point for Station 2: it’s slightly past parallel. There is a very good reason for you to hold the gun here.

The bird leaves the high house at approximately 50 mph. You try chasing anything going 50 mpg and you’ll probably discover it’s a losing proposition. However, by holding your gun slightly past parallel you’re allowing the target to slow down. By the time you pick up the target, it may be going 45 mph -- a more manageable speed for breaking it within your zone.

After you’ve established the slightly-past-parallel hold point, move your barrel down 1-1½ feet below the flight path. This gives you better visibility of the target. Your barrel won’t block the shot. Remember, it’s always easier to come up to a target than to drop your barrel.

So your hold point for Station 2 is now firmly established: slightly-past-parallel and 1-1½ feet below the flight path.

The next thing you do is look back to the high house as far as you can without moving your head. Maximize your peripheral vision. Looking back to the window with only your eyes gives you a jump start on establishing your lead. You’re watching the target coming up on you before you move the gun. You never move the gun on your call. You only move the gun when you’ve established the target with your eyes -- and you keep your eyes glued to the target.

What you’ll discover is quite surprising. By looking back to the high house with your peripheral vision, the target almost seems to move in slow motion on its flight path. Your eyes are locked onto it. Suddenly, you find that you have a head start on the target instead of having to chase it.

With your eyes and gun under control, make sure you’re relaxed before calling for the target. You feel balanced, your breathing is even and you know the zone where you will break the target.

You call for the high house and your muzzle speed is matching the target speed. You shoot directly at the target on high 2. There is virtually no lead on this shot.

Regarding your low-house hold point, you should move your gun about 2/3 of the way back from the center post to the low house. Again, you want to hold your gun 1-1½ feet below the flight path.

Your eyes are on the hole of the low house. When you call for the target, the muzzle speed matches the target speed. Your lead on the low 2 target is 12-16 inches in front of the bird. Ideally, you want to break the low bird right before it passes you (but as a zone shooter you have some wiggle room on that).

For doubles, you have to consider them as two single shots. The dynamics are exactly the same. Just remain calm.

Consistency is very important for successful skeet shooting. That’s why I follow this routine when I walk onto the station: 1) foot position, 2) don’t shoulder the gun until you determine where you are going to break the target, 3) mount the gun, 4) eyes to the window.

Keep practicing and you’ll be astounded at your results on Station 2.

Bob Uknalis is a nine-time World Skeet Champion and has won Doubles Long-Run Record of 731 straight. He has been inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Association Hall of Fame. He is available for lessons and can be contacted at (215) 240-2585 or

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How "Bargain Basement Thinking" Can Help You Break More Clays

This tutorial originally appeared in the free, weekly e-letter distributed by Shotgun Life. To subscribe, please visit

By Andy Tubb

As a former marine and law-enforcement officer, one thing you realize is that when it comes to making a shot, you often don’t have a lot of time to analyze the situation. Your years of training take over at a subconscious level so that you can process the information yet remain detached enough from it to apply the same level of reasoning that helps you make the decision about which box of cereal to buy in the supermarket.

That is the state of mind you want to be in when shooting sporting clays – or any clays shooting sport for that matter. It’s a mental state where your training blends with your subconscious so that the use of your shotgun becomes instinctive and fluid. This state is where your training and subconscious meet; I call it Bargain Basement Thinking.

Bargain Basement Thinking is a sense of awareness that’s rooted in your subconscious. Bargain Basement Thinking enables you to use awareness instead of analysis. What’s the benefit to this when it comes to clays shooting?

By its very definition, analysis means that you are questioning something. For example, after the target is called for, an analytical shooter will look at the target and analyze if he is too far in front of it, behind it, question the wind, the light – you get the idea. After trying to make sense of all this data as the target is flying out of range, chances are pretty good that the shot will be missed.

Let’s compare that with awareness.

An aware shooter is able to draw on his training to instinctively know when to pull the trigger. For our purposes, awareness = muscle memory + subconscious training + eye/hand coordination. Now, if you look at the individual components of awareness, what you’ll realize is that it all adds up to your instinctive ability to point at a target.

Therefore, Bargain Basement Thinking is when you become competent without having to analyze.

