Tuning Up for Next Season

Skeet & Trap can get you tuned up for next season!

Whether you just finished your first upland season or fortieth, you probably thought while cleaning your shotgun after it was over, “Man, I really need to get is some practice in the off season.” We’ve all had that thought. I do every year. Let’s look at some options to hone those wing shooting skills for next season, starting out with skeet and trap. Most hunters are fortunate to have one or both within reasonable driving range. Up front I’ll tell you this isn’t my preferred shotgun sport (more on that in the next post).

As a shotgun instructor I’ll have students say, “I’ve shot skeet before.  My dad, brother and I took a hand thrower out by grandpa’s barn and shot skeet.” Well, no. You shot clay targets. Skeet and trap both have a set format on a defined course. So can skeet and trap shooting get you ready for next season? Both games were started to prepare hunters for the field so the answer is “Yes” with a “But”. Let’s quickly look at what skeet and trap are.

Skeet range layout

Skeet started in 1920 in Andover, Massachusetts and a name familiar to grouse hunters was a founder. Yep, William Harnden Foster and a couple of friends wanted a shotgun sport that would simulate various shots at game birds. Their original design has evolved into today’s skeet course. It now has a high house on the left and low house on the right with a trap machine in each house. The course has eight shooting stations arranged in a semi-circle (see diagram). You start at station one under the high house shooting both singles and doubles at 1,2,6, and 7 and singles at 3,4,5 and 8 for a total of 24 rounds (somebody check my math). The 25th round is your optional round on any station after a miss. The course is designed to throw targets on a constant trajectory and constant speed. With movement from station to station this provides the greatest number of target angles you might experience in the grouse woods.

Trap courses are different in that there is only one trap machine in a bunker style house. The trap rotates on both vertical and horizontal axes throwing targets within a 90 degree horizontal arch away from the shooters. There are five shooting stations in a curved arc behind the trap house starting at 16 yards and radiating out to 27 yards (see diagram). A round of trap is 5 targets from each of the 5 stations for 25. Again, you have known target speed and a defined arch for the target to fly. Trap more simulates flushing birds but doesn’t provide the variety of angles of skeet.

Trap range design

So how can shooting either of these in the off-season improve my game? Here’s where the “but” comes in. They will help improve your shooting BUT you must approach them with a plan of action. Don’t just go out and shoot. The old adage “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got” comes to mind. Know what you want to accomplish. Because of their constants, both games are great for working on your fundamentals: body position, gun mount, and movement. A miss in the field is usually because we had a flaw in one of those. Both skeet and trap can help. Did you have problems with crossing birds? Go to a skeet range and work on stations 3 through 5. Stations 6 and 7 best replicate rising game. With trap, focus on your body position and keeping your cheek on the stock. You get the idea. Every time you go to the range you should have a plan on certain skills you want to work on. Now let me throw in two additional thoughts.

First, a shameless plug. A lesson with an instructor is worth the money. I’m not talking about one of your hunting buddies standing there saying, “You’re shooting behind it”. That doesn’t help. The question is, “Why am I shooting behind?” An instructor will help answer that “why” and get you on the path to improvement. After instruction, keep shooting to build on those improvements. It is money well spent.

Time with an instructor will help identify any shooting problems

Secondly, you’ll see pretty much all skeet and trap shooters shooting with a pre-mounted gun; standard for American skeet and trap. With your focus on fundamentals that’s OK. At some point in your practice you need to shoot with what is called “low gun”; moving the stock down below the shoulder before calling for the target. Why?

You don’t walk through the woods or fields with a pre-mounted gun, do you? Wouldn’t it be great if grouse flushed on command after our gun mount? Remember the goal is to improve our wing shooting. After you’ve worked out any kinks in your fundamentals and are breaking targets consistently (notice I didn’t say all of them) try shooting low gun. By the way, International Skeet requires a low gun with the butt even with the waist. You may get some strange looks but stay focused on your purpose. We are preparing to shoot wild game!

