Category Archives: Sporting Clays

Simple mistakes can cost your score

Noah Jeffries at FishHawk Sporting Clays

I’ve been working my way up the NSCA classifications for the past 2 years now.  My opportunities to shoot NSCA competitions are peppered through out the year so it takes a while when doing it that way.  Particularly if some of the shoots have only so many shooters per class – if you win your class you get a punch, but coming in 2nd or 3rd gets you nothing.  You need to have more than 10 shooters to get a nice punch grouping.

I’ve been in B class for a while trying to earn the eight punches I needed to move up to “A” class.  I very much wanted to be in “A” class this year when I went to State competition.   FishHawk Sporting Clays has some great events and have a good number of competitors show up for their NSCA shoots.  On March 10th I was hoping to secure the win in “B” and with the existing seven punches I had already, I just needed one more to move to “A.”


At the end of the event I did with “B” and was awarded four punches given the number of competitors in my class, but what I couldn’t shake was the irritation with my own score.  I had done alright scoring an 89 out of 100, but station 16 was my downfall.  I had gone all day only dropping six clays.  By the time I reached station 16, my last and final set of the day I was sporting a 94.  I was pretty darn happy with that!

Station 16 was a beautiful pair with a great challenge!  As Steve Middleditch says with his British* accent, “It’s exciting!”  One was a far Teal and the other, a powerful launching Chondelle.  I love that stuff!  I decided to use my cylinder choke for the 10 yard and a full choke for the 50 yard.  Sounds logical right?

The calls went like this:

Me: Pull! (bang, bang)

Trapper: Dead, loss

Me: Pull! (bang, bang)

Trapper: Lost pair

Me: What the?? How did I miss those?  Both of them? Are you sure? Doah! *grumble* PULL! (bang, bang)

Trapper: Lost pair, shooter out with a one.

A one? A one! I was livid!  I’ll admit it, sometimes I may have a John McEnroe reaction to my errors, though I don’t throw my Beretta, because quite frankly it costs more than a tennis racket and I adore my shotgun.  I stood, dumbfounded, staring at the field and traps. I looked down at my gun and realized I had the barrels set wrong.  I always shoot the top barrel at the first bird.  It’s just the way I prefer to do it.  My lever was in the reverse position.  I had in fact shot the full choke at the 10 yard bird and the open cylinder at the 50 yard bird.  No wonder I didn’t hit them.  Quite frankly I still should have smashed the 10 yarder every time, but only did once.  It was obliterated – smoke, but dropped five clays at that one station from a very minor, rookie error.

Lesson learned

I will never again mount my gun in station and just assume the lever is in the correct position as it is 99% of the time.  It’s that one percent that can cost you your score, place or worse – if you’re in purse competition – the winning spot for the cash.  Lesson learned and I’m thankful I was far enough ahead in class that I still placed and was able to win class and concurrent classification in Sub Juniors, but till they announced scores I thought for sure I was sunk.

Simple mistakes can be made at any time whether you’re nine competing for the first time or 65 shooting in the Lifetime Masters division.  Never assume everything is as it was at the last station or become comfortable in the assumption, “but it’s always set this way.”

    • Check the barrel you put your choke in twice to make sure you didn’t switch it if you’re shooting a double barrel.
    • Check your lever that determines which barrel fires first (if you have one).
    • If you change your ammo depending on the bird, make sure you’re grabbing from the correct pocket and read the shell to make certain.

Small things make the difference.

*I was corrected by Steve in the Comments section of my Bio page.  LOL  I originally thought he was Scottish, but I was evidently wrong.  The original writing of this article stated, “Scottish.”  Corrected with my apologies and respect to Mr. Middleditch. 

“Eyes clear, keep your feet, mind your heart.”

The Delta Classic – The Breakdown

I began shooting competitively in February of 2010 when I was 13.  In the last year and a half I’ve done a large number of NSCA, ATA and charity events.  To be honest – it’s become a blur and the exact number was lost somewhere in January of 2011.  Since I live in Florida even though there are competitions in the summer I rarely turn out for them.  May is generally when I stop competing and then pick it back up in mid to late August.  So I cram as many events in as I can from September to May.

This year I received sponsorship and was able to compete in the NSCA Delta Classic tournament in Arkansas.  I’ve only had the opportunity to compete at NSCA events in Florida, but I’ve been at State twice and that is conceivably the most difficult I’d seen till September 24th of this year.  Making it to the Delta Classic meant a great deal to me and it was the first event I’d been to where the payout was so high for those who placed in the top 10.   The Delta had some of the top shooters in the nation make an appearance.

For me personally the two day event was heart-stopping.  Day one introduced me to the White Course of Death.  It’s appropriate they called it the white course, because that was the color of my knuckles while gripping my gun.  It was – hands down – the most difficult course I’d ever seen.  I wasn’t the only one.  High level, multi-time US Open champions barely made the 70 mark out of the 100 clays thrown on the White course.  It was the lowest score I ever made in a competition.  I’m fairly certain the closest bird was 60 yards out.  So high, so far and screaming at top speeds.

