By: AAron Willoughby, published by Trap and Field Magazine
If you have been shooting competitively for an extended period of time, I’m sure you have seen declines in your shooting game at some point or another. It may be a drop from a 99 in singles to a 93. Sure, the weather can be a contributing factor, as can poor squad mates, visual problems, fast targets, or any of the other 1,000,000 excuses trap shooters seem to come up with. These are just things that we all go through and they are often understandable. The problem is most noticeable when our scores suffer continuously, even on the calm, sunny days when everything “should” work perfectly (Although, I like to make a judgment after 1,000 targets).
It’s almost inevitable that you will start to panic when this happens. You become concerned with your scores, what your friends will think (and how they are beating you), your ego, and everything else that you thought was intact. Suddenly, you feel lost for answers. If you fall into this downhill slide and your scores are consistently below your average, you could be entering the “shooter’s slump.” Let me offer my advice on ways to come out of it successfully. Remember, don’t panic! It’s much easier to overcome than you think!
The first step I like to take when I notice a slump is to decide which category the problem falls into. Is it mechanical, visual, or mental?
Once I pinpoint which category my breakdown falls into, I can resolve the problem much more efficiently. If I can’t define a specific category, then I go through each group and analyze every component listed below. I have broken the categories down for a better understanding and noted the areas that I review once I declare the focus group.
Mechanical/Gun Fit-stock/comb settings, point of impact, trigger fluctuation.
Visual- hold points, Rx changes.
Mental-positive reinforcement, pre-shot routine.
Let’s discuss each of these in detail, and strategies I use when diagnosing and dealing with a slump.
First, I like to check and ensure that all of the following are at the appropriate settings from when I was shooting well: stock/comb setting, point of impact (POI), and trigger poundage.
Stock/Comb setting - I ensure that the correct number of washers is under the adjustable comb and that the recoil pad has not moved and is in the correct position. (You should have this noted somewhere in a tablet)
Trigger Poundage - Using a proper gauge, I check resistance to make sure my trigger poundage has not changed. It is very common, especially in doubles events, for scores to suffer dramatically if a trigger becomes slower or faster.
Point of Impact/POI Adjustments - One of the most common errors I have seen shooters make is adjusting the rib/POI for extremely high targets. The majority of the time the shooter will still struggle with the targets even after the adjustment, break their below average score, and conclude the event in frustration. Their final objective is to get off the shooting line as quickly as possible and leave the club before someone asks what they broke. Sound familiar? (I’ve been there too.)
The next day is “picture perfect,” calm winds and beautiful sunshine! The targets are in “slow motion” and everything should go perfect! You walk to the 16 yard line and call for the first target. “Lost,” the scorer yells. You finish the 25 target round after four misses and panic mode once again sets in. You finish the event with an 89*100, four targets below your singles average. What happened?
Shooters, I have seen this happen countless numbers of times. Not just for a 100 target event, but this continued for up to 900+ targets before the shooter realized he had made a mistake. I have seen shooters so concerned with their focus and desire to break a top score that they fail to remember the changes they made on the day they broke the bad score. Yes, the memory of the bad score was erased; along with the rib adjustment made trying to improve previous scores.
In summary, always write down adjustments you make to your gun, regardless if the day is calm. It’s much easier to look back and check your notes on a daily basis, rather than hope everything is ok. I keep a notepad in my shooting bag and review it each day I go to shoot. You will be amazed how it helps you remember shooting techniques, adjustments, and shooting routines.
Let’s move on to the next focus group!
Hold Points - Proper position of the gun above the trap house is critical to seeing the target successfully. If you hold too low on singles events, the target will “streak” and not appear clearly above your barrel. If you hold too high on handicap events, you may shoot under the target due to lack of gun speed/movement. (This is dependent of your POI. I shoot 75%) For singles I make sure that I’m placing the gun above the house so that the target appears the slowest, I see it the clearest, and it smokes successfully. Handicap events are shot with a lower hold point on the house.
Rx Eyeglass Changes - Your eyes change over time, plain and simple. This can easily affect your scores and may lead you to the wrong conclusions as to what is causing your “shooting slump.” Poor eyesight can even make it more confusing when you start adjusting your gun – when the problem actually lies in a needed new prescription. I recommend having your eyes tested annually for this possibility. If you aren’t seeing the target the way you feel you should, focus on your gun hold point and/or this area. $60 for any eye exam each year is a whole lot cheaper than shooting 500 targets before recognizing the real issue.
Let’s look at our final area of interest.
Positive Reinforcements - When we are frustrated and down, it’s very easy to lose our confidence. When I’m attempting to overcome a slump, I try to reinforce positive thoughts while shooting. I try to remember days when I shot well, winning a trophy, or breaking a perfect 200*200. When I’m shooting great, I constantly remind myself key phrases like: “I am: confident, #1, hard working, a champion, dedicated.” Strive to make this a habit and you will be surprised by the results and how much more quickly the slump disappears.
Pre Shot Routine - A shooter’s pre-shot routine is probably the most important area of preparing the perfect shot (if your mechanics and gun fit are accurate). This repetitive routine involves “what you tell yourself prior to mounting the gun and making the shot.” I like to analyze my pre-shot discipline and make sure that I am executing it consistently.
Our minds are an amazing system! If we condition ourselves to “think” that we are #1, often times we will become it for that event! Confidence can go a long way in the shooting sports. When I’m shooting in this mindset, everything else becomes automatic. I’m not concerned with variables. Develop a simple saying you use every time you prepare for a shot and I guarantee you will see improvement in your scores. I have noted the current pre-shot message I use below:
- 1.I am a champion.
- 2.I can break this next target.
- 3.I am #1.
In summary, I hope that I have given you some helpful insight on ways to overcome a shooting slump. These areas of focus are the “core” for successful shooting. If you can learn to recover these three simple aspects I have mentioned (mechanical/gun fit, visual, mental), your scores will improve. Shooting slumps can be frustrating and devastating to our confidence, and our averages. Try not to be concerned with the advice of others, as it can become confusing and make the situation worse. Their style of shooting may be completely different from your own, and they may not easily relate. Be honest with yourself in recognizing a slump, and place trust in your own recovery strategy as I have noted above. Remember, having the desire to overcome a slump and wanting to be successful is the first step. Oh, it never hurts to also remember that you are having FUN!