50 Gifts

is the season, and I’ve been cleaning a lot of old notes out of my desk drawer. I found little gifts, information that can only help improve my shooting. These little gifts are so modest, I didn’t know where to place them in my teaching curriculum. All together, they would make ideal stocking stuffers for shooters. They would be of particular importance to newer and intermediate shooters, those who would otherwise learn most or all of these tips via trial and error, plus some emotional and financial pain.

So, to all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Hope you find some suggestions among this group you can use to improve your shooing in 2011.

Shooting with a gun that shoots where you look is a real joy and definitely improves scores. Do what is necessary to have your gun set up to the desired point–of–impact (POI) on every shot. This can be accomplished with adjustable stocks and combs and with the help of a good gun fitter or coach.

The bolt on a self–loader is designed to slam home and is driven by a powerful spring, and I know of at least one trapshooter who lost a finger because he let it get in front of the bolt when it slammed home. I don’t recommend a semiautomatic (self–loader) for beginners. They are, of course, excellent in many other cases, as they are often relatively light with light recoil, and, if gas–operated, can be quite reliable.

If trap Singles is your favorite game, consider using a gun with less than a 34" barrel and a choke a bit more open than a standard Full. A lighter, shorter–barreled gun can make good sense for Singles, particularly when coupled with modern 1–ounce loads. Give it a try!

I believe a quality over & under might be the best ticket for a short–yardage or new trapshooter. An over & under gives good visibility, is less cumbersome than a long–barreled, break–action, single–barreled gun, and builds confidence quickly. Familiarity with an over & under can lead to great results on Singles, short–yardage Handicap and Doubles.

On windy days, an over & under can be difficult to use and requires a stronger physicality in such conditions. Two stacked barrels present a larger “sail” to the wind than a single–barreled gun. Keep that in mind when you know conditions will be windy. Strength exercises, including lifting the gun at home to stay in shape, can help, but you also need the body mass to withstand the forces of the wind against this configuration.

Shells with steel bases, particularly some promotional factory loads, can stick in the gun after firing. Even if this happens only on an occasional basis, it can be a major distraction to your shooting. Shells with thin steel bases particularly have been known to expand and stick in barrels or chambers. If you always use quality loads, you will eliminate a lot of headaches.

Felt recoil can be fatiguing. I have not reloaded for years, but I remember, all else being equal, slower–burning powders tend to give tighter patterns and less felt recoil at the same published velocity as a faster–burning powder. I also remember different primers have different brisances and some produce less felt recoil. Of course, recoil energy is dispersed based on projectile weight and speed, but the rate of dispersion can be manipulated with things like a gentle pressure curve (one with the lowest spikes in pressure) in your reload, as well as things like gun weight, recoil pads and recoil reducers. Don’t wear yourself out needlessly!

Competitive shooting is endurance shotgunning. Anything you can do to reduce fatigue is beneficial. Just make sure any device you use to reduce felt recoil or change gun weight does not impinge upon the balance and fit of your gun.

Pattern your shotgun to learn where it is shooting. I suggest at least ten shots from about 35 yards. Patterning can be educational and reassuring. If you find your gun always shoots where you look and provides good patterns, your confidence will grow. If you find a problem, you can fix it or get a new gun and improve your performance.

Get to the range early and take time to relax and get prepared before shooting. Always avoid rushing. I cannot emphasize too much how important this is to good shooting.

When you arrive at a club, look for a prominent way to judge wind velocity and direction. Usually there are flags or banners you can use as indicators. Know where they are so you can check the wind before you take to a stand for your shot.

A cart to wheel your gun and ammunition from vehicle to trap and trap to trap can save energy you may need for a long event or shoot off. A cart also allows you to carry more items you may need, particularly in changing weather. Small things like a towel, water, snacks, small tools, shooting glasses, gloves, etc. are nice to have along and can make a difference in your performance.

Always keep your squad sheet in a specified place on your person or gun cart so you can easily refer to it. If you forget when and where you are supposed to squad and have to make the trek back to your vehicle on a hot or rainy day or when you are running late, it can add stress you don’t need to the event.

Whenever possible, I like to begin on Post Three in trap. That allows you to acclimate to moving the gun before you face the most acute angles. Since that is not always possible, it is best to familiarize yourself with starting on all the posts so an assignment to a post other than the one you usually start on will not be traumatic or distracting to you.

Keep a shooting diary. It can be particularly helpful if you do not shoot every weekend. Record your scores and, as much as possible, the shooting conditions (i.e., wind, temperature, target color, backgrounds, light conditions, etc.), club location, time of year and anything else you think may be useful. You will be more able to discover your strengths and weaknesses and build a database of information about how you perform at certain clubs, with certain backgrounds, under different conditions, at different times of the year, who you shoot with, etc. One of my students discovered his problems with targets in bright light essentially by accident; he probably would have discovered and addressed the problem much earlier had he kept a shooting diary. [Editor’s Note: You can download a sample shooting diary here.]

