It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog and there’s two reasons for my quiet period on the Gun Girl UK front. Firstly, since the beginning of the year I have been incredibly busy in my personal life and I’ve found there’s been a severe lack of time to sit down and write. But secondly, and the real reason if I’m being totally honest is that I’ve been putting this blog off because I’ve reached that dreaded period that every clay shooter will know; feeling ‘stuck in a rut.’ I started the New Year on a complete high when I achieved my first ever class placing (ticking off one of my goals for this year on the first day of 2018. Result!) and thought ‘Yes, I have it sussed now, I know how to keep progressing.’
But as most wizened clay shooters will tell you, it’s not quite as simple as continuously putting in a ‘good’ score…
Now, I’m not a fan of winter shooting. I don’t do ‘cold’ very well and I hate that I have to wear a ridiculous amount of base layers, mid layers and a coat to go shooting in. I don’t use gloves when I’m shooting either, so it’s never going to be a great period for me to feel comfortable. This winter I was going to be more sensible and try to be a bit choosier about when I shot a competition. But one did come up that I was really eager to attend; Gunsite Sporting Clays at the beginning of February.
The weather forecast wasn’t looking too bad, a little windy but sunny spells. I felt optimistic as we drove in, and though the wind was starting to pick up, at least it wasn’t too cold. On my first stand I just missed the one target. A good start. As we made our way onto the next the wind was getting stronger and the temperature began to drop, and I found it a little harder to concentrate. After shooting these we paused to chat to some friends, and one of them remarked “I don’t like the look of that black cloud coming in”. A few moments later the most horrendous flurry of hailstones were pelting me in the face as I desperately struggled to continue shooting the stand I was currently on. I could barely see the targets, my hands were going numb and my heart sank. I started to get incredibly cold, and it was one of the first moments in my ‘shooting life’ that I was really not enjoying myself. It then became a battle not just to keep going physically, but mentally as well. The ‘fog of despair’ settled in and I just couldn’t keep my spirits up. As we ended the course I was thoroughly fed up, especially when I counted my score; 54%. Now to many that may not seem too bad, but for me this was one of the lowest scores I’d achieved in the 3 years I’ve been shooting registered competitions. As I went into the clubhouse I fought the urge to cry, put on my resigned but happy face and made small talk with my fellow competitors. I knew I wasn’t the only one who’d been caught out by the awful weather, but I found it incredibly hard to take any positives out of my shooting performance.
A few days passed, and I began to get the itch again to shoot a competition. I’d managed to come to terms with the previous disastrous result and was ready to try again. With high hopes I attended my next 100 ESP at Weston Wood. But once again, I found myself completely lost in both self-assurance and ability. This time I couldn’t blame the weather but after an incredibly hectic week at work, ending with one of the booziest weddings I’ve ever attended, I realised that going shooting with a bad hangover is never a going to end well. My concentration seemed non-existent, I panicked when I missed targets and my partner pointed out that my hold points were all over the place. A slightly better but well under average 60% was the result, but more concerning was my utter decline in confidence. Targets that I should have been ‘banking’ had become a mystery to me and the thing that usually made me the happiest in the world (except for my partner and dog, of course!) was suddenly making me feel very low.
Luckily for me, I have met many fantastic people through shooting and they give me a huge amount of support. I’ve just recently started lessons with Steve Nutbeam, and I took him up on the offer of a coaching session to get me back on track. To start with I couldn’t hit anything consistently, if anything at all! He told me I was overthinking everything and to just stare at the clay. Slowly my confidence began to return and sure enough I was hitting clays effortlessly. The next day we went to Westfield shooting ground for my next competition. This is a ground well known for beating up the ill prepared and unwary that has proved in the past to be my nemesis on more than one occasion. Again, it was very chilly, and the feedback from people who’d already shot was that a warm coat was definitely needed. With the assurance I’d gained from my lesson the previous day, I got ready for my first stand. Just before it was my turn I looked over my shoulder to see half of the Welsh International team approaching. I’m sure that they weren’t at all interested in watching me shoot, but sometimes in clay shooting it’s quite difficult to remember that other shooters are generally watching the targets and not you. So, I did my best to ignore my surroundings and stare at each clay as I’d been practising. It worked; I hit every target and as I came out of the stand was congratulated by my ‘audience.’ Onto the next stand and I managed to do the same again with a pretty challenging battue and an overhead target. Two straights on the trot was fantastic. But the adrenaline rush couldn’t last…
The third stand we went to was set up with a pair of crossers on report that were being sent from a cherry picker. Unfortunately, at this point in the day the sun had become quite bright and the exact point where you would want to hit the target was where the sun was. I quickly put on the darkest glasses I had, and I don’t know if it was because my eyes couldn’t adjust to this, or because I’d put so much into my first two stands, but I didn’t hit a single target. Zero! My little heart felt crushed as I walked off; the people who’d seen me shoot so superbly previously were behind me and I’d made a real mess of it. I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong. I began to wobble once more, and I struggled to complete the shoot in a positive frame of mind. By the time we’d got home Joe had to give me a wake-up call. He asked me to think about why I was doing competitions. And then I realised that I’d forgotten why I loved shooting. It had become all about the score, and not about the pure enjoyment of being out with my gun, seeing targets break; ‘creating my own fireworks.’ It was time to focus on the positives. The next time I shot was much better; I didn’t give myself a hard time if I missed anything and I enjoyed the thrill of breaking a clay. And as a result, my score was 5% above my current average.
So where am I now? Well, I’m not necessarily where I want to be, but then most clay shooters would probably say the same. I know I can do better; sometimes I feel my scores aren’t always reflecting my ability but success in any sport is made up of necessary failures. There will always be highs and lows but having a positive mindset, determination and a love for the sport will always put you in good stead.
As a C Class shooter, giving advice may seem a little precocious. But one or two reminders may help someone else who’s struggling too. So, what can you do to get back on track?
*Pick out the positives*
It’s always easy to focus on what you ‘should have done better.’ But try to pick out what you did well on every shoot. There will be something, however small it may feel.
*Go back to basics*
It’s important to remember that shooting is just as much, if not more about what happens from behind the gun as it is at the end of the barrels. Check your footwork and stance; a solid foundation is vital.
*Accept that any change will take its toll*
Anything that you have changed recently is likely to take time to settle again – this could be a new gun, cartridges etc. But it can also be a change in the conditions you’re shooting in. A sudden onset of cold, wet or windy weather can affect both targets and your physical state.
*Practice makes progress*
If your confidence is at an all time low, go and practice targets you feel are easiest for you. But also remember that without tackling targets that you find more difficult, you’re not going to progress. If you can’t hit a target and you’re unsure how to approach it, try something different. This could be as simple as altering your hold point.
*Look after yourself*
There’s no point going shooting when you’re not feeling well – I’ve made the mistake in the past when I tried to shoot a competition suffering with the flu and believe me, it didn’t end well! Getting enough sleep and keeping rehydrated and your blood sugar levels stable probably sounds obvious, but we do often forget that clay shooting is as much a physical sport as it is mental.
*Take a lesson*
With a reputable coach who knows you and can understand what the issue is. They should be able to help you get back on track.
Thanks as always to those that take the time to read this and feedback is always welcome.