In this 3-part article, Don chronicles a series of sporting clays lessons he gives to one of his students revealing some common shooter errors. Don discusses mounting to the cheek instead of the shoulder and his secrets for achieving a smooth gun mount.
(Appeared in the October-November Issue of ClayShootingUSA Magazine)
By Don Currie
Daryl McLain was a good shot when I met him. He had been shooting a shotgun since age 8 when he started hunting rabbit and squirrel in Central Florida. In college, he began shooting pistol, competing in IPSIG practical pistol as well as participating in cowboy and quick-draw shooting. In high school, he picked up Duck Hunting. To hear Daryl tell it, he wasn’t very good but got lucky every now and then. Now 61 and a successful business owner, Daryl’s passion for guns, hunting and the shooting sports is as strong today as it ever was.
About 15 years ago, Daryl acquired some bird dogs and started hunting quail. A few years later, in 2004, he was introduced to sporting clays at a small local private club, the New Smyrna Conservation and Gun Club, where he remains a member today. He shoots a sporting round at least once a week and an occasional round of skeet.
When he started shooting sporting clays about 6 years ago, his scores were in the high 40s and low 50s, pretty typical for a bird hunter. In 2006, he joined the NSCA and started competing in the occasional registered tournament. In 2008, with a couple of years of shooting under his belt, he won the Florida State Championship in E Class, propelling him into D Class. Emboldened and with the wind at his back, Daryl decided to attend the 2008 NSCA National Championship in San Antonio. As a first-time attendee, he won the D-Class side-by-side event and picked up another 2 punches by placing in the top ten in the Krieghoff Cup. He punched into C class about four months later after placing first in his class in a local shoot in Florida. Fast forward one year to March of 2010. The Florida State Championship was fast approaching. Daryl was shooting in the low 70’s and still in C Class. He realized that he needed to break through his current performance plateau. On a Saturday afternoon in April after a fun shoot at the club, Daryl approached me about a lesson.
Daryl told me that this was to be the first formal lesson he had ever taken. I have to admit, I was flattered that he trusted me to help him. Since Daryl and I both belonged to the New Smyrna Club, I had actually seen him shoot a number of times. His shooting reflected the same style as many of his shooting buddies at the club, many of whom were skeet, trap and rifle shooters. Most of his regular squad mates, coincidentally or not, mirrored the same pre-mounted shooting style.
During his pre-shot routine, he planted the butt of the gun firmly into his shoulder, forcefully pressed his head down onto the comb, moved the gun to his hold point and then called for the target. I asked him why he pressed his head down into the comb so firmly. He told me that he was “making the rib disappear before calling for the bird.” This of course meant that the last impression he had prior to calling for the target, was a conscious “perception” of the barrel rib. It also meant he that he was adjusting his head and eye to the gun, rather than mounting the gun to the cheek. The two types of targets that I saw him struggle with were transitioning and rising targets. With the former, he seemed to loose focus and synchronization with the target as it dropped below the rib just as he pulled the trigger. With rising targets, his last-minute “scrunch” of the cheek to the comb seemed to stop the upward momentum of the gun which again caused his gun to fall out of sync with the target.
It was clear that, while he had a great eye, his pre-mounted style was a significant limiting factor in his ability to progress much further and win his class in tournaments. This was going to be particularly true at larger tournaments, which he preferred, but at which he would encounter more technical targets…and more difficulty.
When I asked him about his shooting goals, he confidently expressed that he wanted to win his class at Nationals in either 2010 or 2011. Daryl was determined to improve and, as with all of my students, I wanted to help him advance his performance. After confirming his eye dominance and gun fit, my next task was to get Daryl, a died-in-the-wool pre-mounted shooter, to transform his style and move away from pre-mounted shooting.
By definition, the sporting clays discipline, along with FITASC, COMPAC and 5-Stand, is a game of infinite variables. When target types, speeds and target lines are predictable as in trap and skeet, a pre-mounted shooting style can work quite well. Even for selected sporting clays presentations such as trap-like targets, fast/marginally quartering targets and some teal presentations, the pre-mounted style may be the best prescription. For the majority of sporting clays presentations however, as well as for wild birds, a pre-mounted style is a significant liability. Admittedly, there are a small handful of top shots that successfully and exclusively employ a pre-mounted shooting style. These shooters are a rare breed however. Even the best of these competitors use a modified pre-mount that I refer to as “heads-up” premounted shooting in which the shooter pre-mounts then raises the head completely off the gun prior to calling for the target in order to improve visibility. After calling for the target, the shooter lowers his head back down to the comb just prior to and through the break-point.