Even with today’s voice–activated target–release systems, pulls can present subtle differences. A pull can be slightly slow or fast, so do not become lulled into sloppy habits. Work on keeping your gun still until you are ready to move on the identified target; don’t anticipate the target.

Always try to shoot on a full squad. The rhythm and pacing on a full squad is almost always preferable to shooting on a short squad. You can, however, develop a rhythm if you take time to observe and acclimate yourself to the squad you are on and your surroundings.

Shooting regularly with squadmates you know can help build squad rhythm and timing. All squad members will benefit, in theory, from the familiarity. The downside to this approach is you don’t get experience shooting with new shooters and, when you must squad with strangers, your performance can suffer. To avoid this, try to mix shooting with other shooters into your practice and preparation shoots so you learn to adjust to a new rhythm (or hold onto your own rhythm) as needed. You want to build your discipline and adaptability so you can perform well at different venues and with different shooters.

When you find yourself headed to a shoot off, fight off the urge to feel pressured. Go out and shoot like you did during the match; it was good enough to get you to the shoot off, so it should serve you well. And remember win or lose, you have already won just by making it to the shoot off.

Don’t cut corners to save money when buying shooting glasses. Make sure there is no optical distortion in any area of your glasses. Use the lightest lens tint you can, but avoid the need to squint. I believe the amount of light entering the eye is more important than the color of the lens, but lens color can become important with some backgrounds or target colors. Discuss your needs with your eyeglass supplier to make sure you get the best product you can afford.

Shooting glasses

Don’t shortchange your eyes — protect them with strong, durable lenses and frames. Lens tints can help with backgrounds and target color.

Keep your shooting glasses clean. Carry a small bottle of eyeglass cleaner and a wiping cloth (see Magic Dry Cloth) so you are always assured of clear, relaxing vision. If you can’t see the target, you can’t hit it!

If you have any vision problems, see your eye doctor on a regular basis. Bright light conditions can be hard for a lot of shooters. One shooter I know complained of a sudden eye blink or closure when targets suddenly entered bright lighting due to a cloud break. One factor may be very bright targets are hard to look at and can reflect irritating light back to your eyes.

I also have a hunch shooters with cataracts find bright targets particularly difficult due to the “flare” (overdispersion of light on the retina due to the cataract). Your eye doctor should be able to help you identify problems and deal with them appropriately.

If you have ever burned your leading hand while shooting or immediately afterwards, you know barrels can get hot enough during a long shoot to raise a blister. Wearing shooting gloves can prevent that from happening. However, if you have found you don’t need gloves when shooting, don’t start using one, particularly in the middle of the competition season. You want to keep things simple to prevent distractions.

Some energy drinks may contain too much sugar or caffeine to be helpful during your shooting, so choose wisely. Water is the safest and quickest form of hydration.

Don’t be afraid to douse yourself with water once in awhile during a hot–weather shoot. It’s better to be a little damp than suffer a heatstroke!

Wear sunscreen, particularly if your complexion is fair. Skin cancer can result from too much sun exposure, but even a mild sunburn can be distracting when what you really need to do is focus on the target. Check with a dermatologist to develop a plan to protect your skin and your health if you have concerns about sun exposure.

A hat can also be helpful in protecting your skin, if you are used to wearing a hat. Again, if you aren’t used to wearing a hat, don’t suddenly put one on. Keep things as simple as possible.

Always wear comfortable shoes and socks when shooting. Your feet can swell when you are standing for long periods of time. Something as small as a lump in your sock can be distracting or lead to blisters and other painful foot ailments, so be particularly careful when you put on your socks to avoid sore spots.

A friend of mine says his feet stay very comfortable when he wears lightweight boots designed for gardening. Such boots have thick soles with good traction, strong support for foot and ankle and give a slightly forward stance due to the small heel. Gardener’s boots are relatively inexpensive and easy to find at most landscaping/yard–equipment stores. Pay attention to how your shoes feel and the stance they provide so you can choose the right pair to put on when you will be competing.


Guns can break down, and during an event is the worst–case scenario. Keep some basic tools and spare parts with you in a tool kit.

Keep a basic set of tools in your shooting bag when you enter a competitive situation. Your gun has any number of screws or bolts designed to fix an adjustment that can come loose. Make it a habit to check for tightness after a set number of targets (say, 100) and you will avoid a lot of aggravation and grief.

Keep your tool kit with you even during practice. When little things on a gun come loose, it can be mighty frustrating and play havoc with your concentration.

A roll of duct tape in your tool kit can save the day. A loose rib, loose pad, cracked stock or even a loose trigger group lets you know Murphy’s Law still applies. Duct tape is your “force” (it has a light side and dark side and holds the universe together). In a pinch, it can see you through an event.

Even front beads have been known to come loose and fly away at inopportune times. I keep an extra front bead or two in my tool kit, just in case.

If you suddenly find yourself without trigger control during an event (i.e., flinching, short–shooting, shooting okay for a while and then having difficulties again), suspect your trigger needs maintenance. It may be providing varying pull resistance or release sensitivity. A trigger–pull gauge is a handy thing to have in your tool kit (or in your vehicle or gun cart).