In order to optimize your Bargain Basement Thinking, I recommend to my students that they shoot with their gun down – or low gun as it’s often called. Here’s why…

When you premount a gun, after you call for the target, you have to begin moving a static gun. At the most important time of the shot (the time when you’re establishing the target), your muscles are static, your vision is obscured and you try to catch up by analyzing the situation simply because your brain does not have the chance to be aware of the target yet.

With low gun, you open up vision, your muscles relax and you immediately achieve that fluid movement as you swing toward the target and mount the gun. All the while, you are only aware of the target – not of trying to get the gun moving or struggling to actually see the target as it’s moving away from you.

With low-gun shooting, you’ve detached yourself from the gun while at the same time, you remain fully aware of the target. Muscle memory takes over in terms of the gun-movement mechanics and your focus remains completely on the target. Next thing you know you’ve broken the target.

Many instructors will show you how to hold the gun, where to place your feet, and tell you whether or not you were in front or in back of the target after you missed. Unfortunately, what they don’t stress is your own natural ability to use Bargain Basement Thinking to accelerate your success in the clays shooting sports.

For more information about Andy Tubb, visit his web site at

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Proper Hold Points for Sporting Clays

This article originally appeared in the free, weekly e-letter distributed by Shotgun Life. To sign up for the e-letter, please visit

The trickiest thing in sporting clays is finding the best hold point. By hold point, we’re talking about the magic spot where you place your gun just before you call for the target. Hold your gun too far back, and you’ll end up chasing the target with all probability of never catching it. Hold your gun too far out front, and you often end up spot shooting the target with little to no swing.

Either way, the results are the same: dismal.

That’s why we tapped Gary Phillips to talk about sporting clays hold points. Gary is the former British Open Sporting Champion, American National Champion, Canadian Open Champion, U.S. Open Champion in addition to holding many titles from sporting clays competitions around the world.

by Gary Phillips

When it comes to sporting clays, many shooters seem to throw away the book on hold points.

They know where to hold the gun for each skeet station and each trap station, but when they step onto a sporting clays station they almost seem to short circuit in trying to find the perfect hold point.

In a way, it’s perfectly understandable.

Skeet and trap make it easier for you to reliably find a consistent hold point. You can use distance markers, a trap house and standard hold-point guidelines based on geometric fields.

Sporting clays, however, presents a more challenging shooting environment that can really spook a shooter.

Since sporting clays is played in a natural setting, the time of year, sunlight, shadows -- anything that Mother Nature feels like throwing at you -- can affect your mental game. You know what I mean…shooting orange targets in peak autumn foliage with low sun and mottled shadows.

The speed and distance of sporting clays targets also vary compared to skeet and trap.

Did you ever imagine that a slow incoming target could be more difficult to shoot than your standard skeet target?

Then there are the crossing tower shots that are so high and far away you feel like your shooting at a UFO.

But all of these shots can be made, and the place for you to start is your hold point.

What we’ll do in this lesson is go over the basic hold points for the most popular types of sporting clays targets. Once you feel confident with your hold point, the rest of the game starts to fall in place for you.

Now just one thing before we get started.

What I’m about to tell you applies to two-eyed shooters, or shooters who wear patches. In fact, sporting clays should be shot with both eyes to maximize your peripheral vision. You want to give yourself every available advantage to see the target as early as possible -- and that starts with both open eyes.

One of the most common mistakes I see in sporting clays shooters is they hold their gun too far back. They confuse a visual advantage with an extreme hold point.

For example, with a quartering away target why would you want to hold your gun 10 yards further back than necessary? All you end up doing is chasing the target.

By moving your hold point 10 yards further out, you’re giving the target a chance to slow down and your eyes to focus on it. Otherwise, all you see is a blur.

The problem gets worse on a report pair where you’ll find yourself swinging the gun all over the place with inconsistent results as you try to catch up with targets.

Holding your gun too far back puts you at a disadvantage.

Remember: Economy of movement will guide to the best hold point --regardless of the target presentation.

By using that rule myself, my hold points are so good that I hardly have to move the barrel. In fact, I’ve been accused of a cardinal sin in sporting clays, which is spot shooting (where you let the target run into the barrel).

But the fact is I do swing my gun -- only minimally. Now I admit, this comes with practice. To do that, however, you first have to believe that economy of movement really does work for you.

