The Importance of Correct Technique for Doubles

by: Paul Giambrone, III

“Pull!”  Bang…. Bang.  “Dead and Lost” says the referee.  That feeling of defeat in your stomach lingers as you watch that second target hit the ground.  You have lost yet another shoot-off, the third one of the day actually, because you can’t hit a pair on station 4.  That feeling is one of the worst feelings we have in this game.  I’m not sure which one is worse–defeat in the shoot-off time after time or missing in the last round, maybe in the last couple of stations for a 100 or 400 straight.  That is the thing about our wonderful game though.  It can be great and it can be heartbreaking.  For years, I wanted to shoot doubles well and my father and I spent countless hours trying to work the correct doubles technique, but we would fail miserably time and time again.  We tried the “timing” approach where you break the first bird in a spot, stop the gun, come back and hope the second target was there and hit it.  If we came back too far ahead of the second target, that meant we broke the first target too soon, if we were behind, then we broke the first target too late.  Does this sound all too familiar?  What happens with the wind?  Should we anticipate it going low or high?  What if the second target is slower than the first target?  That means we have to break the first one later to adjust the “timing” of the pair, right?  If the second one is fast, that means we have to shoot the first bird faster so the timing is correct.  All of these things should sound familiar to you because that is what the local “experts” chat about when it comes to shooting doubles.  This method and school of thought leads to shooters chasing an unreachable goal, almost like a dog chasing his tail.  So, what is the correct doubles method and how does a shooter perfect this method?  Here we go!

First off, I cannot express the importance of proper and sound technique in your singles game.  Everything from proper body mechanics, to gun fit, to setups of hold points, look points and break points, everything!  When I start my practice routine for the year, I start with mechanics.  I want to be sure my stance is correct, my gun mount is correct, my gun fit is proper, and my body rotation is blemish free.  I need to make sure of all of these things in my singles before I even begin to focus on doubles.  Every one one of my students knows this drill because I hammer it into their brains.  It doesn’t do you any good to try and worry about doubles (even if you are getting into shoot-offs) if your singles game isn’t perfect.  You know your form is good once you have a good level shoulder swing, using your lower body to rotate the shoulders and upper body and your head is staying locked in the gun, and you are breaking the first target in the correct area.  The ideal break point for first birds in doubles is no later than 2/3 of the way to the center stake or about 21 feet before the center stake.  It doesn’t do us any good to break these targets that quickly with bad form either, we need the entire package.  Solid body mechanics along with a good break point, then you can worry about doubles.

Once you are solid with ALL of the above, it’s time to cover the eye shift.  When the first target breaks, and yes, I do see it break, my eyes immediately shift over to the other side of the barrel in the direction of the center stake where I will pick up the second target.  Think about it, if I break the first target a solid 21 feet before the center stake, that means the second bird is 21 feet on the other side of the stake.  Next time you are at the gun club, walk off 21 feet on each side of the center stake (walking to station 1 and to station 7 from the center stake) and put some markers out there and look at the time you have!  Granted, the second target will be coming at you fairly quickly, but with the correct technique like we are discussing, you will have plenty of time to acquire and shoot the second bird and make it much easier than what you are doing now.  What if you can’t break the first target by that 2/3 mark?  Something is wrong with your technique.  Unless you have been shooting this game for less than a couple years, there isn’t an excuse as to why you can’t do it unless something is wrong with your technique or your setup.  I coached a 91 year old 3 years ago and guess what?  He was breaking them at 2/3 so if he can do it, you can too.  Ok, back to this eye shift thing…  You must learn to look where the second target is coming from, not where you think it is going.  Basically, after the first target breaks, I follow through towards the center stake where I will meet the second target.  For example, on station 3, after the high house target is crushed, my eyes and my gun are going to go towards the center stake to find the second bird, but I am not going to let my gun pass up the center stake either because that will put me behind the second target.  Once I acquire the flash of the second target, my gun will immediately stop, match gun speed with target speed on the second bird, then acquire my hard focus on the bird and pull the trigger.  All of this happens within fractions of a second, so there is a lot of lead that you have to run down the barrels to learn this technique.  Not only a lot of practice, but a lot of practice with the correct technique.  There are a couple of great training tools for this as well.  I worked with Bill from Clay Delay (voice release system) to have a delay built into the second target’s release (making it a following pair) to help the shooter build in the proper eye shift.  The delay starts out at .5 seconds, then reduces to a .3 second delay, then a .2 second delay.  Once the shooter gets efficient at each stage, they can progress to the faster setting until they are shooting true pairs.  My father got with Cliff from Briley and Briley has a doubles pull cord that does the same thing with the use of a regular pickle.

To close, I had a shooter I worked with a few years ago and at the conclusion of our first lesson his father asked me, “can you spend some time with him on doubles on 3, 4 & 5?”  I informed him that his son wasn’t quite ready for that.  He needed to perfect his technique on singles and get used to breaking the targets in the correct areas before worrying about doubles.  If he were to rush this process, it would make doubles training later much more difficult.  You see, most shooters will break the first target and shift their eyes the wrong way.  Since this happens so quickly, this is one of the hardest habits to break.  Which is why I do not like to rush my students into doubles and why my process above is so detailed.  He accepted my statement unwillingly, however, in another year he realized why I had said this.  I saw this same young gun about 8 months later in Fort Worth to get him tuned up for the season.  The first half of the day was fine tuning his singles, the second half of the day we hammered out some doubles.  He was ready because his fundamentals were sound in singles and he was breaking the first birds in the correct areas.  It was one of the easiest doubles lessons I had given because we didn’t have any bad habits to break, only new good habits to form!  I instructed him that once the first bird broke to shift his eyes over towards the hoop or the center stake to find the second bird.  Once he found the second bird, stop the gun, reverse swing, match gun speed with target speed and then acquire a hard focus on the second target.  He did this with ease because there was no bad habit to break since he had been patient on learning how to shoot doubles properly.  Fast forward four months when he received a mid-season tune-up, he was shooting with three other kids for the day and we had a little 50 target doubles competition at the end of the day.  We decided that we would shoot two regular rounds of doubles for this competition.  Jake looked at me and said, “I haven’t shot any regular rounds of doubles so tell me the sequence.”  I, of course, did tell him the proper sequence and he proceeded to shoot 49X50!  Not bad for the first two regular rounds of doubles he had ever shot, huh???  All because he was patient in learning the doubles game after perfecting his singles game.  In our sport, especially with doubles, you must crawl before you walk and walk for a good while before you run.  We get so caught up in score instead of spending the time to work the proper technique.  If you sacrifice the score in the beginning to learn the proper technique, especially with doubles, you can avoid a lot of the heartache and depression described in the opening paragraph.

Tip of the month:  One of the common mistakes in all of this is break points. Typically, shooters do not break the first target fast enough as we discussed in the article. However, there are a few times each year when I work with a student that they are breaking it soon enough but do not realize it. In other words, behind the gun, our brain perceives the target breaking in one spot, but in reality it is sooner than they perceive. A perfect example is when a shooter breaks high 2 20 feet before the stake, most shooters perceive this to be the center stake. This is your reaction time. That’s part of the reason why we follow X amount behind the car in front of us so we don’t run into them when they apply their brakes. It takes our brain around .1 seconds to register the person is hitting their brakes. When we shoot, that .1 seconds usually translates to about 10-15 feet! Therefore, if you want to know where you are actually breaking the targets versus your perception, have a reliable person watch you shoot and tell you your actual break points.