Some boxlock guns and guns with very tight tolerances may require careful and frequent greasing, particularly during the break–in period. A new or poorly lubricated gun can gall (transfer a little metal) or lock up during long shooting sessions and won’t unlock until it cools down. Don’t let your gun’s metal–to–metal surfaces become dry or sticky, particularly the area between the forend and receiver. A good lubricant that does not leave a sticky residue is your best choice. Take care of your gun, and it will always work for you!

A small bottle of rubbing alcohol can come in very handy, so keep one in your shooting bag or vehicle. Use it to clean smudges or grime on stocks with a synthetic, non–oil finish, clean glasses and other items. I got this tip recently from Southern California shooter Dianne Savage, and it has come in handy on several occasions. Just be sure to check ahead of time whether or not the alcohol is safe to use on the surface you want to clean.

Loctite® is used by many shooters to make repairs or hold a setting in place. I recommend not using anything stronger than blue Loctite® to secure metal fasteners on your gun. Red and green Loctite® can cause a world of problems, as you may not be able to easily remove the fastener or choke tube when you need to.

A small first–aid kit can come in handy, so slip one into your shooting bag or keep one in your vehicle or gun cart. Sharp checkering on your gun’s stock can cut you and blood can discolor or even remove bluing on a shotgun, and a blister from a hot barrel can interfere with your concentration.

Always allow your gun to “breathe,” particularly in humid weather. When moving from one area to another where you may face a rapid temperature change (say, when moving from the air–conditioned clubhouse or motel room to the hot, humid shooting line), open your gun case to the ambient conditions and wipe your gun down to prevent “sweating” (condensation due to rapid or severe temperature changes), which can cause corrosion or rust.

When storing your guns at home (in a locked gun safe, of course), use protective gun sacks and dehumidifiers to minimize the risk of rust or corrosion if any moisture is present.

You can build a strong and cost–effective cover for guns stored in the back of a covered pickup truck or van with a few 2x4s, some plywood, wood glue and wood screws. It is always best to keep your guns out of sight when traveling to and from events or practice. A little “imagineering” can make this an easy project that will protect your favorite guns.

Shooting is a sport that invites a good deal of discussion that may include unsolicited advice and strong opinions. Seek objective instruction and advice from a reputable, experienced shooter who will provide consistent advice and be an objective mentor. Learn to recognize unsolicited advice as mere “chatter.” Learn to trust your instincts (or run the ideas by your mentor).

Be willing to admit when you need professional help to move to the next level or eliminate bad habits and seek out objective instruction from an experienced coach. You can advance only so far being self–taught.

Books and videos

Make the effort to understand the relationship between target flight paths and hold points. Getting some advice from a coach, books and video can help.

Make an effort to learn and understand the target’s flight path, including relative height from trap to trap. This is a bit of an art form, but it is a skill you can build using instinctive shooting, modified gun hold points, etc. Gun hold points are based on the target’s flight characteristics, not upon the configuration (or particular “architecture”) of the traphouse. Study books and instructional DVDs and work with a coach to learn to read the target’s line and choose your hold points effectively.

You can practice without a gun away from the shooting range. Dedicate a quiet time to relax in a comfortable chair and imagine yourself shooting. This is particularly helpful the night before a big shoot. Begin by imagining yourself walking to the line, mounting your gun, standing correctly and holding the gun properly. Call for the target, visually identify the target, smoothly make your move to the target and break it. Carry this exercise out for a full round of shooting. This may sound absurd to many of you, but “imaging” actually sends subtle impulses to the muscles involving in shooting, including trigger control, and is used in contemporary sports training by many professional athletes.

Don’t avoid difficult conditions. Make an effort to shoot under difficult conditions, like wind, cold, heat, bright days and precipitation, so you will be better prepared for such conditions and more competitive than those who have not prepared for such changes.

Always keep your shotgun under your watchful eye. At home, keep it in a locked safe. Sadly, guns have been known to disappear at gun clubs in the best locations, so make sure you don’t lose your favorite gun due to inattention.

Attentiveness can also help you avoid the dings or damage that can come if a gun is knocked over or banged against something. Treat your gun like your best friend and it will be there to help you get more winning scores.

Treat yourself every now and then. You deserve it when you have practiced and prepared and kept your gun clean and in good shape. Reward yourself with an instructional book or video, a new shooting accessory, some shooting lessons or a subscription to a fine magazine like Shotgun Sports. Even veteran shooters benefit from learning something new every now and then.

Phil Ross was a dominant and well–recognized trapshooter in California and the U.S. from the late 1950s through the mid–1990s. Although arthritis caused him to “retire” from the sport for awhile, he recently won the 2009 California State Handicap Veteran Championship with 98x100 from the 27–yard line. Phil continues to teach trapshooting and promote the sport with joy and passion. You can find out more about Phil’s trapshooting clinics, as well as his books and CDS, by calling (909) 307–0385.