Back to Basics

Back to Basics  (5/12) 

By: Frank Neumayer

     As an instructor, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with students whose abilities range from that of being a complete novice - who had never handled a shotgun, to A-AA class experienced Trap and Skeet shooters. I always try to tailor my instruction around the experience level of the shooters, with specific focus on any problems or issues that they may be having.   For the novice, I’ll cover all the basics, starting with gun and range safety, etiquette, and safe gun handling, all the way up through the learning and application of the five key elements needed to successfully break each and every target presented.


     What’s really interesting is that when an experienced shooter comes to me with a problem or issue they just can’t seem too resolved, most every time the solution will present itself when we go back and work through the basics and fundamentals involved. It doesn’t matter if we’re focusing on Trap or Skeet, the solution lies in returning to the basics! So… let’s take a minute and review some of the basics and fundamentals involved in clay target shooting, and if you’re having some problems, hopefully with a little self-analysis you’ll be able to get yourself back onto a winning track.

     The first major factor for accurate and consistent clay target shooting success is proper gun fit. Check to make sure your stock is the right length, not to long – not to short. Length of pull (LOP) for factory shotguns is about 14.5”, but the key measurement is the distance between the base of your thumb that grips the stock and the tip of your nose, that distance should be about 1.5”. Also, make sure that you’re keeping the gun vertical and not canted. You also need to keep the gun snug into your shoulder pocket and your forward hand centered on the forearm, allowing for optimal gun swing and control.  


     Check your eye dominance to make certain you’re not having any cross-dominance issue going on. Your eye/rib/bead alignment is critical, so be sure that the pupil of your eye is centered and resting on the base of the rib and aligning directly with the beads. When you feel everything seems to fit and align properly, go to the pattern board and determine if any minor tweaks may be needed. Make sure your pattern has good density and spread, and is set properly for rising targets. I prefer an 80-20 or 90-10 disbursement… but you must be confident that your pattern is going exactly where your eyes are looking. You shoot with your eyes and not with your gun!


     Check your set-up or foot position. Make sure that your feet are no wider than your shoulders and that you feel balanced and well anchored to the ground. Your weight should be slightly forward on your left foot (for right handed shooters) and your left foot should be slightly forward of your right. Make certain that you set-up comfortably for the worst possible break point that you could face at each post or station. Recheck your gun hold and eye hold points. For Trap singles or handicap, keep your gun hold points within the dimensions of the trap house lid.


     All of your gun hold points should be about 18-24” above the forward edge of the trap house lid, and in a position right to left that allows you to see the target as clearly as possible as soon as it appears. Your gun hold points should enable you to move to the target in the most direct and efficient manner possible. Your eyes should be looking just above the rib and focused out into the breaking zone. Remember, your eyes can come back to the target much faster than they can move out to catch it, and you always want to be breaking a rising target, and well before it tops out.  


     Be sure to check your vision! You need to see the target well at all times if you hope to get consistent breaks and good scores. One of the biggest problems I find is shooters peeking, or raising their heads, to see the target. Remember, lifting your head off the gun, ever so slightly, moves your pattern, and allows for the target to slip away. Lighting is critical, so make sure you have the correct lenses for the lighting conditions presented. The right colored lenses will eliminate eye fatigue, sharpen the clarity of the target, as well as keeping your eyes relaxed and focused throughout a long day.  


     From set-up to follow-through, you must stay in complete control throughout the entire process of breaking the target. Once your foot position is set properly and your gun hold and eye hold points are correctly established… then and only then do you call for the target. Don’t move anything until you see the target appear! It’s imperative that you see the target first before you react. Once the target appears; focus your eyes on the leading edge; move smoothly through the target; apply the proper amount of lead; take the shot; stay in the gun; follow-through or chase the break. It sounds pretty simple… right? The fact is that with quality practice, focus, persistence, and determination, it really can become that simple.  


     It’s a fundamental truth that when a shooter, regardless of their experience level, properly applies the basic principles and fundamentals required for every shot every time… success will follow. I see it every day, with every student, and I can’t stress enough the importance of making the commitment to stay focused, work hard, and practice regularly until the basics and fundamentals become an integral part of their “every shot” routine. The truth is… breaking targets is a lot more fun than missing them!


     Here’s my simple advice to all you shooters out there that may be struggling. Age and change is ever present, and we can’t escape it. So, take the time to step back and analyze exactly what you’re doing on every shot every time. Get a shooter friend to help out if need be, but always remind yourself of the proven basics and fundamentals involved, and make sure you apply them each and every time as you move from post to post. If you’re still having some issues or problems, just give me a call, I’d be glad to help you out. Just remember, whether you’re a novice or a World Champion shooter, sticking to the basics and fundamentals will always make you a winner!


     If you’d like more information visit my website at , or if you have a specific question send me an email at and I’ll do my best to get it answered.


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