Towards the latter stages of 2013 I decided to plan way ahead and book some time in with Ed Solomons for a few days coaching; the first of which being a full days coaching in January with another full day planned prior to the Seminole trip in early February. Booking that far in advance meant a good pick of available dates but that was in the knowledge that we would be playing weather roulette and risking whatever the elements had in store for us!
I had eagerly packed as much as I could the night before and assembled it by the front door in readiness for the packing mission at the crack of dawn. Remarkably I only managed to wake one of my offspring during this process, so that was a bonus as he was easily sent back off to dreamland before I snuck out for the day.
As a full days coaching is often rather intensive, both physically and mentally, I made the decision to take a slab of 250 of Fiocchi Fblu 24g cartridges with me. Having not shot them prior to this day I wanted to ensure that I had some FBlack Sporting cartridges if I didn’t favour the FBlus so took along a slabs worth of those for good measure. Better to have and not need than to need and not have and all that!
I really not needed to have worried, as the Fblu 24g’s dispatched everything on offer well, so next time I have a similar session I will definitely be taking considerably more 24g cartridges as the reduction in fatigue throughout the day was impressive and that alone undoubtedly allowed me to concentrate for longer periods of time.
We could not have hoped for better weather on the 8th January; dry and bright (too bright at times actually) and relatively mild to boot – perfect for a day out shooting! The venue for the day was to be Sporting Targets in Risley, Bedfordshire; only a short three hour drive from home. Sporting Targets was chosen because despite the distance it is very easy to get to and the fact that the facilities were perfect for our purpose; both in terms of quality of target presentations and sheer quantity of stands to choose from translating into less time queuing and more time learning!
For a birds eye view of the facilities at Sporting Targets, check out this video :
On arrival at Sporting Targets you could have been forgiven for thinking that they had launched a coaching convention that week as aside from Ed, Carl Bloxham, Mark Winsor and Henry Hopking were all in attendance coaching clients of their own throughout the day. Henry had been in contact prior to the day and very kindly offered to meet up for a chat during one of his breaks so that we could catch up and if even offer to join us out on the course after he had finished so that he could cast a watchful eye over the progress being made.
The day started with an early meet; 9.30am for a 10am start, allowing Ed and I to partake in a cuppa and a catch up. From my perspective this was a great start to the day as it allowed me to update Ed on how I had been shooting recently, any problems that I had been encountering and any concerns that I had regarding any part of my shooting. The added benefit was that with Seminole approaching I could chat face to face with someone who had shot in the USA may times and ensure that any questions I had relating to that were answered, alleviating any fears of the unknown.
I think that it is a common misconception that people only go and see a coach if there is a problem to fix. In recent months I feel as though my form has been consistently above average and that the knowledge I have acquired in the past twelve months is continually being put to good use. I didn’t turn up with a list of things that I needed fixing; instead I had a shortlist of areas within my shooting that I felt could be tweaked, but also wanted to be receptive to any suggestions that either Ed or Henry had for how I could improve even the smallest component of my shooting.
Anyone who is yet to visit Sporting targets may not appreciate the size of the place, so I wasn’t unhappy to see that Ed has secured the use of one of their golf carts for the day meaning that we could load all of the gear up and save time and energy by not having to lug a full range bag and gun slip around all day on my shoulders. All of these little considerations contribute to the students ability to concentrate throughout the day as well as maximising the time that you have available to shoot, so on both accounts were much appreciated by yours truly.
As Ed hadn’t seen me shoot for quite some time we headed out to the skeet range so that he could get a measure of how I was shooting and what I was doing in general. Standing on peg 6 I shot a series of high house targets, which coupled with a little breeze, ensured that I got the gun moving and got equally stuck into the day proceedings. A suggested tweak to my hold point changed the tempo of the shot overall and forced me to shoot them more assertively, which in turn made me realise that there are several gears I can utilise whilst shooting and that I wanted to learn how and when best to use them.
We moved back round to peg 2 to shoot some of the low house targets as quartering incomers, resulting in clouds of dust. Not wanting to waste time or targets, the high house target was sent as a fast quartering away shot and a couple of misses reinforced the importance of selecting the correct hold point and referencing that so that it was as repeatable as possible in subsequent pairs. Warmed up we jumped back into the cart and headed off to the sporting stands.
With the focus on technical tweaks throughout the day I’m not going to go over each and every stand that we visited, nor am I going to divulge everything that was discussed; if you want to find out what can benefit you, then you best contact and book in with Ed yourselves, and as much as I like you all, I still want to beat you all in a shoot off!
A large proportion of the day was attributed to assessing the target presentation before me and ascertaining the best place for me to break them, repeatedly. I felt that although I had a good grasp of what I thought was required I was being lazy when it came to some of the thought processes involved and side stepping some of the elements that contribute to enhancing the repeatability of each shot. These attributes combined to manifest themselves in the fact that I rushed certain shots unnecessarily, when if I had allowed the target to travel for an additional second it could have been more predictable and offered more of itself to shoot at. Errors understood and corrected we moved on.
