Keeping focus in target shooting

Whether you booze it up or get to bed early before a competition, Andy McLachlan insists you clear your head if you hope to shoot well.

Top shots like Dave Benyon know they need to approach each competition in the right state of mind in order to rack up a high score

As I have mentioned to you all previously, I am no champion shot. I am able to record the odd decent score occasionally, but to be classed as somebody who features at the top of a leaderboard requires more skill than I possess. 

That does not mean that I do not have any of the skills required, but, like everybody else, it means that without serious amounts of practice, total commitment and the equipment and facilities that are required to get to the top, for most of us it’s just a pipe dream.

But although I might not be a genuine champion shot myself, I certainly know one or two very well. 

What they all have is the ability to focus upon one thing and one thing only, that of delivering the perfect shot every time. Not nine times out of 10, as many would be happy with, but every time a shot is taken.

The ability to be able to deliver when the pressure is on is something that certain personalities take on board and appear able to shrug off. Some of them even seem to perform better when under pressure. 

This will not come as a surprise to anybody who follows sport of any kind. I recently watched for the first time in years some of the snooker on TV. I must say that the ability to remain cool and focused when under extreme pressure is something that all the players displayed in spades.

I have had conversations with genuine champion shots over the years and have asked them how they go about preparing themselves for competition mentally. Rather than describe methods of imagining a course of fire prior to the event, most just insist on making sure that they have had a good night’s sleep. 

I have often considered this strange, having been present myself when these potential champions insist on going out on the town the evening before a national or international event and getting “happy” prior to returning late to their beds. 

High-end target shooting tends to involve much in the way of travel and overnight stays far away from home. When a lot of friends and acquaintances get together, it is understandable that they will have a good time and possibly exceed sensible parameters. Then again, why not? Shooting is a hobby and not a full-time profession.

For those that can resist the attraction of alcohol, curries and late hours, the shoot will not involve a stinking headache and the inability to face the hotel’s cooked breakfast.

Successful shooting involves a bit of maths and physics as well as natural talent, practice and dedication

The shooters who are most likely to come to the fore when faced with competitors feeling worse for wear will have ensured that they had an early night and as much sleep as possible prior to the day’s competition. The ability to look around without needing to shield their eyes from daylight is obviously a very great advantage when the competition starts and deep concentration is required at the peg.

In the case of a national or international HFT event for example, you will be issued with a peg number at which to start. This is the time when any excessive frivolities will have to be forgotten about as the chances are that the shooters who have also been allocated to shoot with you will not necessarily have been involved in any late-night enjoyment. 

In other words, it’s time to get the serious head on, regardless of any brand new aversion to bright light or headache that you might have retained. 

For those sensible shooters who arrive refreshed and invigorated following a full night’s sleep and a clear head, the prospect of shooting a full competition course and the mental challenges that will need to be worked out will be far less worrying. One of the top shooters I know will not even take a drink of coffee prior to a shoot as he knows it will affect his heartbeat and not allow perfect shot positioning.

The ability of the competitor to travel around the course and make the swift mental calculations regarding individual shot placement is of course the skill that is hardest to learn and easiest to fail. Having a clear mind and focusing upon issues such as range, wind deflection and elevation requires full concentration, as does checking out the target to see where previous competitors’ shots have fallen upon the faceplate.

The calm and relaxed shooter will be able to make these judgements steadily prior to working out the appropriate firing solution for each individual target. It goes without saying that for most of us, it takes a short while to assess just where we need to point the crosshairs. Some of the more experienced shots appear to have the ability to just get down and shoot straight away. They will, however, have spent the previous few minutes looking very carefully at the target and will have already come up with a solution.

Remember that the ability to shoot accurately to an extremely high standard is taken for granted by those wishing to achieve the highest honours available within our sport. All the great shots I know would be more than capable of achieving good results indoors and at known ranges without the wind making its presence felt. The true ability of the outdoor competition shot is the sometimes uncanny awareness of how much the breeze, which in some cases may be blowing in two different directions, affects the flight of the pellet as it makes its way to the target.

The sensible shooter will take a close look at the target faceplate to see how previous competitors have got on. If, for example, a group appears to have formed to the left of the kill zone, the shooter will automatically allow for additional wind deflection, sometimes finding themselves shooting totally off the target and aiming into the surrounding flora.

Of course, another of the many abilities that the champion shot will have in their kit box is the ability to read distance to the nearest yard or so. I understand younger people were taught metric when it comes to measurement, but for myself and most of the shooters I know, we mentally picture shooting distances in yards. At one time I got quite good at this, but following the purchase of a laser rangefinder years ago I realised that, like everything else, this particular skill requires practice on a regular basis.

I find myself pacing estimated distances when walking a dog, but realise that the ability to range a target, an awareness of the pellet’s looping trajectory and where that features upon an individual scope’s reticle remain as the number one priority for those wishing to seriously compete at a high level.

The ability to shoot accurately when faced with the many variables of unknown range, a tricky breeze and up into a feature is something that has developed the best of airgunning marksmen for a long time now. 

The absolute best of those shooters always take the time to maintain their level of practice, maintain a clear head and possess a level of confidence that comes with having a positive mental approach to their shooting activities.


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