By Phil Bourjaily
Everyone has bad shooting days. But full-on shooting slumps are different. They start as a bad day and turn into a downward spiral: the more you miss, the more frustrated you become. You try harder not to miss, which only makes you miss more, adding to your frustration.
To break the cycle and snap out of a slump, stop worrying about hits and misses, and focus instead on fundamentals.
The Mental Side
Slumps are as much mental as they are physical. As the misses pile up, they weigh on you, and it’s a natural reaction to be extra careful so as to avoid missing yet again. You start measuring your shots, and double-check the bead to be sure you’re on target. The only thing looking at the bead does is stop the gun. You get tentative and miss behind, exactly like a golfer leaving a putt short under pressure, or a basketball player bouncing a crucial free throw off the front of the rim.
Accept that you will miss. Everyone does. If you’re a poor shot, you’ll miss a lot. That’s okay, as long as you don’t let your misses make you miss more. Let the bad shots go. Think about why you missed, and move on. Getting down on yourself doesn’t bring birds back; it only makes you miss the next one.
Shoot without fear of missing and you’ll hit more.
Back to Fundamentals
This is no time during the season to make big changes to your shotgun shooting. Save all that for next summer. Right now, you need to get back on target.
The two most important fundamentals in wingshooting are head-on-the-stock and eye-on-the-bird. When your head is properly down on the gun, it shoots where you look. All you have to do then is look at the target. The more precisely you can focus on, say, the bird’s head, or that conveniently-placed white ring around a rooster’s neck, the better your eyes will know where to direct your hands.
Here are two quick-drills you can use to bust out of a slump if you’ve got a trap and some clays:
- 1) Put a quarter between your cheek and the gunstock, and shoot at a target. If your head lifts off the stock just a little bit, the quarter falls. Work on keeping your head – and the quarter – in place until after the bird breaks.
- 2) Shoot a target, and, hit or miss, follow the bird or the biggest piece all the way to the ground with the muzzle, keeping your head on the stock and your eye on the intact target or chosen chunk until it hits the ground.
When the slump ends and birds start to fall again, shotgunning seems like the easiest thing in the world, and it is … when you don’t make it hard for yourself and you do pay attention to some basic fundamentals.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it, please consider joining or renewing your support for Pheasants Forever by clicking here.