Coaching New Shooters in Doubles

For all shooters, and especially new or youth shooters, American trap doubles can be the most entertaining of all the trapshooting events. You can see this in the faces of the youth team shooters as they compete in this event. It can also be the most frustrating for new shooters who don’t understand the basic fundamentals of the game.

The idea for this article came from watching shooters compete at a major youth championship last summer. I noticed two things about the competitors in this event. First, they seemed to be having a really good time! Second, while they may have been having fun, many were not employing good techniques and, therefore, not doing very well. I decided the best approach was to write an article primarily for coaches. The information given here is designed to show coaches techniques they can use with their youth group to teach the basic fundamentals of championship doubles shooting in both a time-efficient and cost-effective manner.

To begin, I will break down shooting doubles into several parts designed to allow coaches a step-by-step approach to training their team members on specific fundamental techniques. Also, you will not necessarily have to know much about the techniques for shooting doubles and that’s okay. These articles are written with you in mind. I will be giving you simple techniques to have your students practice on and giving tips on what to look for and how to “coach them up”.

Part 1 will be focusing on shooting the first target of the doubles pair. The techniques given here are for coaches to maximize shooting this first target efficiently AND using this shot to successfully set up for the second shot. Shooting the second target will be discussed in Part 2, which will appear in the next issue. It is important to accept that shooting the first target correctly WILL set you up for shooting the second target successfully. Therefore, the goals of these articles will be to:

1) Give coaches tips on maximizing training techniques for teaching shooters new to the doubles game. You don’t need to know a thing about shooting doubles. All of that will be discussed here.

2) Maximize team RESOURCES by fast-track training and saving costs on ammo and targets in training new shooters.

PART 1: Setting Up for Success — Shooting the First Shot

To begin this section, let me say there is no real difference NOW between teaching right or left-handed shooters on Posts 1, 2, 4 and 5. These techniques will be the same for each. Teaching Post 3 techniques will be a bit different for lefties, which I will discuss later on. Second, let me say these techniques are designed for teaching the first shot as the “straightaway” target.

I know there are several top shooters who always shoot the right-hand target first. There is a method and a reason behind this technique. However, I happen to think this style of doubles shooting has some real “pitfalls” for new shooters. At some point in time, your shooters may want to try this style. But I would suggest they seek out the few All-Americans employing it and ask them for some time to discuss the reasons why they shoot this style. I believe those discussions will require some knowledge and experience gained in learning the techniques discussed here.

Also, this is a good time to discuss ammunition used on this first target. I would suggest the lightest, softest shell possible to minimize recoil on this first shot. Personally, I have used reloaded 1 oz. and sometimes 7/8 oz. loads of 8.5 shot for many, many years. There are some really nice recipes available in some of the popular powder manuals. If reloading, I would suggest a 1 oz. or 7/8 oz. recipe that would produce a speed of around 1,200 f.p.s. and pressures around 7,500 – 9,000 PSI for good ignition. I would avoid the slower-burning powders, especially for 7/8 oz. loads. If not reloading, just use a low recoil 2¾ dram shell. For ease of shooting and safety, you may have your students using light 8s on both shots and that is certainly okay!

To begin, let’s focus on the first target as a straightaway. We will start by having your shooters shoot off of Post 1. To simulate the straightaway doubles target from this post, you will need to correctly set the trap. Stand halfway between Post 1 and Post 2. Set the trap on manual and move the trap to the right until it is throwing a dead straightaway target from this vantage point. It helps if you have somebody in the trap helping you out with this. You also want to set the speed of this target at around 40 m.p.h. and at about 9-9½ feet high. Once set, you can put a piece of tape or small mark on the front edge of the traphouse roof to help speed up the setting process next time. (SEE FIGURE 1).

Have your student assume the shooting position on Post 1. You are going to have them “dry-fire” at a few targets (NO LIVE AMMO YET!). Initially, to pick up this first target, have them hold the gun about 8"-12" over the top of the traphouse (1/4 of the way up the flight path). This may have to be adjusted later. Have them “dry-fire” at several targets. COACHES: What you are looking for here is movement of the gun muzzle. THE LESS MUZZLE MOVEMENT, THE BETTER!!

If your students are shooting this target like they would a normal singles target, have them try to shoot (dry-fire) the target quicker with lesser movement. Tell them to “let the target come to the gun.” This will require a mental “plan” on their part. Remember, this is dry-fire, so no harm, no foul if done incorrectly. When the gun movement is small, and they are pulling the trigger “relatively” quickly, it is time for the ammo.

