Getting the right balance
Malcolm Plant discusses the best way to arrange a sporting layout for all levels.
“There is no point in asking someone to shoot something they cannot see”
We have a continual debate in our club about how easy or difficult the 40 target layout should be for our summertime Thursday evening shoots.
Each week we have rotating teams of members setting up the speeds and angles on our auto-traps under the watchful eye of club Safety Officers.
Maybe it’s because I have helped set up countless shoots over the years, but I instinctively know when going from stand to stand whether it’s a young blood or an old wrinkly who has been doing a bit of planning and plotting to catch us out.
We have the full spectrum of members, all ages and both sexes, from novices to very competent shots, and the secret is to enable everyone to go home after shooting without feeling demotivated and yet provide challenges for the good shots. I’m sure it’s the same at your own club. So how do you go about getting the right balance?
The question I ask myself when it’s my turn to put out the traps is: “What scores do you want to see being posted? The answer to this is to look at the CPSA averages for English Sporting and apply them to your members’ needs and abilities. For our local DIY and small club clay shoots, I try to set a course where the winner hits 85 to 90 per cent of targets or more, a competent shot should hit about 75 to 80 per cent and most members get half the targets or more.
With competent coaching advice,
a relative novice ought to be able to move quite quickly to hitting about half the targets.
What to avoid
None of the clays and their trajectories should be a test of eyesight for club members. There is no point in asking someone to shoot something they cannot see, or they only see the odd one, rather vaguely.
We shoot in a quarry with trees and undergrowth scattered about so a black clay coming out of dark scrub on a grey evening is impossible – especially if it is the second target of an “on-report” pair where you have just a microsecond to pick up the second target and its flightline.
Replacing it with a “day glow” orange or yellow clay makes a world of difference. When the setting-up team have positioned a trap and established a clay flightline, it is important they check what the target looks like from where people are actually going shoot it!
Equally the target should not be a test of the cartridge pattern in a club shoot. A 50 yard long-crosser puts a lightly choked gun firing light loads to a real test – just the combination many ladies and youngsters may be using on their visit.
We actually have a memorial trophy called the “Long Crosser” in memory of one of our members for whom this target was a major strength, shot in delightful slow motion! But even this competition only has a couple of targets like that to remind us of him, the rest of the clays are the usual mix.
Separating sheep from the goats
Very often you will see “speed and angles” referred to in articles about clay shooting competitions and these are two of the secrets to the built-in difficulty factor of any shoot.
If you deny a shooter time on a target, he or she is really going to need a repertoire of different shooting techniques to consistently hit speedy clays in the many guises they can be presented in.
It may, for instance, be a target shown in a gap between trees, a rabbit disappearing behind straw bales or a perfectly
visible black clay disappearing into dark woodland.
Angles are particularly challenging.
Most shooters can quickly learn consistent gun movement in two dimensions such as the horizontally crossing target, the “true driven” clay straight over their head or the “trap” type target going more or less straight away from them. This is not to say that these targets are easy, but the gun movement is relatively simple.
But turn the target into a three dimensional movement and the complexity increases significantly.
A good example is a “quartering” clay that starts high up above and behind, wide of your left shoulder with a flightline out in front to your right. Hitting this requires a tricky gun movement with the significant danger that your head will come off the stock as you swing the mounted gun.
If you follow that clay with a “dolly drop” of a second bird sitting up in the sky out in front, then you’ve given all your members something to hit. But I bet the competent shots will occasionally miss the first clay and then “inexplicably” miss the second. You’ve got into their brain!
Variable backgrounds are useful commodities to play with if you’re seeking to add a bit of complexity into the game. If you want to find out if the shooter is really focused on a target throw one that has a backdrop of sky, trees and grass hillside somewhere on its trajectory. The clay has got to be visible, of course, but the combination tests even the best. We use the quarry walls at our club to great effect for background “tests” of this kind – put a time window, three dimension movement and background together and you are cooking on gas!
Throw a fast crossing orange rabbit, left to right across a quarry floor, on report with a diagonal orange clay tracking high left to low right across the shrub-covered quarry face. It’s tricky, particularly for right handed guns, because they’re being presented with two left to right “backhand shots” in quick succession.
After a stand of that kind you will definitely need to fit in some “dolly droppers” so that the intermediate shots don’t go home feeling suicidal!
Gun transition between shots
For each clay you encounter there is an optimum spot along the flightline where you can see it, the gun hold point and your chosen break area.
You may also have your preferred shooting technique, “swing through”, CPSA method “pull away” or “maintained lead”. With these various techniques the gun starts (in respective order) behind the clay, pointing at the clay or always in front of the clay.
The Machiavellian course setter can – and will – upset your chosen technique so you need to learn all techniques if you harbour dreams of becoming a successful competitive Sporting clay shot, or champion at your own local gun club.
For example, on a report pair the only place you can shoot the first clay leaves your gun a long way from where you would normally choose to start from for the second clay.
In fact, a badly set up stand might mean a second shot is practically impossible and the question being asked becomes silly.
But a challenging-designed pair might enable you to shoot your chosen CPSA method on the first target, but it ensures that you have to chase after the second clay using swing through. All sorts of combinations are possible.
The capable Sporting shooter will view the targets and read what questions are being asked. And it’s a real bonus if you know what technique(s) you use at the moment. A coach can help.
The first clay of a “report pair” could be relatively easy for everyone to enjoy, then you can rack up the pressure on the second.
There is no end to the fun when it becomes your turn to set up the targets down at your club!
Percentages Malcolm sets his course where the winner hits between 85 and 90
per cent of targets
Using coloured clays can help when shooting against a tree backdrop
A fast crossing rabbit with an on-report diagonal left to low right is a tricky target
A mischevious course setter can upset your preferred
A speedy target such as a rabbit can deny your shooter time