So with that in mind, let’s get started…

Crossing Targets

For a crossing target, you want your hold point to be approximately half way between the trap and the break point. That way, you don’t have to chase the target and once you follow the target for a short period of time you can smoothly pass the target to the appropriate lead.


For teals, your hold point should be at least half way or two-thirds up its flight path. If you have the gun too low the target will beat you and you’ll swing wildly past it. The proper hold point lets the target gently appear over the barrel before you shoot it.

Quartering Away Target

The best way to determine your hold point for these targets is to follow the target with your finger when you get your looker. Imagine that your finger is the gun barrel, and it helps determine your hold point.

Also, see if you can find a marker in the landscape to identify the start point.

From the low-gun position, when I mount the gun and the stock actually touches my cheek I like to be on the target or slightly behind it. That way, you can break it before it gets away from you. After I break the target, I keep the gun moving.


For the sake of this lesson, we’re not talking batus or chandelles. Basically, we’re referring to arching, crossing targets.

You match the target speed. The best break point is just after the target has peaked. Simply hold the gun halfway between the trap and the apex of the target. You pull the trigger immediately after it reaches the apex.

What I’ve heard some people do is draw an imaginary line parallel with the ground and let the target drop into the shot. That’s a good way to become inconsistent. If you have the gun barrel on or slightly behind the target, all you have to do is move smoothly in front, or if it drops, move slightly under. Hoping it drops into the target is just luck.


The hold point for a rabbit depends if it’s a crossing rabbit or quartering away. If it’s quartering away, you aim straight at the target. Just make sure when you mount the gun that the bead is right on the target. If it’s a crossing target, your point is about halfway back between the trap and the break point. In both cases, you treat the rabbit like an aerial target.


Economy of movement is the best way to consistently break sporting clays targets. Minimal gun movement reduces the chances of you chasing the target. This method also gives you an advantage in the natural settings of sporting clays courses by allowing you establish the target right before you’re ready to break it. Also, always remember to shoot with both eyes open and to swing your gun through the target.

Economy of movement takes some practice, but if you follow this approach you will see an improvement in your scores.

Gary Phillips is available for lessons and may be reached at (302) 354-2531 or via email at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


This tutorial originally appeared in the free, weekly e-letter distributed by Shotgun Life. To subscribe, please visit

By Jack Bart

One of the best-kept secrets about successful trap shooting is that the game only has three primary shots.

Regardless of which way the targets come flying out of the trap house, there are just three ways to crush it. This gets even easier when you begin to understand that each of the three ways is determined by which station you’re on. Stations 1 and 2 use one shot; station 3 is a different shot; and Stations 4 and 5 comprise the third shot.

The best way to optimize this 3-Trap Shooting Technique is in your set-up. Rather than just stepping up to the station and calling for the target, there are few things you need to do first. By taking a moment to allow yourself the proper set-up, you almost guarantee that you’ll break the target based on the 3-Trap Shooting Technique.

The set-up consists of the hold point (where you point the muzzle before shooting), foot position and where you place your eyes. For our purposes, the information that follows is geared toward right-hand shooters.

A quick note before we proceed….When I say that your feet should be parallel, I’m referring to the leading edge of the concrete border on the station. Therefore, when I say parallel, it means your feet should be parallel to that edge; it’s our baseline for foot position.

Station 1

On Station 1, you should be standing so that your feet are nearly parallel, pointing toward Station 5. Your left should be almost touching that concrete edge. Your right foot will be back 2-3 inches – so that the toes of your right foot are at about at the ball of your left foot. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.

Now you mount the gun. Your hold point is 1 foot to the right of the front left corner of the trap house. The reason for this is that no target (either left for right) will cross the gun barrel and get blocked from your view. By giving yourself the advantage of a full downrange perspective, it helps reduce that sense of urgency when you find yourself chasing a target that was momentarily obscured by the barrel. This hold point helps you maintain a calm demeanor so that you can concentrate on breaking the target rather than chasing it.

In terms of the horizontal axis, you’re going to hold the gun at the height approximately where you’re going to break the target. That could vary depending on how the target is flying in the wind. For example, if the wind is blowing toward you it will drive the target high. Shooting into the wind means that you would hold the gun higher than the normal position of parallel with the ground.

Still concentrating on the set-up, your eyes should look beyond the gun to the front edge of the trap house – allowing you to see the target immediately after it’s thrown.