The analysis of my shooting continued throughout the morning and the variety of stands that we shot allowed Ed to test me on a variety of presentations and scenarios. I was pleased that I managed to maintain my current form and felt that I shot the majority of targets well. There were however a couple of targets that I came unstuck on and these instances provided the opportunity to learn how best to approach them, causing me to completely change my tact on how to shoot them consistently.
A couple of good examples of this are the high tower bird where I found it much more beneficial to use a smooth assertive swing through method to consistently break the target and a stand the other side of the ground featuring a slightly curling target sent from the opposite side of the tower. I had mixed success using maintained lead or pull away so on Ed’s suggestion tried an exaggerated form of move, mount, shoot, that allowed me to keep better focus on the target and get the gun in the right place at the right time, much more consistently. I was very impressed with how effective it was to use when I matched the tempo of the target and addressed it correctly, so its definitely another tool to my trade.
Lunch beckoned, heralding a chance to return to the clubhouse, refuel and get a break from pulling the trigger and a welcome opportunity to start processing some of my newly acquired knowledge. Despite there being a lot of information to take on-board, it was imparted gradually in an on-going discussion whilst shooting and travelling around the ground. Up until that point I had probably shot 225-250 clays, so had more than enough to mull over and Ed was more than willing to go over anything that I still had questions about and fill in any gaps in my understanding. Henry stopped by for a quick chat and thought that he might be finished in time to join us for the final half hour of the day.
With the range bag restocked and the jacket safely tucked back away in the car boot, it was back out in the cart to carry on where we had left off. A mixture of stands featuring fast, low quartering away targets, crossing midi’s and some tricky quartering targets and rabbits meant that the workout continued. At every opportunity Ed made me formulate and explain my intended plan of action to break each clay and then proceeded to see how well the plan held up. Targets were treated with a renewed respect and any overlooked detail picked up upon, explained and corrected accordingly. I particularly liked the amount of importance that Ed placed upon making every clay the most breakable it could be and not settling for an average break when a different approach could yield a better quality of kill and a more consistent chance of getting that kill.
After about an hour we headed back to the clubhouse for a short break, before regrouping and heading back out for a scored 100 target course of Ed’s choice featuring a mixture of stands that I was yet to shoot and some targets that I had seen and/or shot earlier in the day but were going to be shown in a different order. Starting at the far end of the course we worked our way back towards the clubhouse. The first half of the course taught me a valuable lesson; you cannot take targets for granted, especially if you have seen or shot them before – each and every one requires equal diligence and respect.
The other item that it flagged up was a tendency to shoot targets differently in practice as opposed to competition/scored mode. In the morning (practice) I had been relaxed and my approach to targets was clinical; shooting them where I felt most comfortable in conjunction with where they offered the best chance of breaking them. At the start of the scored round I felt a little more tense and had a tendency to hold onto targets longer than necessary almost as though I wanted to make sure. I know which I prefer and incidentally it also yielded the best results so learning to shoots competitions like I do in practice is high on the to do list for 2014.
As we passed the clubhouse we met up with Henry who had finished up and wondered down to join us for the next few stands. The gradient of the learning curve increased once again as Henry imparted his thoughts on proceedings and raised my awareness of not only what I was doing, but also what i should be doing. This had the desired affect as my focus and approach from the morning session returned and I began to shoot more consistently and everything felt much more controllable and comfortable.
The luxury of having both Henry and Ed watch over my shooting meant that there was no escape from either the technical or the mental side of proceedings and it was exactly what i needed to give me a kick up the backside. Henry’s observations injected a revised importance into the planning proportion of my shooting; something that had noticeably been missing in the first half of the scored round. Scores from each stand were raised by 2-3 clays consequently and any careless errors that I had been making earlier were eradicated from proceedings.
The penultimate stand was the highlight of the day for me; two really awkward left to right targets that you had to set up correctly and approach diligently and I was pleased to do just that; making one small error on my third pair in choosing slightly the wrong hold point causing a miss due to a fraction too much gun speed. That aside the remaining seven targets were killed with conviction and I distinctly recall feeling as though I had earned each and every one of those kills.
Judging by the cartridges that I had used I guestimate that I must have shot 450-475 clays. The counter showed a little higher due to the clays used in explanations and planning, but when you consider the length of time that we were on the ground shooting, that amount isn’t monstrous by any means. In the past I have chosen to shared full days of coaching with others and that has also proved beneficial, but as my understanding of shooting increases I can also appreciate what I need to work on and the situations I need to put myself in to continue to develop and improve; unfortunately these are not always conducive to a shared day.
Ultimately a full days coaching is a big investment in both time and money. For me that investment is only worthwhile if you have the right combination of ground, facilities, coach(es) and goals. My time at Sporting Targets, I am pleased to say, ticked all of those boxes! A tad over three hours later I finally pulled onto the drive just under 14 hours after leaving that morning…..Tired? Undoubtedly but equally pleased with the lessons learnt so thanks again Ed and Henry.