I was leveled on day one by that White course.  It knocked the wind out of my sails, destroyed my confidence and made me sick to my stomach.  I am by nature a ultra-competitive, perfectionist.  I can’t stand to get less than an “A” on school work, a ‘good job’ from my sensei in Jiu Jitsu, which yes are rarely doled out, to not get my PR on the next lift or bend in strength training, it drives me insane to not shoot a 25 out of 25 in skeet and trap and anything under a 90 on a sporting clays course just chaffes my hide.  To top it off I was sponsored to go.  I felt like I let the people down who’d shown an interest and confidence in me.

Blue Course SideSaturday night I thought about the course over and over again.  Why I’d shot a certain way, why I’d taken my face off the gun at the wrong moment, my follow through, my mount, why I’d stopped the gun when I shouldn’t have and then it dawned on me that I was letting all the technical points of shooting override the point – Hit the target.  It’s really a pretty simple sport when you come right down to it.  Clear out the techinical mumbo-jumbo, see the clay, shoot and hit it.  It shouldn’t matter how far, how high or how fast.  I’d forgotten all that.

Sunday I went in with that mindset and shot with my squad on the Blue course.  I faired much better and shot one of the top scores on the course during my flight.  It still wasn’t enough to put me in the money.  Saturday’s score kept me in 11th place, one spot of the cash, but not bad considering there were 316 competitors over all.  I had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that I didn’t place, but one thing was glaringly clear to me – what I learned on the White course on Saturday was invaluable.

The competitions I’ve done in the past few weeks since coming home have been amazing.  Keeping in mind what I saw and learned that day, the targets that everyone else complain about look like nothing to my eyes now.  It’s changed my perspective and my skill level.  I guess sometimes even if you don’t place in the money, the knowledge you gain far outweighs the dollar amount in the long run.

When you’re traveling on the road – sometimes you have to stop and do some fun things too.  Like getting in a few rock lifts and stopping in Baton Rouge, LA to get some pics at Red Jacket, talk to a few of the guys and bend some nails for them, because they were nice enough to come out and speak to me.  I never miss an episode of Sons of Guns!

How strength training relates to sporting clays accuracy

Who talks about that?  No one.   Only having been in sporting clays competition for a year and a half I have not had that much exposure to the ins and outs of the physical training other shooters use, but overall I’ve noticed that there doesn’t seem to be much talk of it.  Mostly it’s about hitting that target or chasing this crosser or gun type, load speed, type of powder or stock build.

Yes it’s important to have a great piece of equipment and the right kind of ammo to hit your target, but you need to be able to physically repeat the action again and again, competition after competition without having your body get tired from it, feel sore or stressed.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “This kid’s 15.  What could he possibly know about physical soreness or strain from shooting,” you’d be right – I’m not old enough to feel the strain of repeated action with a weighted implement over time, but most all of my team mates are retirees, all men 60 or over – some of whom served in WWII (thank you by the way), and while I can’t relate to their physical ailments I do listen.

I’m competitive in martial arts, I’ve been doing strongman shows since I was six (yes I get that that sounds ridiculous to many adults, but there it is).  I’ve been listening to my dad, one of the greatest strength coaches and strongmen around and his friends who are also world-class elite level coaches and competitors about how to rehab and prehab all sorts of injuries and problem areas for numerous different sports.

Let’s face it, if you can pop the gun up into your correct mounted position quickly and effortlessly hundreds of times in a row without eventually feeling the effects of it then you’re going to have increased scores and accuracy.   I give you the kettlebell swing and kettlebell snatch.

This movement utilizing the kettlebell implement can work for men, women, youth, and senior shooters.  It comes in varying weights so you can start small and work your way up.  The movement itself replicates the similar motion of pulling the gun from the resting position to mount.  Whether you’re a FITASC shooter or you start from mount the motion is the same.  The repetitive movement of the kettlebell swing and the kettlebell snatch will strengthen your whole body.  It also significantly helps with rotator cuff issues which numerous shooters seem to complain about whether they realize that’s the issue or not.

It’s easy to learn, easy to do and for competitive shooters who travel frequently the bell is easy to take with you.  You can order bells from numerous different places today as well as buy some in-store, but a great place to pick them up is from the company that reintroduced the kettlebell to America – Dragon Door.  If you’re flying to an event you can swap out to a thick resistance band like those carried by Primal Fitness Systems.  The same exercise motion can be done using these bands and offers great training as well, plus you can just toss it in your travel case.

Don’t forget that training before a competition – not high level, but just an endurance warm up – is great way to get the mind sharp, the eyes alert and the body’s acuity ready to smash those targets.  Another bonus to swings and snatches, it builds up the chest and shoulder muscles and adds a nice pad to withstand the constant kick of the gun.  Isn’t it better to have your body primed and ready for your sport than to have to rely solely on the equipment you’re using?  You’re the equipment first.