Hand-eye coordination is that God-given ability of the brain to rapidly process visual input and coordinate the information received to control and guide the hands. Collectively, the eye, optic nerve and brain are an incredibly sophisticated, sensitive and effective sensory and imagery computer. As with microcomputers, the higher the quantity and quality of the data being fed into the computer, the more reliable is the resulting output. If the eye or visual input is obstructed or occluded, the quality and quantity of the data passing through the eye and optic nerve into the brain is diminished. Fact: Once a shotgun is mounted and the head is in contact with the comb, the quality and quantity of information received by the brain and utilized to subconsciously calculate forward allowance, is reduced. In short, a mounted gun obstructs a shooter’s visual focus and data input.
In our first lesson, and the two subsequent ones, Daryl and I worked on his ready position: a low gun stance from which he starts his movement. With shorter window targets or some of the target presentations mentioned above, we shortened the draw-length, or distance between the comb and the cheek. Repeatedly, I took him through the mechanics and dynamics of the mount: the fluid, rhythmic and synchronized motion of the whole body, head, hands and gun as a single unit along the target line to the bird, culminating in the almost instantaneous discharging of the shotgun as sharp visual focus on the target is achieved and the gun mount to the cheek is completed. The operative words here are “gun mount to the cheek.” One of the most common errors I see in mount mechanics is mounting the gun to the shoulder (instead of the cheek) followed by a lowering of the head to the gun, completely disrupting the “fluid, rhythmic and synchronized motion” of the head along the target line.
At the ready position, the gun is held in both hands equally. As the mount and move to the target is simultaneously initiated, the gun should move along the target line, with the left hand (for right handed shooters) leading slightly until the comb makes contact with the cheek.
The action of bringing the eye down to the gun pulls your focus off of the target and changes the angle of your eye and head as you are acquiring the target. Instead, if you mount to the cheek and eye, you are in effect leading with the eye, rather than the gun. Mounting the gun to the eye, rather than the shoulder, promotes visual acquisition of the target and maximizes the shooter’s ability to maintain visual focus on the target.
Once you properly mount the gun to the cheek however, there is still an interval after the comb makes contact with the cheek that the shooter’s vision is “occluded” or partially blocked by the gun and the quality and quantity of the data input is diminished. This “occlusion interval” as I call it, is the interval between the time the comb makes contact with the cheek and the time the shotgun is discharged. In order to maximize visual target focus and minimize the occlusion interval, there must be a good rhythm between cheek contact and discharge of the gun…no more than about one second.
At our last lesson, I asked Daryl to compare his current shooting style with the way he was shooting before we started to work together. He said, “My gun handling is much smoother. I’m more focused on the birds than before and I’m not looking at the barrel as much. I’m seeing the targets much better.”
As a result of our lessons, as well as Daryl’s mount drills at home between lessons, he has developed a much improved movement and mount. He is now engaging targets with his eyes first and pointing with the gun. Most significantly however, he is now seeing the targets really well. About a month after our first lesson, I had the good fortune of being squaded with Daryl at the Florida State Shoot at Quail Creek Plantation in Okeechobee Florida. I could be seen smiling from ear-to-ear as he crushed numerous pairs of transitioning targets that I knew full well he could not have hit two months prior. I’ll admit it, I was a proud coach. He finished third place in C Class that weekend, and advanced to B Class.
Now we will continue to fine tune his technique and mechanics in preparation for the National Championship in San Antonio. Daryl is planning to drive there, just so he doesn’t have any problems getting his trophies through airport security on the way back.
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Don Currie is a certified NSCA Level III Instructor, Associate of the Institute of Clay Target Instructors, former US Army Infantry School and Ranger School Instructor, Master Class sporting clays competitor and an NSCA National Delegate. He is an instructor at the Orvis Wing Shooting School, is an avid upland bird hunter and is passionate about shooting and outdoor sports. He lives and works in Central Florida with his wife and three children and instructs clay target sports throughout the state of Florida. To learn more about the Focus-Movement-Faith System or the mental game, go to www.DonCurrie.com, contact Don HERE or connect with him on Facebook.
© 2010 – Don Currie – All rights reserved.