Saturday, June 7, 2014

Shooting Clays

It was my first time shooting clays. I hit the first five in a row. Then the instructor told me what I was doing wrong.

Let me explain.

Last week my wife, Kathy, and I took an early anniversary trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. We stayed four nights at the Inn on Biltmore Estate and planned several activities while there. One of those activities was taking our first shooting clays lesson. We had shot pistols, rifles, and shotguns before, but only at stationary targets. Now it was time for moving targets.

The cost of the lesson included the use of a shotgun and the ammo as well as a vest, earplugs, and safety glasses. Things got off to a bad start when the instructor informed us that our glasses weren’t sufficiently safe, and he didn’t have any safety glasses that would fit over our regular glasses. So, our instructor asked us to shoot without vision correction. That would be all well and good if we were farsighted. But we are both nearsighted. However, the safety glasses had a yellow tint, which helped a bit, but things were still blurry.

The instructor led us upon a wooden stand from which we were to shoot. He stepped us through how the shotgun operated and how to properly position and hold the gun. Next he showed us how the clays would fire. There were five electric clay target throwers. One threw left to right; one right to left; one from under us outward; one from a distance to our right at a 45 degree angle towards us; and one from a distance directly towards us. The last one was the easiest since the clay target would be rising above the tree line almost straight up with no lateral motion. It was the one we would start with.

I was up first with five rounds of ammo. I positioned the gun as I had been instructed and said, “Pull.” The clay target began rising above the tree line. I began tracking it by lifting the shotgun. Then I pulled the trigger.

Kathy yells out, “You got it!”

I said, “I did?”

The instructor verified Kathy’s statement.

I said, “I didn’t see it.”

The instructor assured me that was okay.

Randy Shooting

I ejected the expended shell and reloaded the gun. I positioned it. I said, “Pull.” The next clay target rose above the tree line. I followed. I pulled the trigger. I tore the clay wings off that clay pigeon. I repeated this three more times, blasting the clay to pieces. I was quite excited.

The instructor told Kathy it was her turn, and there was no pressure just because I hit all five. Kathy missed a few initially, but then began to hit them. After she finished, the instructor asked us to describe what we had done.

Kathy Getting Instructions

Kathy Shooting

I said, “Well, since the clay target was moving straight up, I followed it until it reached its peak, where it was essentially stationary, then pulled the trigger. I figured I would have a better chance of hitting it at that point.”

The instructor said, “That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that technique. But it’s not the best technique. Do you know why?”

I replied, “Because it will only work for that particular thrower. It won’t work when the clay is moving laterally.”

The instructor smiled. “That’s exactly right.”

For several minutes the instructor explained why shooting clays required a different technique than did stationary target shooting. With the latter, you normally alternate between looking at the gun sights and the target. You can’t do that with clay shooting because you need to be concentrating on the clay target rather than the gun. It’s more like hitting a baseball with a bat or a tennis ball with a racket. You don’t look at the bat or racket at all. You just follow the ball movement and let your natural hand-eye coordination do the rest. Much more was said about the psychology of clay shooting, but I won’t go into the details.

I was up again. Using my new found knowledge, I positioned the gun, said “Pull”, followed the clay target into the air, pulled the trigger and MISSED. Had the instructor misled me? I tried again and missed again. The instructor asked me to point to the finger he had placed under his eye with each hand in turn. He said, “You’re left eye dominant. Would you do me a favor and shoot left-handed?”

I said, “It won’t feel natural, but I’ll try.”

So, there I was, a right-handed person, shooting a gun without glasses at blurry clay pigeons left-handed. This was not what I had anticipated when I signed up for this class. So, again, I positioned the gun, this time on my left shoulder. I said, “Pull.” I followed the clay into the air, pulled the trigger, and spread clay feathers all over the landscape. I repeated this and hit again. Yes, I had a few misses along the way, but by and large did quite well. Kathy did fairly well also.

Near the end of the lesson the instructor let us choose which throwers to use. I just had to try the one that threw the clay target from right to left. I shattered it.

All in all, Kathy and I really enjoyed our shooting clay lesson. It made us want to buy shotguns and join a sporting clays club. Someday we may.

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