As the target leaves the trap house, do not move the gun. Send your eyes to the left edge of the target. When you have the target well in focus, then move the gun directly to that left edge and shoot. There’s no lead necessary. Just shoot the left edge. Gun speed will create the necessary lead to break the target every time. Even with the right hand target from Station 1, you should break it on the left edge. Do not follow the target; go directly to the left edge and pull the trigger. The target will break every time.

The left edge is one of the three shots that I was referring to in the 3-Trap Shooting Technique. As you’ll see in a moment, you’ll also shoot the left edge of the target on Station 2.

Station 2

Everything is the same as on Station 1, except that you turn your body a little more to the right. You’ll find that this slight variation will also move your right foot about 2 inches further back than on Station 1.

Your hold point is half way between the center of the trap house and the left hand corner. You’re looking at the front edge of the trap house. You’re going to hold the gun at the height that you intend to break the target. Again, shoot left edge of target. Don’t try to figure it out. It works if you go directly to the target. If you track it, you’ll miss the target.

To recap, Station 1 and Station 2 should have the targets broken on the left edge. This left-edge approach comprises Shot 1 of the 3-Trap Shooting Technique.

Station 3

Turn another couple inches to the right. That will move your feet about 2 inches further back. Your feet are shoulder-width apart.

Hold the gun at the height where you’ll break the target and 1 foot to the right of center of the trap house. The reason to hold the gun right of center is that if you held the gun dead center on the trap house, a target could actually get under the gun and you wouldn’t be able to see it because the gun would obscure the straight away target. Thus holding the gun 1 foot to the right allows you to immediately see any target as it leaves the trap house.

Keep your eyes at the front edge of the trap house, looking for the target as it’s thrown.

Shoot directly at the center of every target. For example, if you get a straight-away targeting flying at 12 noon, you would shoot the target at 6 o’clock, which is dead center.

This 6 o’clock point of impact is the second shot of the 3-Trap Shooting Technique. It is unique to Station 3.

Station 4

Turn another 2 inches to the right. Your right foot will move back commensurately. Your feet are still shoulder-width apart. Your hold point is half way between the right front corner of the trap house and the center. The height of your hold point will be approximately where you’ll shoot the target. You are looking at the front edge of the trap house.

Now we come to the third shot of the 3-Trap Shooting Technique. On Station 4 and on Station 5 you will shoot every target on the right edge. Move directly to the target. Do not chase it. As they say in the old Westerns, head the target off at the pass. Even if you get a left crossing target, break it on the right side. Don’t think about it, just do it. You’ll smash the target every time.

Station 5

Turn another 2 inches to the right, which will put your feet about 45 degrees in relation to the front edge of the station. Look at the front edge of the trap house. Your hold point is 1 foot in from the right front corner of the trap house, at a height of approximately where you’ll break the target. After you’ve established the target with your eyes, go directly to the right edge of the target and pull the trigger. The target will break.


The 3-Trap Shooting Technique basically gives you three different shots for five stations. On Stations 1 and 2, you break the target on the left edge. On Station 3, you break the target in the center. On Stations 4 and 5, you break the target on the right edge.

This method gives you the ability to know exactly where you’re going to shoot at the target before you even establish the target with your eyes.

Always move directly to the target. Do not follow it. What you’ll discover is that you’ll almost forget the target is moving. Your only job is to go directly to the target as though it’s simply hanging out there.

Everything that we talked about is written in stone, except the height that we hold the gun in relation to the trap house.

In terms of the height, that is dictated by the wind conditions. Here’s a tip to help you determine your vertical axis for the hold point…

In any windy situation, the targets are always changing. You can use this to your advantage. I call it “playing the wind.” When it's my turn to shoot, I hold the gun at the highest point of the target flight, based on where I saw the target fly as I watched the shooter before me. Always watch the target of the shooter before you to determine your vertical hold point.

I am constantly changing my vertical hold point to the highest point of the target flight. The wind will dictate this. It could be very high or very low. Occasionally the hold point is low enough to be, on the trap house.

On a calm day, you don't have to change it. The target will go to the same high point, every time. That's when you can really get in a groove. It's so easy, it's almost like stealing.

Always look down through the gun in order to see the target as it approaches your gun hold point. As you see it moving below the gun, move the barrel left or right to meet it. Your barrel only has to move horizontally, and often only a few inches, or not at all. If you do it correctly, It really does look like the trap machine is throwing the targets at your gun.


