I believe that it is vital that shooters do stand back occasionally and consider their own and the shooting of others in the broadest physical sense. We can all get obsessed with detail. Look, for example, at the books that have been written on shooting technique. They tend to have chapters on things like stance and forward allowance, choosing a gun and chokes, but, rarely, if ever do they have a place to consider you, your body, and how you feel about it.
When people come and see me for instruction, however, I often note that some seem to be far more comfortable in their own skins than others. Generally speaking, they are easier to teach, and appear to have more ‘natural’ ability (initially at least). Track and ball game athletes, as well as martial artists and pilots, often make particularly good shots. All of them are used to considering their physical performance objectively. I think this tells us something. These people set high standards, are used to training, and they understand the subtleties of body movement, hand-to-eye coordination, and vision.
Don’t despair, though, even if you can’t run a four minute mile, serve a row of aces, or land a chopper in a storm, you may yet become a great shot! There are a few concepts which may be helpful, kinaesthetic awareness, for example (which is sensing where your limbs, hands and head and are without actually looking at them). In a shooting context it might begin by becoming more aware of your centre of gravity (C of G) before, during and after the swing, and your muscle tension generally. Too much tension in the shoulders is one thing definitely to be avoided when shooting (though I like to sense a little effort in my front arm and hand when engaging sporting birds).
People familiar with the classic Percy Stanbury style of shooting will note that it is based on an obviously weight forward stance, see here (Note to self change to exact position in stance). Front shoulder, front hip and the ball of the front foot should be in a more or less vertical line. One pivots on the front foot, swinging the hips during the swing. Many modern clay shooters prefer to stand differently, though. They do not ‘unweight’ the rear foot, consequently their centre of gravity is more central. Fine. Whatever works for you.
In my opinion, however, a shooter’s CofG should rarely be to the rear of centre (i.e the weight should not come on to the rear foot often). If it is, head lifting and a rising of the muzzles upwards and off line will be encouraged. There are all sorts of possibilities between a central C of G (as seen in the so called parallel stance) and the elegant but not very wind resistant method of the great Stan, though. We all need to become aware of our CofG and note where we want it and what it is doing during the process of the shot. One common error is to allow our centre of gravity to come rearwards unwittingly. In most cases, an effort must be made to keep the weight forward and the head down during the shot.
Body rotation, and awareness of it, is another big subject with me. It is an issue which gets insufficient attention in the shooting literature. I watch a lot of people shoot, but few use their upper bodies well. The power for the swing is generated by good upper body rotation – never from the hands alone. The right movement uses the whole body (i.e. legs and hips as well). But, it is most obviously identified in a tank turret like movement of the torso/arms/gun during the swing and mount.
One tip (once you are correctly positioned towards the break point) is to start moving the upper body without delay once visual contact is refined. Far too many wait until the target is half way gone before they reacting to it. It is obviously helpful to have some core body and arm strength, meantime. I am not suggesting that you become a muscle bound body-builder. No, what is required is a general level of fitness that does not ignore the central section of the body, and which also focuses on relaxation as well as muscle development.
Tension is usually the enemy of good shooting. It can come from having a nervous disposition, from being anxious about a specific situation, from failing to consider the breaking point of a target (standing towards the trap almost ensures that you will move into tension as you try and follow your bird), and it can come from trying too hard and using some muscles too much. Many have observed that cross-training with swimming or tennis are useful to shooting (so are simple meditation and muscle relaxation techniques). I always like to see people shoot with economy of movement. There must be physical (and mental) balance too, both generally, and, especially, as the trigger is pulled.
One way to minimise tension is to prepare yourself well – positioning yourself to the break point as noted. You do not want to use a gun which is too heavy for you (as a significant number of people seem inclined to do today). And, your sport specific muscles need to be toned. I have always thought that left hand and arm strength is especially important to the right-handed shooter (and often neglected). Ideally, you want equal strength on both sides to control the gun. The rear hand never wants to dominate the mount, and the front hand has a critical role to play in both lifting and pointing.
I also think it is useful to know how to relax when required as noted. Many put too much physical effort into their shooting. Look at the great performers and they appear relaxed but subtly controlled in their movements – lack of tension, balance, flow – they are all there. I remember someone once commenting to me on one of George Digweeds championship winning performances: “it just looked like another day in the office.” When it looks effortless it tends to be right.