By Nick Simonson
The growing popularity of trap shooting, particularly with the advancement of the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League to dozens of schools in the state, has happened at a rapid pace. Where three years ago only a few dozen shooters participated in the new high school sport, it is now anticipated that approximately 2,000 will be involved in the Spring 2019 season. For those young shooters looking to get a leg up – and maybe some adult shooters looking to catch up with them – mastering the basics of vision, stance and mounting of the gun are key in getting a good start in the sport which will provide the benefit of breaking more clays this season and in years to come, along with greater success in the field each fall.
Mark Sandness, a Level Three National Sporting Clays Association Instructor, owner of Capital City Sporting Clays in Bismarck, a four-time ND State 5-Stand Champion, and head coach of the Shiloh Christian School Clay Target League team stresses the importance of understanding eye dominance when getting ready to shoot for the first time.
“Eye dominance will dictate where the point of impact will be,” Sandness comments, and knowing which eye is the strongest, but using both for the best advantage is important, “when you have something that close to your face, like a gun, your eyes will dictate where the gun goes; two eyes work together to predict speed and depth,” he states, adding that closing one eye makes a target at 16 yards look like it was launched at 30 yards and makes the process of breaking clays much more difficult.
Likewise, Darryl Howard, an ATA trap shooting competitor of 40 years, owner of HH Gun Shop in Bismarck, and head coach of the Century High School Clay Target League team, encourages the use of soft focus when it comes to calling for a bird, watching it fly and getting a view of the full target.
“In the mount, you want to center the eye over the rib of the gun,” Howard advises, “then your vision needs to lift in a soft focus to a point above the house,” he concludes, detailing in his instruction that he will stand on top of the house to watch the eyes of shooters he’s teaching to help them lift their vision up from the gun to about his shins or knees, without their face or cheek moving off of the stock of their unloaded guns.
In developing a good mount, both coaches stress stance and repetition as the foundations that will help new shooters break more clays in both their near- and long-term shooting efforts. With slightly more weight on the forward leg – Sandness advises 51 to 55 percent – shooters should find a comfortable point where they can move their gun when a clay is launched and go after it in a natural way, using the body to move the firearm in pursuit, while trusting what both eyes see in the field of vision.
“Swing the gun with your hips – not your hands or feet,” Howard suggests.
Getting to the perfect stance and mounting the gun properly will be a learning process for everyone and may change over time as young shooters mature and grow, but both coaches recommend that feet be shoulder-width apart and provide good stability, with a slight lean but nothing too excessive.
“I see some people really get crouched down and lean in,” Sandness suggested, “it doesn’t need to be anything that drastic,” he concluded.
The motion of moving the shotgun up to the face should become second nature, and like any sport, good form and a solid mount comes through repetition.
“You need a good cheek weld,” Howard suggested of the point where the face makes contact with the gun and remains there through the shot, “once you start hitting the birds, keep your cheek going back to that same spot on the stock, with the eye centered over the rib,” he advised, noting that repetition of the mounting process is key, especially after shooters find the spot that results in crushed clays.
Similarly, Sandness states that the mounting process should become a matter of muscle memory and that the sensation of taking the stance, raising the gun, lifting the trigger hand arm to a spot slightly under 90-degrees out from the body, and getting that face-to-stock connection and then the field of vision to feel and look the same each time, takes practice.
“You just do it and do it, over and over; and it’s not so much about pulling the trigger, but it’s about moving the gun into the stance,” Sandness concludes, “you need to be able to do it in the dark.”
Not all of these basic steps come easy, and patience is often required from new shooters who may think it should come easy but find out otherwise once behind the trap house and watch a four-inch target whiz out at 42 miles per hour.
“Be patient and trust your coach; a lot of people think they’re going to be whacking them in the 20s, and it takes some longer, there’s a learning curve,” Howard provides as his final instruction.
Featured Photo: Coach Mark Sandness provides instruction to young shooters participating in the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League. Simonson Photo.