Airgun shooting advice w/ Andy McLachlan

Andy McLachlan is here with some airgun shooting advice and focuses his mind on one of the most important things a shooter needs to be a success – concentration.

Plenty of shooters have a wealth of experience to pass on to novices, the trick is to do it in a way that lets them gain confidence

I suppose that the ability to concentrate is something we all learn as we continue to develop any skill that we will find useful within our usually busy lives. From an early age we are encouraged to focus on our efforts to improve on what usually other people tell us that we must gain at least a modicum of understanding about.

Never mind things like walking and talking, all too soon we find ourselves being educated and “having” to learn to read, write and do things like mathematics that some people find easier than others. If this does not come easy, it can be an awfully hard road for those who struggle to understand or be able to concentrate upon resolving problems and to focus their minds upon resolution.

As somebody who has been involved in the education of others for over 30 years as I have now, it is not unusual to come across a learner who genuinely finds it hard to reach a certain level of understanding in a certain subject, but be outstanding in another.

For example, a learner may be excellent practically when in the workshop, but struggle terribly when in the classroom. The main reason for this is due to the way each of our individual brains works and processes information. In teaching terms this is classed as “individual learning style” and accounts for each of us preferring to go about gaining understanding and knowledge in slightly different ways.

The other consideration is that some individuals simply just prefer working with their hands. Issues such as problem-solving ability and initiative have no bearing whatsoever when it comes to academic brilliance in my experience. The most naturally gifted young person that I ever taught could barely write his own name, but you give him a practical problem to sort out and he was away, far exceeding the abilities of his peers.

I mention this so that we can all take into account individual preferences and the right approach when we consider trying to pass on our own skills and knowledge to those who might wish to learn it. People such as new shooters, for example, who many of us will meet when we’re down at our own range or gun club.

It is fact that girls tend to listen more than us blokes when receiving words of wisdom and instruction (no surprise there then!) and it is often easier and takes far less time to teach a member of the fairer sex to properly sight in a scope and correctly position the gun for an accurate shot. 

Basically, as I am sure many of us are aware, ladies tend to listen properly. Us men folk very often reckon that we cannot be taught anything as we were naturally born with all the skills we will need to become the next champion shot. As many of us then come to realise, this is just not the case, and it is the ability to listen carefully that will allow us to modify our actions that leads to progress, particularly when taking on practical tasks such as trying to learn how to shoot to a reasonable standard of accuracy.

One of the key skills that the experienced shot requires in order to pass on the words of wisdom that the novice will require in order to progress is the ability to remain patient when things aren’t going as well as they might. The difference we face when trying to get over something such as the proper release of a trigger and follow- through to a novice shot is that there is a strong probability that the person who is trying to learn wants to be there and is genuinely interested. This is called “intrinsic motivation” and makes life a lot easier for the teacher.

Sometimes, however, no matter how many times they try, the novice will make errors or forget their recently gained knowledge and fall back into the old habits that you, as the teacher, have been trying so hard to alter. This is when things can get hard for both teacher and learner as they try to resolve it.

Veteran shooters such as the late Brian Heaps have a raft of experience that even the keenest newcomer can’t hope to pick up overnight
Andy’s son James focuses on a close-range reduced target – Andy must have got something right as James is a world-class shot

Most people with a modicum of common sense and compassion will recognise when a person is really trying, but failing to achieve their objectives. The secret is to not allow the learner to think that they will not progress. It is amazing what a few words of positive feedback can do when the teacher concentrates upon those things that are going well. No longer will the learner just be thinking about the negative, but will be feeling positive about the things that have gone right.

An individual’s ability to focus for what can be long periods of time, without having to be sat playing a computer game, is something many young people today struggle with. For whatever reason, they find it hard to just sit and listen without resorting to whipping out their mobile phones and chatting with friends.

As a result of this behaviour, sometimes even those with a genuine interest in a sport such as ours struggle to maintain sufficient levels of genuine concentration to apply themselves to focused learning sessions when we try to teach them. In some cases, the fact that they genuinely wish to learn what we have to tell them will still not be sufficient to get them fully engaged.

In the shooting that we are all involved in, it is not unusual for many of us to assist either the complete novice or relative beginner either at an indoor range or possibly even an outdoor competition. Very often this will involve spending more time with them and forgetting our own shooting as we help them and often try to inspire them with confidence.

This is particularly the case when the relative beginner first turns up at a shooting competition at which all the other participants appear to know each other well. This is of course the case whenever as an individual we find ourselves surrounded by people that we don’t know. The fact that we will be trying to prove our worth certainly won’t help our nerves.

Really what the beginner should be doing is trying their hardest to learn something and not be too bothered about what might prove to be a very disappointing score. It really doesn’t matter what the scorecard says; what does matter is that the novice shot will find many things that they need to practise. In outdoor HFT competition that will undoubtedly include the ability to read the distance to the target and assess the ability of any air movement to send the pellet off target.

I have said it many times over the years – remember that if you are a novice, you are there to enjoy yourself. You will not gain the hard-won skills that have taken the top shots years to gain overnight. All that matters is that you have fun.

And if you are someone who can help a novice as they find their way to enlightenment, the ability to listen and to provide calm and considered advice with a smile will go a long way to helping that shooter along the path to fulfilment – and hopefully one day a reasonable score.

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