Airgun Student, Naylor Ball, faces the harsh realities of improving his results
Naylor Ball recalls the basics, and discovers that the old adage ‘patience is a virtue’ is very true!
Very soon after starting my self-constructed, learning to shoot course, I came to a major realisation; this whole process wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought it would be. In fact, as I look back on more than a year’s worth of dedicated training, I can honestly say that not one part of it has taken me to where I want to be, without some sort of hassle or other.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge and the harder something is to master, the more satisfaction I get from becoming better at it. It’s just that I really didn’t see some of my challenges coming, and that meant I had to think on the fly and find solutions for myself. The challenges and their solutions were entirely separate, but gradually a realisation emerged that covered everything; it’s not the nature of the challenges, but the way you take them on that decides the outcome. Please let me explain through my personal examples.
Like most of my generation, I prefer things to happen fast, and that definitely applied to my learning to shoot better. I thought I was reasonably good before I started, so becoming an expert would be a matter of time, and not much of it, either. How totally, utterly wrong that was. Just a week into my training, after I’d failed to understand fully the need and application of trigger technique and follow-through, I learned my first fundamental lesson. That was to be realistic about the whole learning thing and to accept that the techniques I was trying to learn would take me months, possibly years, to master. Even if I managed to become an expert, I’d be refining and maintaining those techniques – all of them – for the rest of my shooting life.
This was a massive realisation for me and it set me on the right course for the rest of my training. After all, the core skills I was trying
“Look at your own shooting chain and study every link”
to learn would be the foundation of my shooting, so of course they’ll take time to install. Lesson well and truly learned.
PERFECTION ISN’T AN OPTION
I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I fought against the next major lesson for some time before accepting it. Yet, the inescapable fact is, perfection just isn’t available on anything like a permanent basis. We may get everything just right for one shot, or may 10 consecutive shots, but there’s so much going on between us and our target, and so much else that we can’t totally control no matter how hard we work, that shots will always do what we don’t want them to do.
For instance, the wind can mess up any shot, as can a slightly imperfect pellet or a mechanical malfunction. We can’t totally control these things, and plenty of others, but we can do our best to reduce their effect, and that takes me straight on to the next major lesson.
REDUCE THE VARIABLES
As stated, everything totally beyond our control can mess up everything we try to do, but that must never stop us reducing the effects of such things. We can’t make our own pellets, but we can at least sort out the best ones from the bent ones. We can’t turn off the wind, but we can certainly train hard when it’s windy and learn to gauge its effect on our pellets. We can also shorten our ranges if we’re hunting in the wind, and we can call off the shot altogether if we’re not sure of a clean kill. Not shooting when it’s best to show restraint is a genuine skill.
As far as mechanical problems go, again, we don’t make the guns but we can keep them maintained to the best of our ability and this will reduce the chances of them letting us down. Basically, the lesson here is ‘accept that perfection isn’t an option – but don’t let that stop you going for it.’
BE PREPARED TO CHANGE
The next lesson was another massive one, because changing the way we’ve always done things is often so difficult that we tend to stick with what feels comfortable, rather than switching to what works best. My standing shooting is the perfect example of this. For the best part of a decade, I taught myself to shoot from the standing stance using a technique more suited to a shotgun; leaning forward, rifle out in front, supported entirely by musclepower. Changing that style to the more deliberate, target-style technique I now use took me months of hard training. Gradually, and I mean very gradually, shooting the ‘new way’ became normal for me and now it feels like I’ve always shot like that. There’s another lesson there, too, which is ‘do something often enough – and it will become established.’
My final fundamental lesson is that everything I do in shooting is interconnected. Technique is a chain and it’s always let down by its weakest link. All the hard work and training in the world means nothing if you haven’t bothered to find the best pellets for your rifle. The most skilful shooter on the planet won’t perform to the max’ if he/she is skidding around in trainers, or shivering in a T-shirt when conditions demand a warm coat. Simple, basic links in the long performance chain, but we break them at our peril.
Look at your own shooting chain and study every link. Strengthen each one as much as humanly possible, then work as hard as you can on the weakest link of all – yourself. As I said, it’s not about the challenges that face us, but how we face those challenges – and it always will be. I
I was shocked at how long it took for me to appreciate the importance of trigger technique and follow-through.
Every skill and every stance takes a lifetime to perfect. We have to accept this.
It’s not the challenges you face, but how you face your challenges!
Simple fact; if it’s too windy to take longer shots - you have to get closer.
So much between you and your target is beyond complete control.
Choose the right ones and look after them better than this!