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The Benefits of Skeet For Practice

Updated: Feb 22, 2023


After a few years on the competition circuit, there aren’t many target presentations that will come as a surprise.  As we ascend through the ranks of “seasoned” sporting clays and FITASC competitors, misses are more often attributable to inconsistent shot execution than they are to unfamiliar target presentations.


When I reach a plateau in performance or feel that I might have developed a flaw in my game, I regularly turn to the skeet field for practice.  Craig Hancock, coach and father to Olympic Gold Medalist Vinnie Hancock, says “there is no better place than the skeet field to learn and teach the fundamentals”.  Vinnie is the only competitor ever to win two Olympic Gold Medals in the same shooting event in two consecutive Olympiads.  Vinnie medaled in international skeet by the way, where the targets are slighter in profile than standard sporting targets, move about 20% faster than in American Skeet and competitors must start from a lower “low-gun” position than in FITASC (toe of the butt stock in contact with a line just above the waist).  Vinnie’s fundamentals are, quite simply, flawless.  On the circuit, he is referred to as “the machine”.  Here are eight reasons why you should periodically move your sporting clays practice to the skeet field.


1)   Repetition with Fewer Variables

Just as a bodybuilder performs certain lifts to intentionally isolate specific muscles, the repetitiveness and predictability of the skeet field affords the sporting clays and FITASC competitor the opportunity to concentrate on very specific elements of shot execution.  Because skeet targets emanate from the same two locations (high and low-house), aspiring champions may concentrate on the fundamentals of shot execution without having to plan for a new trap location at each station.


2)   Comprehensive Array of Angles

While eliminating the variables of trap location,  the skeet field presents a comprehensive array of targets covering virtually all of the variations one would encounter in competitive sporting clays.  The rabbit and teal are the only two you won’t find on the skeet field, although one could argue that the rabbit is a variation of the crossing target.


3)   Pre-shot Routine & the Mental Game

At the upper echelons of our sport, a competitor shooting less than 90% rarely wins a position on the podium …and that 90% is usually 90% mental.  While the mental game has many components, the pre-shot routine is chief among them.   If a competitor, standing in the box and preparing to call for targets, consistently loads the same information into his conscious mind, his subconscious mind is much more likely to execute consistently.  I had the opportunity to squad with Wendell Cherry last March at the Florida Challenge for the 200-target main event.  I shot immediately behind him in the rotation.  Anyone reading the headlines knows that Wendell has posted more 100 straights in the last year than any other competitor in our sport.  Frankly, the experience of shooting behind Wendell was completely destructive to my personal performance that day because I found myself studying his pre-shot routine rather than the targets.  He was absolutely fascinating to watch.  His routine was like granite…never wavering in any detail.  He studied the targets from outside the box, then stepped into the box and flipped his safety back and forth as he scanned the target area.  Erect in the station with gun to his side, moved his head from side to side along the target trajectories as he visualized the targets he was about to engage.  Sometimes he would visualize two pairs; other times three.  His head moved back and forth with each imaginary iteration.  Once ready to call for the targets, he grasped the pocket of his vest and dropped the shells into the chambers.  With the gun closed, he lifted his gun to the target line, took a deep breath and partially exhaled.  “PULL”.  Wendell’s pre-shot routine never waivered.  Not on one target.  Not on one station.  Not for two days.  As a lifelong student of the shooting sports and the mental game, it was the finest example of disciplined execution I had ever witnessed.  And, no doubt, it got that way through intensive practice and reinforcement.  Since, on the skeet field, we are executing more shots in more rapid succession, we have an opportunity to experiment with, refine and perfect our pre-shot routine:  visualizing, regulating our breathing, marking target lines, hold points and visual pick-up points and executing our mental cues (the very last thing we say to ourselves before calling for the target).   While skeet is inherently repetitive and may be boring for sporting clays enthusiasts, the close proximity of the eight “stations” makes the skeet field the perfect place to perfect the pre-shot routine.


4)   Ready Position

Given the relatively short window in which the shooter must visually acquire, focus, move and engage each target in skeet, the positioning of the feet, eyes and gun before calling for the targets is critical.  Even though target locations never change, the shooter’s position does.  In a single 25-target round of American Skeet, the shooter must adjust and establish a ready position to 20 different target presentations in less than a half hour.


5)   Gun Mount

When it comes to perfecting your gun mount, there are few better places than skeet stations 3, 4 and 5, particularly if you are a FITASC competitor and starting from a low gun position.  In FITASC competition, at least one or two times per Parcour, there is inevitably a target that requires a quick mount.  If I’m out of practice, my less-efficient mount creates some degree of muzzle turbulence, making it more difficult to focus on the target.  On the other hand, if my mount mechanics are near perfect, with my lead hand guiding my other hand and both hands working together, I can easily pick up one to three targets per Parcour.  As you practice and perfect your mount from a low-gun ready position, your mount will become more efficient, your ability to focus on the targets will improve and your mechanics will become increasingly imprinted on your subconscious mind.


6)   Visual Discipline

While a well-learned gun mount should be subconscious, the act of applying sharp visual focus should never be relegated to the subconscious.   Perhaps the most important element in any clay target discipline is focusing intensely on the targets.   If the eye focuses, the hands will move the gun to the target.  Visual focus is an intentional and conscious act.  Applying intense visual focus and immediately releasing the shot in rapid succession will increase your confidence and transform your performance in competition.  The skeet field is a great venue for practicing the act of intentional visual focus.


7)   ‘Game Play’

Competition is always different than practice because, in practice, you are not competing.  That may seem like a blinding flash of the obvious but, the fact is, it is difficult to replicate the mental, emotional and psychological pressure one feels in competition during a practice session.  One way to approximate the pressure one feels in competition is to hold yourself accountable to certain standards in practice.  Compete with yourself.  Challenge yourself to shooting a perfect 25 or, better yet, challenge yourself to breaking five consecutive pairs on each station.  Challenge yourself to adhere to your pre-shot routine on each presentation.  Practicing on a skeet field approximates competition better than shooting a practice round of sporting clays because it is easier and quicker to count to 25 than it is to count to 100 and it puts more pressure on you.


8)   Time and Money

Ah! If we only had more of both.  Not only will four rounds of skeet cost you less than one round of sporting clays, but it takes less time.  You can shoot twice the number of targets in about half the time because navigating your way around a sporting clays course and developing a new shot plan for each new target pair takes time.

I prefer the game of sporting clays to skeet any day.  But going out and shooting a round of 100 on the sporting clays course with your buddy isn’t always the best way to improve your performance and consistency in sporting clays competition.   Occasionally shooting 200 or so on the skeet field, while developing and perfecting your pre-shot routine, mount and stance, can be a game changer.

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Sometimes I think we are brothers from different parents. Excellent use of the skeet field. Could not agree more.

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