If you can master the 3-Trap Shooting Technique, you be amazed at how it seems that the trap machine is throwing the targets directly in front of your gun.

Jack Bart is a professional shotgun shooting instructor, master stock fitter and owner of Bart’s Sports World in Glen Burnie, Maryland. His phone number is 410-746-3232. Please visit his web site for guns, accessories and shooting instructions at

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Dynamic Approach to Sporting Clays

This tutorial originally appeared in the free, weekly e-letter distributed by Shotgun Life. To sign up for it, please visit

This week we have a contribution from Anthony Matarese. If the name sounds familiar, here’s why:

13 Time All-American (Open 1st Team 10 consecutive years)

9 Time Member of Team USA Sporting

7 Time Member of Team USA FITASC

2 Time Great American Champion

3 Time Master’s Cup Champion

5 Time New Jersey State Champion

2 Time National FITASC Champion

2001 US Open Runner-Up

2005 World Sporting 5th Overall

2006 Seminole Cup Champion

2006 US Open Third Over-all

2006 World FITASC Bronze Medalist (Tied for Gold Medal, lost in shoot-off)

2007 US Open Third Over-all

2007 World Sporting 6th Overall

2007 Nemacolin Pro-AM Champion

2008 Browning / Briley Champion

2008 East Coast Championship HOA

2008 US Open Champion

2008 World FITASC Silver Medalist

2008 National Sporting Clays Champion

Junior Wins

2 Time World Sporting Junior Champion

4 Time National Junior Champion

3 Time US Open Junior Champion

2 Time National FITASC Junior Champion

Anthony is recognized as one of the top competitors in the U.S. and the world. In addition, he is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College, where he studied Business Finance and Economics. Anthony recently released an instructional sporting clays DVD, “Timed to Win: A Dynamic New Approach to Sporting Clays.”

Now, Anthony fills us in on his Dynamic Approach to Sporting Clays.


By Anthony Matarese

The complexity and challenge of sporting clays can leave even the most experienced shooters scratching their heads.

The sport is far from easy. Just when you think you have found the method that works best, you may find your approach leaving you with less than desirable results.

Over the last 15 years, in an effort to the fix the flaws in my shooting, I have developed what I call a “dynamic approach.” A dynamic approach is simply a combination of a few shooting methods. The choice of which method and in what situation to use each can be determined by understanding a few core principles.

Unlike clays-shooting sports such as skeet and trap, the wide variety of sporting-clays targets move in a lively fashion depending on the weather, time of day and the landscape of the course.

Therefore, steadfast rules such as timing, hold points and mounts associated with more predictable shotgun sports can leave even the most experienced shooters “in the woods” when it comes to the dynamics of sporting clays. Whereas skeet and trap fields are built to exacting specifications, sporting-clays courses by their very design are intended to conjure up a natural habitat where game birds can perform their acrobatics – challenging the shooter to make the kill.

While it’s easy for shooters to understand why they need a systematic approach to the predictable flight lines of skeet and trap, others may question of the value of something like that when it comes to the more complex sporting clays.

In fact, the best way to develop a successful approach for sporting clays is to recognize the core principles of the sport that have proven successful. Proper instructions and ongoing practice in terms of the mechanics of shooting then provide a knowledge base that lets the shooter recognize which of these core principles to apply for any given target presentation in sporting clays.

The objective is to arm the shooter with both the mechanical basics of shooting and the core principles in order to achieve a reliable and consistent approach to sporting clays which is flexible, dynamic and plays to the strengths of each individual shooter. I call this line of attack the Dynamic Approach.

Before moving on I feel it is important to give credit where credit is due. I honestly could not have developed this approach without the instruction I received from Dan Carlisle at a young age. His guiding principles that my approach are based on have become a fundamental part of my shooting.

So what are these core principles? The principle that I feel is the most critical in determining how to approach a target is related to the visual clarity of the target. Simply put, you should shoot the target where you see the bird the clearest, or at the point of the target’s flight where the target looks the biggest.

Another principle to live by is to never use excess gun speed. In other words, if the target is traveling 20 mph your gun should not travel much faster than 21 mph. On the same note, if you have already met the target your gun speed should not be slower than the target. If the target is traveling 20 mph and your gun speed is 19 mph you have either started your gun too far in front of the target or you are going to shoot behind. In essence this leaves you with a way to determine hold point.

