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How to Practice

By: Paul Giambrone, III

In recent travels, this question has come up quite frequently. “How do I practice?” Another good one is “What gauge should I be practicing with?” Both are great questions and the answer will change depending on your long term goals, how long you have been shooting, your budget and how much spare time you have. For me personally, I have been shooting for 25 years now (where the heck did the time go) and I know exactly what I need to do on each and every station. Plus, I instruct for a living so the fundamentals are constantly being reinforced in my head plus I get to see a lot of targets. My practice schedule is very limited and small, almost non-existent now. However, if you go back to when I was a teenager, first getting a taste of my potential in the game and my thirst for wanting a world championship, it was much different. On average, I shot 30-40 boxes of practice a week (more during the spring & summer, less in the fall and winter) and shot a minimum of 14-16 tournaments a year and did this for 5 straight years. I had plenty of help along the way and that is how I got to the position where I am now. Should everyone do this? Absolutely not! However, if your longer term goals involve getting to AA/AAA status in all gauges and want to win tournaments and world championships, then yes, this is what you should do for practice.

Not everyone wants to compete at a higher level, so what about those shooters? Shooters that want to be “respectable” or “competitive in their class” what should they do for practice? It all starts with understanding the game and understanding the fundamentals of our sport. This is where a quality instructor comes in to guide you on these items. Once you know them, practice as much as your budget and time will allow you to practice. Proceed with caution here. We do not want to substitute quantity for quality. I would rather a shooter go out and shoot 4-6 boxes of high quality practice than for them to try and squeeze in 10-12 boxes because they think they need the reps. Wrong move. Do not, and I mean it, DO NOT take quantity over quality. When you practice, it should be high quality reps. We do not want to just “go through the motions” and burn gun powder just because it’s fun to do. Time is precious so spend your time practicing wisely. If you can make it out to shoot 4-5 times per week without breaking the bank and abandoning your everyday obligations, go for it! The more quality practice you can get in the better! If time only allows for 1-2 times per week, try to add in visualizing at home and practice your gun mount technique in front of a mirror as well. Practice swinging your gun at home working on your body mechanics to get in extra reps since you can only shoot once or twice a week. Lastly, if you are just starting, make sure you practice as much as you can, but with the help of QUALITY instruction. That way you don’t have to unlearn bad habits later! Get started on the right track and go from there! If you have been shooting for quite some time and are more “content” with your game, you won’t need as much trigger time as the shooter who is green.

How to practice? Most shooters get suckered into shooting regular rounds of skeet each time they go out to shoot. Occasionally, you’ll have someone shoot a couple of extra shots at the end of the round on a target they missed and such, but very few actually follow a practice routine. I recommend to my students that they start off with baseline (stations 1, 7, 8) and incomers (L2, L3, H5, H6) in their first couple of rounds. Then, the next couple of rounds, they can shoot all outgoing shots, followed by a regular round on box 5 or 6 (email for a copy of the practice routine I recommend to my students). The key here, take it slowly. When going to the gun club to work on fundamentals, you need to be able to focus on one target at a time. When trying to change things while shooting a regular round of skeet, it rarely works in the shooter’s favor. Another good routine is to shoot 3 low house targets at each station for a couple of rounds, followed by shooting 3 high house targets at each station for a couple of rounds then shoot a regular round or two. To me, regular rounds tell us very little. They should be used for getting ready for a tournament AFTER you are comfortable with all of your stations and shots individually. Shooting individual stations and targets allows you to perfect your game to where you can be ready to shoot the regular rounds. In the Spring, I follow this routine until I am happy with all of my targets, my form, my break points, everything. I don’t even shoot regular rounds until this phase of my practice is complete. This could take a couple of practice sessions or it could take a couple of months (depending on how rusty I am). Once I am happy with all of my individual targets, I then work on shooting each station. For instance, I’ll go to station 1 and shoot it, step out, relax for a minute and then do it again and again. I will do this all the way around the field for all of the stations. Once I am happy with this phase of my practice, then I move on to shooting regular rounds of skeet. To put all of my work into one full round. Notice I am saying that I move on as I am happy with each phase, not how many targets I break. There is a key difference in worrying about the outcome (breaking vs. missing a target) and worrying about just the process of how I am going to shoot the next target. Shooters that are score driven will always be one step behind those who are focused on just the process of how to make a good, solid fundamental shot for each target. That is why I practice the way that I do. To make sure I am taking solid fundamental shots on all of my stations before worrying about regular rounds of skeet. Finally, once I am completely satisfied with this phase, that is when I will move on to practicing doubles in the middle on stations 3, 4, 5.

What gauge to practice?? What a loaded question here! I recommend you practice as much as you can with 20 & 28 gauge before worrying about the .410. Perfect your technique and mental routine with the bigger gauges and get your confidence way up before worrying about the little guy. Yes, I have heard the argument “won’t practicing with the smaller gauge make me more precise?” Sure, if you practice with it the correct way which few of us do. You see, the .410 causes most shooters to get tight, aim the gun instead of watching the target, really makes them think about leads, etc. All of which are the improper technique. We should be relaxed, confident and focused on the target when shooting the .410. So, do it well with the bigger gauges before worrying about the little gun. Once you are shooting in the high 90s in the big guns on a consistent basis, you are ready to tackle the task of shooting the .410. My father and I hashed it out one season with the .410 and what we realized after several thousand rounds was that we didn’t have to do anything differently in the .410 than we did the other gauges. Therefore, if you perfect your technique (both mentally and physically) in the bigger gauges, the .410 will take care of itself!

Tip of the month: When you go to practice, practice with a purpose for the day. No, breaking targets is not a purpose. Things like staying at home, keeping your head on the gun, working your mental routine, those are items to work on that will result in broken targets. When working on items like this, shoot individual targets and stations rather than just banging away regular round after regular round. Get in quality reps instead of shooting X amount of boxes for the day. Practice with a purpose and save the .410 and doubles at 3, 4, 5 for when you are truly ready.