Our airgun student takes a major step toward graduation, by going it alone
Naylor Ball learns how to solve his own shooting problems
Afew months back I hit a bit of a wall with my shooting development, and the first thing I did was to go to the Airgun World editor for help. Terry has always been a mentor for me and I knew he would do everything he could to get me back on track. His advice worked for me then, and now that I’m once more struggling with some vital techniques, I’m sure Terry could put me right again, but I won’t be consulting him, and here’s why.
None of my current problems – high, angled shots, consistently applying follow-through, and correctly reading the signs my quarry leaves – are new. I’ve been taught to deal with them all in the past, and I know I already have the answers to my problems. The real issue here, is remembering and applying what I’ve been taught, rather than phoning Terry, or going through back copies of this magazine to re-learn my lessons. It’s obvious that something has to change, and now, because I need to have the answers available as soon as I encounter any problem I’ve already trained for. Basically, I can’t keep going back to square one, and I definitely can’t keep relying on Terry to sort out my problems.
BETTER TEACHER THAN STUDENT
The odd thing is, when I’m passing on what I’ve learned to other shooters, I can recall just about everything I’ve been taught. Perhaps that’s because I’m on the ‘outside looking in’, or more likely it’s because teaching allows me more time and consideration than I have when I’m on my own, just shooting.
Whatever the reason, things are different when I’m teaching, but that doesn’t help much, really. Getting someone to help show me things I already know doesn’t help much, either, at least in the long term. No, it doesn’t matter how I look at this, the answer lies in me thinking for myself and taking charge of my shooting.
THINGS ARE LOOKING UP
I’ve already had some success with my new approach, too, especially when it comes to tackling those steeply-angled shots at squirrels or roosting pigeons and corvids. These shots, and specifically the moments leading up to taking them, used to give me a sore neck and even headaches. Eventually, the pain and stiffness would all but wreck my stance and unless I was resting my rifle, I’d given up on this type of shot altogether. Not now, though, and the solution was so simple that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner.
All I do is keep the rifle down until I’ve spotted my quarry and it’s sitting still enough for a shot. At the moment, my eyes are sharp enough to do this without binoculars, but even when that’s no longer the case, using a lightweight pair of binos to locate a squirrel or bird has to put less strain on me than tracking
them through the scope of an 8lb rifle. Then, when the time comes to take the shot, I set my feet, raise the rifle, and take the shot inside five seconds. If I’m not happy with the shot, the rifle is lowered and I re-set the stance. Basic stuff, but it makes an incredible difference and it’s all my own work.
SIGNS OF PROGRESS
Correctly interpreting the signs of my quarry, mainly rabbits at the moment, is proving tough but again, I’m getting there. I still find it almost impossible to tell fresh rabbit droppings from old ones, especially after rain, frost, snow, or even dew has been on them. I had a serious think about this and decided to switch my attention to other indicators, such as scrapes and signs of feeding, which are much easier to read. A fresh scrape is dark and its edges are ‘sharp’, whereas an old one will be ‘rounded off’ by the effects of the weather. Similarly, freshly-stripped bark on saplings stands out immediately, as does new crop damage, so by looking for different signs, rather than driving myself nuts trying to read impossible ones, I found myself a working solution, and I’m really proud of that.
THE PERMANENT PROBLEM
Finally, my most persistent problem – applying consistent follow-through. This really has held me back, and the frustrating thing is, applying proper follow-through is simplicity itself. All I need do is hold perfect aim until the pellet strikes. That’s it, there’s no more to it, and the benefits are huge. Proper follow-through applies the perfect finish to everything else I program into the shot, and failing to apply it risks messing everything up at the worst possible stage of the shooting sequence. Follow-through is a big deal and I understand that perfectly, but there’s a disconnect between knowing about it and doing it every time I squeeze the trigger.
I’m working on it, though, and I’ve come up with something I think might work. I say ‘I’ve come up with something’, when actually the idea came from Terry, but after re-thinking my early lessons, I’ve recalled his technique of holding back the trigger after the shot and not releasing it until I see the pellet hit, or even miss. This process changes things around just enough to make my shooting routine ‘different’, and that has given me a new system to learn. I definitely couldn’t learn the ‘old’ system, but this one is working so far. It’s early days, but watching for the pellet’s strike before I’m allowed to release the trigger really does produce perfect follow-through. I need to hold my rifle as steady as possible to be able to spot that pellet strike, and of course that’s exactly what proper follow-through is all about.
As I’ve said, it’s early days, but I’m beginning to believe I can now fix most of my shooting problems; at least the ones I’ve already been trained for. I’m also confident that teaching myself to solve my own issues solves a problem in itself and prepares me well for the future … as an independent airgunner.
Not this time. I know Terry would put me right, but I need to sort things out myself.
Fresh scrapes are easy to spot and far more reliable as quarry signs than interpeting rabbit poo!
Now, the rifle stays down until I need to take the shot. Easy! My old way of tracking treetop quarry was painful and inefficient.
When I’m teaching others, I remember everything I need, but it’s not the same when I’m shooting.
Perfect follow-through is now within my grasp.