Determining the angle of a target is also critical in the decision of what method or approach use. For example, is the target crossing, shallow quartering, deep quartering, incoming or quartering in? The angle of the target is critical to determining the insertion or placement of the gun relative to the target.

As I mentioned, you can’t simply follow a set rule-of-thumb as you would in skeet that says your hold point should be 2/3 back from the center stake to the trap house. Remember, this is the Dynamic Approach – meaning that you must be flexible when it comes to applying the core principles.

Understanding the principles discussed above will be critical to determining the best approach. You need to be able to answer the following question: Should I pre-mount or shoot low-gun? Should I use a form of pull-way? If so, where should I insert the gun? Should I use a form of intercept, such as “move-mount-shoot”? Should my gun ever start behind the target? If so, what type of target?

I believe you need to be able to shoot both pre-mounted and low-gun. Keep in mind low-gun means having an actual mount, not just lifting your head. Moreover, how low the gun starts can vary depending on the amount of time you have for the shot.

Let’s start with pre-mounting. You should always pre-mount on anything that you would consider a trap-shot. Specifically, you can pre-mount anytime the trap is located between 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock if you where standing at 6 o’clock. If the target gets past the point where you see it the clearest before you can mount the gun, then I would shoot pre-mounted. When pre-mounted, the most important variable will be your hold point.

As the angle of the target becomes greater, there becomes a point where you may want to shoot low-gun. If the traps are at 4 o’clock or 8 o’clock, while you are standing at 6 o’clock, the decision to pre-mount or shoot low-gun depends on speed and distance.

Your best approach on crossers and targets that give you plenty of time will be to shoot low-gun. The advantage of low gun when shooting crossers is that the movement of the gun to your face gives you timing. The purpose of a mount is to merge the gun and the bird together seamlessly.

I suggest using some form of pull-way as your main approach and using other approaches as needed. You must first determine where you see the target the clearest. If you have plenty of time to shoot the target where you see it the clearest then I suggest using pull-away. When using pull-away you do not always start the gun on the front edge of the target. Specifically, you should start the gun far enough in front so that if the target is moving 20 mph you can move the gun 21 mph and reach the required lead. Therefore, a long crosser may require starting the gun a good bit in front and then “stretching away” to finish the lead. As distance and speed increase you should insert further and further in front. A shallow quartering target is best approached by mounting on the back edge and stretching to the front by moving slightly faster than the target.

You should use a form of “move-mount-shoot” when you want to shoot a target rather quickly. Remember, to shoot a trap-style target quickly you should pre-mount, but if it the target is more of a crosser you should be using a lower-gun and shooting a form of “move-mount-shoot”. You will choose this method when the target looks the clearest for a short period of time and then turns on edge or when you are trying to shoot the first bird of a pair rather quickly to get to the second target. In other words the presentation does not give you enough time to meet the target and “stretch” or pull away to finish the lead. However, I urge you to pull-away from the target when the target gives you time to do so.

As you can see, these core principles are essential for becoming a successful sporting clays shooter. Because sporting clays is dynamic, you need a Dynamic Approach.

To contact Anthony Matarese about sporting clays instructions, please visit his web site at

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How to Shoot Your Best Round of Sporting Clays -- Even in 40-mph Winds

This article originally appeared in the free e-letter distributed by Shotgun Life. To subscribe, please visit

By Irwin Greenstein

The week between Christmas and New Years is prime time for a sporting-clays marathon in the Baltimore area. There are at least six great places to shoot within an hour’s drive or so, and a ready group of friends that make it easy to pull together a pick-up squad with a few emails.

One morning, about seven of us drove down to beautiful Pintail Point in Queenstown, Maryland, in the shotgun playground of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Sporting clays, waterfowl and deer are in abundance and many shooters who are born on the Eastern Shore never move away.

That morning, I had packed my Caesar Guerini Magnus 20/28-gauge combo with 32-inch barrels. I shoot 20 gauge for sporting clays and 28 gauge for skeet. It’s a marvelous shotgun. It’s well-balanced and easy to befriend -- the kind of shotgun that can boost your confidence.

