Making The Perfect Shot by Mike Westjohn, Photos courtesy Mike Heiniger Photography

Every trapshooter with moderate to high experience has been In The Zone and executed the perfect shot at least once. The trick is learning the secret to getting In The Zone when you want and staying there. This article may give you a peek at that secret.

Every trapshooter with some years of experience has made a perfect shot or that shot is waiting in the subconscious mind to show itself. Getting to that place is the focus of this article.

My perfect shot occurred during a 16–yard practice on a sunny, no–wind, 85–degree, blue–sky day at the World Shooting & Recreation Center (WSRC) in Sparta, Illinois. The trap and phono–pull were throwing flawless targets, so the environmental effects on the target were minimal. But what else went into that shot?

Each shot begins with the physical elements of gun fit, foot position, gun mount, hold point and breath control. All of these are part of the “see, feel and trust” of the conscious mind. A new trapshooter thinks and works at accomplishing all of them in no particular sequence. After some targets and time, the physical elements become the see, feel and trust of the subconscious mind. When the subconscious is trusted to take over this process, the physical elements are done in the proper sequence without a single thought interruption (some shooting instructors call thought interruptions “the voice”).

The zone

Your ultimate goal should be to be in The Zone from the first target through the 100th and all the shoot–off targets, even through all the distractions that always seem to show up at the wrong time.

The gun is in the pocket of the shoulder, the shooter’s head is erect, the eyes are still, it’s the right time to say “pull,” and that is the end of the pre–shot routine. The move to and through the target is silky smooth (a great “feel” to remember for future use), and the shot “just happens,” as if someone else pulled/released the trigger. The target is smoked so completely only a small black cloud slowly drifts away.

The post–shot routine consists of using one of the five senses to reinforce each smoked target. The brain produces endorphins (a feel–good natural chemical) that help speed up the learning process. An example is the smell of a fresh–baked apple pie or whatever gives the shooter the best warm and fuzzy feeling. If you associate this image/smell with each smoked target, it can trigger the correct response. Decide on a couple smells, feels, sights, sounds or tastes to connect to the feeling, as using the same thing over and over may cause a loss of effectiveness.

If the target was not smoked — just chipped or still whole when it landed in the grass — try another mental technique. Think to yourself “I can do better,” close your eyes and visualize a smoked target. A smoked target at any point in front of the trap will do just fine. You are showing your conscious mind what you desire to happen on the next target, then trust the subconscious mind to complete the process. If visualization is a new idea to you, begin by having the intention of seeing in your mind a smoked target. Having even a little success with this will help the process grow to the point of a vividly imagined smoked target. After visualization becomes a natural process, rehearsal is the next technique to learn.

Now, let’s go to your favorite trap club. This is where you can set the goal of concentrating on growing to a higher level of trapshooting skills on the 16–yard line. Can you smell the apple pie? Ask the club manager if you can practice on a trap by yourself. After all, in a tournament, it’s just you and the target. That is the mindset that can lead to becoming more focused on each target.

When you are at the trap, review your goals for the coming shooting season, month or week. An even better idea is to bring along a dry–erase board with your goals written down. Use a different color marker for each goal. Prop it against the scorer’s bench (because all you need is a loader to refill the trap carousel). Score doesn’t matter today! Your focus is on smoking the target in the air. Review your goals every time you walk back to the bench to get another box of shells.

My perfect shot

My perfect shot happened during a sunny, 85–degree, blue–sky day. The trap was throwing flawless targets, so there was little reason it couldn’t happen. Where did your perfect shot take place?

Now comes the biggest change to your practice. Change the practice session so 25 targets are shot on each post and the rotation is in the opposite direction. An example would be 5–4–3–2–1 instead of 1–2–3–4–5. Why? The pre–shot and post–shot routine is absolutely more important than a score of any kind.

It will take a few minutes longer to shoot 25 targets. But as the two routines become more deeply ingrained in your subconscious, your hits will become more and more smoked targets. One day The Zone (Your Zone) may show itself to you. Then it’s celebration time! Think about what the celebration will be like so it’s “reward me” time when it happens.

One way of testing for The Zone is to shoot a standard round at the end of your practice day in the regular way and see if you feel a difference in how focused you are on the targets. Another way is during a tournament. If one of the competitors on your squad starts complaining about all the talking he heard from other competitors waiting to shoot on your trap and you did not hear even one sound, you were “in the zone.” Now, that’s a focus to write home about!

The next step is to be In The Zone for some or all of the targets on a post. The ultimate goal is to be In The Zone from the first target through all five posts, four traps, past the 100th target and all the shoot–off targets, even through all the inevitable distractions that have a habit of showing up at the wrong times. Proudly accept the trophy and take it home, because you have truly earned it. On the drive home, set a goal of being In The Zone at your next tournament, too.

For more on these and other mental techniques, I think you will enjoy reading Lanny Bassham’s book With Winning In Mind, Bob Palmer’s book Mind vs. Target and watching the movie Seven Days in Utopia starring Robert Duvall.

Mike Westjohn has shot over 375,000 registered ATA targets over the past 42 years. He ranks 421 on the ATA’s Grand Slam list. He has earned three positions on the ATA’s All–American Men’s Second Team and recently placed 7th on the All–American Veterans First Team. Named to the Illinois All–State Team 18 times, Mike is Captain of the Illinois All–State Veterans Team. Mike believes his trapshooting accomplishments of the last five years have been due to his increased efforts to improve his mental game. He has been married to a great lady, Debbie, for 33 years and still counting.