COACHES: Next, let them shoot five shots with no comment on your part. Have them take their time between shots and not rush from shot to shot. Be patient, as this is training and NOT a timed event! What YOU are watching is the movement of their muzzle. The lesser, the better. When finished with the five shots discuss gun movement, the lesser the better. Have them shoot five more. BE POSITIVE and congratulate them on hits that produce heavy smoke. If needed, discuss muzzle movement. Again, the lesser the better. Now let them shoot! Have them take their time and shoot the rest of the box from this station. Watch the muzzle movement.

This is also a good time to evaluate WHERE the impact of their gun is. If their shots are not producing solid smoke, you may want to change the hold point slightly and/or tighten up the choke. (NOTE: A normal “modified” choke is just fine for the first shot. Any lighter choke can take the student longer to determine the impact of their gun.) If after changing the hold point or the choke it still does not consistently produce solid smoke, then you may need to adjust the comb of the gun. Before adjusting the comb, watch the pieces from the broken target. If the pieces are going UP, then you need to raise the comb slightly. If the pieces are going DOWN, you may want to lower the comb slightly.

No matter what happens, remember to be POSITIVE! Give praise for solid hits and encourage them to make shots quickly without “chasing” the target. Remember, you are trying to “reprogram” the computer in their brain to “let the target come to them” and reduce their natural tendency to “chase” the target to make a solid shot (like they normally would when shooting singles). Have them continue to shoot from this position until they develop the confidence that this target is in the same place each time, and they have the correct plan in place to break it quickly and with little gun movement each time.

Look for consistency in breaks. When this occurs, send this student to Post 2 with the same plan in place and have your next student step up to Post 1. Have both students “dry-fire” at five targets. Then begin the process again. This time each will shoot in turn. Again, have them be patient and take their time, not rushing from shot to shot. Tell the student who is now on Post 2 to carefully watch where the shooter on Post 1 breaks the target. This can give them a clue as to where to start the hold point for this target. This is adding the element of concentration to their developing skill set. Have each student shoot at least a box, in turn, before sending the lead student to Post 3.

POST #3: Here is where there is a slight difference for right or left-handed shooters. For lefties, we will defer this position as the last position discussed, following Posts 4 and 5.

For right-handed shooters, we are going to continue the concepts of “letting the first target come to the gun”. This is a very important concept on this position! If students have a poor setup here, they will wind up “chasing” the first target to the right. If you let your students “chase” the first target to the right, they will have to:

A. Move the gun, make the shot and absorb the recoil.

B. Completely STOP the gun movement, regain control, then re-establish momentum in the opposite direction (back to the left). This all takes time and expends energy!

C. While A & B above are occurring, the second target (going to the left) will be losing speed and falling rapidly.

COACHES: So what to do? Have the student on Post 3 (who has already experienced shooting the first target on Post 1 and Post 2) carefully watch WHERE the students, who are now on Post 1 and Post 2, are breaking their targets. Remind them the PLAN is to let the target come to them and NOT to chase it. Have them adjust their starting hold point of the gun slightly in front and slightly below these break points observed by watching the shooters on Posts 1 and 2. This is where the CONCENTRATION skill set will be developed.

NOW, HERE IS WHERE IT WILL GET WEIRD for them. Have them line the gun up to slightly in front and below the area where the Post 1 and Post 2 students are breaking targets. THEN move their eyes (NOT THE GUN!!) to an area just over the front right corner of the traphouse. The idea here is to WATCH THE TARGET LEAVE THE HOUSE AND SHOOT AS IT GETS TO THE GUN. This is a total timing shot and will take a bit of practice to reprogram the mind. It is nothing like shooting at any trap target they have ever shot at! What this does however, is let you make the shot WITHOUT MOVING THE GUN.

This will be critical to Part 2 of this article when we talk about making that second shot. It will be important for you, as a coach, to stand behind the shooter on Post 3 and make sure the target is flying towards the gun, and the gun muzzle is not chasing the target to the right. This may take a lot of practice mastering this post, so be patient and lavish praise when they execute the shot correctly. Remember, you are helping them to reprogram their mental computer.

Lefties, you will also be doing the same thing as the righties above. However, you are going to have to wait until the left target is set because this is the target you are going to shoot first. The logic to shooting the left target first is it allows you to swing the gun into your face moving to the right for the second shot. This will limit any tendency of pulling the gun away from your face. Pulling the gun away from your face could lead to a misalignment of your cheek and comb and result in a poor sight picture on this second shot going to the right. For you, I would suggest you learn to shoot Post 5 and then Post 4, then work from Post 3. For lefties, Post 3 will be the last post to tackle. Again, you want the target to come to your muzzle, and you DON’T WANT TO CHASE THIS TARGET to the left.