When it comes to chokes, I follow the rule of thumb that suggests Improved Cylinders for sporting clays. It’s a good constriction for just about any presentation, especially for a shooter like me who doesn’t change chokes from station to station.

For ammo, I prefer the Remington Heavy Sport Load (Dick’s) or the Winchester Texas Heavy Dove & Quail Load (Bass Pro). Both are 1-ounce 20 gauge packed with No. 8 shot. And as you’ll see later, both are also capable of breaking very long targets.

The temperature that morning hovered in the 40s. The wind was calm and the sky was so brilliant that when you smashed a high target it seemed like a spray of fireworks -- the effect you get when night-shooting under the lights.

Our trapper was a champion sporting clays shooter and he knew us well. There were no bad pulls, bad advice or bad attitude.

In short, aside from the bulk of my jacket, there were no excuses that glorious morning at Pintail Point.

I started missing the easy targets early in the round. At first I couldn’t figure it out. And the unspoken rule in our group that no advice is given unless asked for.

The thing is, I knew what I was doing wrong; I just couldn’t get myself to fix the problem.

I kept shooting over the targets because rather than cock my right knee and lean on the ball of my left foot, for some darn reason I kept leaning back. I started complaining that the stock was too long with my jacket on, that 20-gauge was too small for some of the targets, and on and on and on…

By time we hit the last station, I was seething -- ready to trade in the gun for a 12 gauge and a custom-fit stock. The scores were tallied up and I came in dead last with 53 out of 100.

The guy with the highest score at 86 was Rick Cundiff. Rick has shot hundreds of thousands of rounds of sporting clays, in addition to thousands of rounds in wing shooting. His gun of choice that day was a Caesar Guerini Summit 12 gauge -- the best that the company has to offer.

Just a note about Rick. Whenever we shoot sporting clays, I notice that he uses Cylinder and Skeet chokes -- maybe occasionally going to a tighter constriction for a station or two. I simply figured that Rick was such a good shot he could do whatever the heck he wanted -- and wrote it off to that.

After Pintail Point, we stopped at Annie’s Steak and Seafood House on the Kent Narrows -- our usual place to grab a spectacular burger, fried oyster sandwich or the meat-loaf blue-plate special. We talked about shooting and other things, but as lunch wound down I suggested that we shoot sporting clays again the next day at a different place: Central Penn Sporting Clays in Wellsville, Penn. (call me a masochist). Central Penn was about the same distance as Pintail Point, but due north.

Everyone thought it was a great idea. After the rush of enthusiasm, most of us realized we had dentist appointments, dates, work -- you name it. That is except for Rick and me. It was set then, Rick would meet at my house the next morning and we would make a bee dive to Central Penn.

As usual, Rick arrived promptly on time. Driving up there, I lamented my horrible scores at Pintail Point. Rick said “Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.”

During the drive up to Central Penn, Rick suggested I swap out my Improved Cylinder Chokes for Cylinder and Skeet. I figured, Cylinder and Skeet with a 20 gauge? Fat chance. But I did it anyway -- otherwise Rick would make me drop and give him 50 push ups. predicted 40 mph winds that morning with gusts up to 60 mpg. We drove through a snow squall but otherwise it seemed like a calm day -- until we stepped out of Rick’s SUV.

Almost on cue, a razor-sharp wind kicked up the leaves and shook the trees. Inside the club house, Maryanne sat bundled up. A squad of shooters had just returned, and man were they glad to beat the wind. Determined, Rick and I were ready for 100 targets. It was going to be sporting clays boot camp, with Rick as the drill sergeant.

Central Penn makes no pretense. It’s a local club with new machines, cheap prices ($25 for 100 targets for non-members, $20 for members) and the very nice Stoneberger family runs the place. Given the time of year, and the weather forecast, there weren’t many shooters -- giving us plenty of leeway for help from Rick.

Invariably, when I shoot at Central Penn I think about the Charlie Daniel’s song, "Devil Went Down to Georgia." Instead of the devil daring Johnny the fiddle player, he went down to Wellsville and taunted the guy who sets traps at Central Penn. And just as in the Charlie Daniel’s song “The devil bowed his head because he knew that he'd been beat” but this time it was in Wellsville.

"Devil just come on back if you ever want to try again.”

Rick decided we should go down to the last stations, which are set in the woods. Most of the course is shot in open flat land or over corn stalks, and the woods would give us a fighting chance against the wind.

