by Aaron Fraser Pass
Shooting schools, with professional shooting coaches, are a growth market these days. A current annual shotgun publication lists 22 pages of shooting schools, with five to eight individual school ads per page. That's a heap of help for struggling shooters.
The big question is, can attending such a school help waterfowlers become better shots in the field?
The basic answer is yes. Competent coaching will improve shooting skills far faster than the trial-error training path many of us have followed most of our shooting careers. The best of these schools, for hunters, are those that focus on basic shotgun skills.
Back to basics? You groan. Not again!
I'm afraid so. It is usually flawed fundamentals that foul up seasonal shotgunners, including many hunters. Recently, I substantially benefited from a very short session with Gil and Vicki Ash of OSP Shooting School.
While shooting under expert eyes, I relearned some old and established shotgunning concepts from new perspectives. I found that I had developed some bad shooting habits by trying to compensate for eroded shooting skills due both to lack of practice and the slowing reflexes of age. My own particular sin was trying to use a fast swing to make up for sloppy gun mount and poor target perception and acquisition. Vicki Ash picked up on this from my first shot (which, incidentally, was a hit, if not a pretty one.)
"Mount and move" is the OSP mantra, the idea being that a smooth, accurate gun mount and swing are critical for shotgunning success. Calculation of lead, or forward allowance, is not heavily stressed. "If your mount is uniform, if your point is accurate, and if your swing is smooth, actual lead-length is very forgiving," according to Gil Ash. "Long leads and rushed swings are results of poor basic shooting form."
The OSP instructors stress early target acquisition and focused perception. Students are urged to look at the forward edge of the target, not the whole thing. "The most common mistake hunters make is to mount the gun and then look for a target," Gil Ash says. "You need to pick out and really see your target first. You should also start pointing the gun's muzzle toward the target as you start the mounting process. This is a learned skill that makes mounting and pointing so efficient that the need for raw speed is greatly reduced."
Gil and Vicki use a Mini Maglite® flashlight (which conveniently fits into a 12-bore muzzle) to teach this skill. Being absolutely sure the gun is unloaded, insert the flashlight into the muzzle and crank it down to a narrow beam. Now, focus on a room corner at the juncture of wall and ceiling and direct the beam there before you begin mounting the gun. Mount the gun smoothly, while trying to keep the beam of light steady in the corner. If the light jumps about and out of the corner, your gun mount is sloppy. When your focus and the light remain steady on the spot as the gun is mounted, you have developed a smooth and accurate gun mount. This instinctive feel for your gun's point, reconciled with your eyes' focus as the gun comes up in your hands, is true hand-eye coordination. If your gun is already pointed where you are looking—which should be at the target—when your gun reaches your shoulder, you're way ahead of the game," Gil Ash says.
The next step is to be able to smoothly swing the gun left and right along the straight line of the ceiling molding without it jumping above or dipping below.
"If you practice these exercises 10 or 15 minutes a day for a while, you will considerably improve your ability to point and swing your shotgun well. That, by itself, will improve your shooting," according to Vicki Ash.
Gil adds, "Good stock fit aids good mounting and accurate pointing. For waterfowlers, stock fit relative to heavy clothing can be an issue. Waterfowlers may find that a shorter stock improves consistent gun mounting."
The OSP Shooting School goes far beyond flashlight-shooting strategy. That is merely an example of the practical and effective teaching methods Gil and Vicki Ash employ. And as with any endeavor, shooting schools demand a student's time and effort. A two-hour session is good, but a two-day session is better.
After my abbreviated session with the OSP shooting instructors, I was most impressed by the simple and logic-driven presentation. In essence, it reminded me of one of my grand-father's favorite sayings: "If you're having to work real hard to do something (say, hitting a flying target), you're probably not doing it right."
Professional shooting instruction is all about doing it right.
For more information on OSP Shooting School, call 1-800-838-7533 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Originally published in the March/April 2004 issue DU Magazine.