So does shooting skeet and trap in the off-season prepare you for upland hunting? I’m a lifelong bird hunter and admittedly terrible with a shotgun in my early years. Later in life while in the Army in Korea our Rod and Gun Club shot at a Korean skeet range. I guess seeing my shooting and feeling sorry for me, a former Korean Olympic skeet shooter took me under his wing. He helped me focus on the fundamentals of shotgun shooting in repetitive rounds of International Skeet. The result? When I returned to the United States I took my first limit of dove with two boxes of shells.

Yes it works if done with purpose. Next time we’ll up the challenge and talk about how sporting clays takes it to the next level.

Outdoor New Year Resolutions

Have you made your New Year resolutions? So, how many have you broken just two weeks in? I’m afraid to look at those from last year, knowing most of them probably fell by the wayside. It’s amazing how life interferes with those things we really enjoy doing, isn’t it? As I enter my home stretch in life my hope is to spend more time doing enjoyable things. I’m semi-retired so time should not be an issue. Conflicting priorities, i.e. my wife’s gardening, will present a challenge. So here goes with some things I want to accomplish this year as an outdoorsman in no particular order.

First, shoot more registered targets at sporting clays. The National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) hosts events at local clubs where you record your score and they are reported to national. NSCA has different skill levels starting at E Class and working up to Master shooter. Needless to say, since I’ve not been to many registered shoots I’m currently stuck in E Class. One of the challenges to accomplishing this goal is the lack of registered shoots in our local area. The closest I’m aware of is in Spartanburg. That means travel which also means additional expenses.

I’ve shot a couple of events over the past few years and they are always fun. Great group of folks and there’s a social element to the shoots. Why do this? To improve my shooting. The challenge of competition forces me to “up my game”. I tend to focus more on breaking targets, not so much competing with other folks as with myself. Going to competitive shoots also means more practice. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. My goal is to attend 5 – 6 registered shoots in 2018 to the point that I can consistently shoot 80 targets in a practice round.

This next one is a bucket list item. As you well know, I’m a lifelong bird hunter. One of the things I’ve never done is hunt wild pheasant in one of the western states. My only wild pheasant hunting experience was nearly thirty years ago at an Army Recreation Center in Korea. The hunting was fantastic but I’ve still not hunted them here in the states. The closest I came was three years ago when my son was at an Army school in Kansas. It never materialized as his school schedule and mine never worked out.

So Kansas or Iowa provide the closest opportunities but they’re still a full day’s drive away. But hey, I’ve driven that far for grouse so why not. I’m drawn further west for one reason. A twofer. Along with hunting pheasant another bucket list item is to hunt pronghorn antelope. Not sure what my attraction is to pronghorns. I’ve just always been fascinated by them and what it would take to shoot one. It’s typically long range shooting on the plains. So going out to South Dakota or western North Dakota looks like the best option. It’s time to start planning.

My third resolution is more local. Something forsaken to meet work obligations. I really want to spend more time trout fishing our mountain streams. I’ve already got the gear although my skills are lacking. My method is more akin to flailing the water than artful presentation. But it’s fun and can be done with a little travel and minimum financial investment. Or so I think. We are truly blessed with ample trout fishing opportunities here in the mountains. Nearly a thousand miles of streams and a very active stocking program by the WRC.

To be an angler in Western North Carolina and not take advantage of the resource is insane. And I’m not there yet. There are waters for every angler: Hatchery Supported, Delayed Harvest, Wild Trout, and even some of the local lakes and ponds are stocked by the WRC like Max Patch and Lake Powhatan. This also has me thinking that maybe it’s time to buy a canoe to do some drift fishing for smallmouth bass on the French Broad River, another overlooked opportunity in our area.

So there you have it, my short list of three resolutions for the next year. Maybe if I keep the list short there is a greater chance of getting them done. Hope you make plans to spend time in the outdoors this coming year. Happy New Year.