He pulled a couple of left-to-right low sweepers and watched as I missed them. Then he made a brilliant suggestion. Rather than hold the shotgun down at around my rib cage in a low, ready mount, I should place the stock on my shoulder. This would accomplish two things:

I wouldn’t have to deal with the bulk of my jacket during the mount.
I wouldn’t constantly rush my mount because the stock would be closer to my cheekbone.

By holding the gun closer to my face (but not pressing the stock against my shoulder), he believed that it would smooth out and slow down my mount and give me more time to focus strictly on the target.

Sure enough, he was right.

My mount was consistent, deliberate and confident. And combined with the wider chokes I just started crushing targets. Loopers, sweepers, dropping incomers -- it didn’t matter. If it flied, it died.

At Central Penn, there is a teal in the middle of a corn field that’s set about 80 yards away from the cage. The trap machine is in a grove of trees. It throws the bird some 20 yards over the tree tops, peaks and then drops like a comet. Now imagine shooting that target in 40 mph winds.

My inclination is to shoot teals just when they stall. I tried that approach on this target and missed it.

The second time, though, I decided to hold my gun lower and swing up through the target, giving it about a 20-yard lead. Starting my mount on my shoulder, I executed a smooth and deliberate upswing. Now remember, I have a 20-gauge shotgun and my bottom barrel (the first barrel) is choked Cylinder. I called for the bird and then pulled the trigger according to plan. Rick and I watched that tiny spec soar above the tree tops, when suddenly the thing smashes. We look at each other in amazement.

Was it a lucky shot? Neither of us thought so.

We didn’t keep score that day in Wellsville, but I’m willing to bet the Devil it was the best round of sporting clays I ever shot.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Orvis Sandanona Chronicles Part V

This lesson orignally appeared in the Shotgun free weekly e-letter. To subscribe, please visit

With Part V we close out our Sandanona Chronicles. This installment will include tips from Joe Wassi -- an affable and capable instructor.

As the Sandona Chronicles worked its way through instructors such as John Higgins, Chris Batha and others, the one topic that kept coming up was the English Churchill Instinctive Shooting Method. They either talked about it as a pure form of instruction or more often used the Churchill Method as a foundation to embellish it with their own skills -- giving rise to something called the Modified Churchill Method.

The Orvis Shooting Schools are based on the English Churchill method. To begin, it advocates the basics of proper fit and mount. The shooter prepares the gun in a proper ready position for the line of flight of the game. Watching the target with both eyes, you move your hands and body with the target as dictated by the target speed. You raise the gun with a solid mount to shoulder and cheek. The trigger is pulled the instant the gun is mounted.

In other words, although you maintain a lead you insert the gun where your instincts tell you the target will be

With the Churchill Method, it seems that you’re shooting directly at the target. But as Chris Batha writes in his excellent book, Breaking Clays, “The lapse between the time the trigger is pulled and the time that the shot leaves the barrel ensures that the muzzles are in front of the target when the shot leaves the barrel, though, if asked, the shooter would swear he shot directly at the target.”

The Churchill Method was developed in the 1930s for game and wingshooting. Over the years, it has been successfully applied to clays shooting. And now that brings us to Joe Wassi.

Along with the other instructors, he was on hand at the luxurious Orvis Sandanona Shooting Grounds in Millbrook, New York. On September 13th and 14th when Orvis Sandanona hosted the 4th Annual Shotgun Classic and the 2008 Orvis Cup.

Shotgun Life was invited to attend the instruction areas of the Shotgun Classic. The event focused on the teaching skills of wingshooting by top instructors from around the world.

Now, here are Joe’s shooting tips…

* You look a little to the right of the barrel to pick up quartering, crossing targets.
* In shooting true pairs, people often miss the second bird because the first one was an “Oh gosh” bird -- meaning the shooter was so elated that breaking the first one, they lost track of the second bird.
* When you go back to get the second target, don’t move your feet to help with your swing.
* Generate gun speed while you’re in the swing.
* Don’t lock up on the gun.

Well, we hope you enjoyed the Orvis Sandanona Chronicles. We have more great shooting tips coming your way from world-class instructors.

In the mean time, you can arrange a private lesson at the Orvis Wingshooting School by calling 1-800-235-9763.

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