After you have had your students experience shooting the first doubles target moving to the right, it is time to reset the trap and practice shooting the first doubles target moving to the left. To do this, you stand halfway between Posts 4 and 5. Move the trap (set on manual setting) back to the left until you are seeing a straightaway target from this vantage point. Again, set the target to about 40 m.p.h. and about 9-9½ feet high (SEE FIGURE 2). You might want to mark the front edge of the traphouse roof to make setting easier and faster the next time.

COACHES: To begin this training session, you want to start the students on POST 5. This is a good time in training to let the LEFTIES GO FIRST. There is no real need to “dry-fire” here. Technique is the same as experienced on Posts 1 and 2. The goal here is to shoot the target quickly, smoothly and with as little muzzle movement as possible. Shoot as many as needed on Post 5 until they feel confident and are hitting the targets consistently with lots of smoke. Then move over to Post 4 and repeat.

Finally (for the lefties on your team) have them move to Post 3 and observe the other team members breaking the first target moving to the left. This will help the lefties establish a starting “hold point” at Post 3. Again, watch them and remind them to look over the front corner of the traphouse and not over the barrel. Watch the target leave the house and let it come to you. Move your eyes and NOT the gun. DO NOT CHASE this target to the left!!!

COACHES: Your patience is needed here! Let students shoot as many single first shots as necessary to establish confidence in their plan to break this first target with as little gun movement as possible. Lavish praise on them when they produce smoke and be supportive when hits are not solid. Focus on what they are doing correctly because this is the foundation upon which their confidence in making this shot is based. Make sure they are working hard on each and every shot trying to develop these skills. Don't allow them to rush through the practice. Remember, they are “reprogramming” their mental game for doubles.

To conclude Part 1, I believe learning how to execute the first shot in doubles is CRITICAL to shooting the second shot successfully. I often refer to trap doubles as the “balance beam event” in trapshooting. A very small thing done incorrectly can cause great difficulty in producing consistent results. Therefore, doubles can be very frustrating to a new shooter.

COACHES: BE PATIENT and BE POSITIVE when making suggestions to shooters. Focus on the things they are doing correctly and PRAISE them for that before making a suggested change. Do so in a strong, confident but calm voice. You want them to try to use the things they are doing well and integrate these into the total technique. Reminder, use their confidence as a foundation for change. Let your team members practice until they feel confident in breaking this first shot quickly, smoothly, with confidence and WITHOUT CHASING. Even if it seems boring, it is crucial they “reprogram” their mental game for shooting the first shot of doubles. However much practice it takes, it will prove to be the fastest, most-efficient method of teaching good doubles technique.

The next article will discuss how the learned techniques discussed above will allow you to utilize your other trapshooting skills to make a good shot at the second doubles target. I will reveal an important “secret” that will help your students make this second shot. It is critical, however, that understanding this “secret” will depend on how good they are at breaking the first target using the techniques described above.

In closing, let me take this opportunity to thank each and every coach, parent and gun club owner/operator for all they do to help introduce young shooters to our sport. I’m sure you realize we are experiencing some very trying times in 2020. However, when we get clear of this challenge, and I do believe we will, please remember to help support your gun clubs as they reboot. Nobody can truly understand how the lost income of not throwing targets will affect them, so please support them whenever and however you can. Thanks! SS

Dean Townsend attended his first Grand American in August of 1968. In August 2017, he attended his 50th Grand American. He shot his first Grand American in 1970 at 12 years of age. He currently holds five state titles in his home state of Ohio and has been named to over 20 All-Ohio state teams. He was inducted into the OSTA Hall of Fame in 2019. He has also served two terms as a member of the Ohio Trapshooting Board of Directors, as well as two years as Ohio ATA delegate; been a member of eight different ATA All-American teams including, Sub-Jr, Men’s second team and both 1st and 2nd Sub-vet teams. In 1993 he was appointed to the ATA Central Handicap Committee by then President Jim Bradford. He served in that position for 17 years until 2010. At that time, he was asked to serve as Chairman of that committee, a position he currently holds. He is also a six-year member of the ATA rules committee. During the past four years, he has been a member of Blaser-USA's pro-staff, assisting with customer service issues and helping shooters set up demo guns at several major tournaments around the country. He retired after 35 years of teaching high school and college chemistry in May of 2015.




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