column By: Jon Osborn | March, 21
Let’s face it, some folks simply fare better during practice than they do on game day. In the all-American sport of baseball, it’s a phenomenon known as “The Cage Swing.” These guys are money in the batting cage – everything’s a dinger. And while it seems they’re bound for the majors, these would-be Babe Ruths wouldn’t last a hot second playing pro-ball. Whether it’s the distraction of jeering crowds, the pressure to perform or the athletic expectations, their skills simply don’t transfer to the field.
So where’s the disconnect?
Put simply, in the cage the pressure is off. There’s always another ball coming from the pitching machine; for every miss, another chance – and these guys know it.
On the other hand, true “gamers” might disappoint in practice, but they absolutely crush it when it counts.
The same analogy applies to shooting sports. We’ve all witnessed the skeet superstar who can’t seem to hit a grouse or woodcock to save his or her life, but there’s also the reverse situation: the expert wing shot who barely scratches 40/50 on clays — on a good day.
Five Reasons Hunters Struggle with Clay Targets
Mental Games – Instead of a surprise flush, clays are fairly predictable, but this allows plenty of time to overthink things, which almost always leads to checking and misses.
Incentive – As a rule, wing shooters aren’t impressed by scoresheets, but game birds have a way of conjuring up predatory instincts, and they’ll hunt like their next meal depends on their scattergunning skills. Conversely, dedicated target shooters aren’t overly driven to excel in the woods, and clay pigeons seldom engage their primal natures.
Guns and Gun Fit Differ – Dedicated target guns tend to be long and heavy, with specialized modifications like release triggers. Game guns usually run lighter for easy, all-day carry. To further complicate matters, apparel changes with the seasons. An afternoon at the gun club during summer calls for T-shirts and shorts, but a frosty morning afield warrants heavy wool shirts or even bulky sweaters. Clothing differences alter gun fit more than most folks realize.
Audience – There’s absolutely nothing the solitary-minded hunter enjoys less than a crowd of onlookers and would-be coaches who constantly dole out unwanted shooting advice. It’s tough enough to concentrate on the targets out front without constantly looking over your shoulder.
Mechanics – Hunters rarely shoot from a premounted stance or begin with the safety “off,” ready to fire.
Five Reasons Target Shooters Struggle with Live Birds
Athleticism and Physical Fitness – Let’s face it, a certain population of target shooters look more like Clumber spaniels, whereas truly efficient bird hunters are built more like pointers from Bob Wehle’s private kennel.
Unpredictability – Target shooters are accustomed to yelling Pull before seeing a target. Wild bird hunting remains fraught with variables. A bird that flushes from behind, skims low over the ferns and banks behind a conifer tends to throw accuracy for a loop. Add to that the adrenaline of the flush, an imperfect stance and a panicked gun mount, and fundamentals deteriorate quickly.
Guns Are Different – The best hunting arms are especially suited to instinctive shooting. What with all the adjustable stocks, back-ported barrels and funny triggers, target guns often look more like Storm Trooper props from a Star Wars flick and are equally ill-suited for carrying in the woods. Save these firearms for the range, rebel scum.
Aversion to Multi-Tasking – In a typical trap league, the shooter steps to the line, chambers a shell and when mounted and ready, calls for the target. The entire scenario is very rehearsed and highly civilized. In the field, the hunter must keep one eye on the dog, another on his companions and a third (?) on the lookout for a bird – all while practicing safe gun handling. For some people, that’s too much.
Environmental Factors – Skeet and trap fields are usually mowed, groomed and fogged for mosquitoes. Upland coverts, however, resemble the uncharted Amazon Basin, complete with muddy sinkholes and impenetrable tangles of multi-flora rose or raspberry canes. Navigating and shooting amid these hazards is a learned and highly challenging skillset.
In the end, shotgunners must overcome both physical and mental challenges. Practice and proper equipment will help with the physical portion, but the mental hurdles often require even more work. After all, wing shooting is similar to Bobby Jones’ assessment of golf: “It’s a game that’s played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears.”
– Jon Osborn