I’ve recently moved to Easton, Maryland, from Atlanta, and so I’ve had to find new doctors, a new dentist and especially a new hair stylist. It can be daunting, but having some local connections has helped. My boss’ wife, Deirdre, has been great with giving me referrals for everyone that I need, and that’s a pretty easy ask.
Looking for a new shotgun instructor is a bit more complex, though—especially if you want to go shooting and none of your friends are shooters. Or worse yet, if your friends would freak out if they knew that you wanted to go shooting so you can’t really ask them for help!
I’ve been shooting competitively since 1999. I’ve been to all types of gun clubs—some friendly and some not-so-friendly—and run into a few men that have been downright rude. But I put a smile on my face and persevered, and I’m so happy I did. I had my gun, and I had as much right to be there as they did. As a new shooter, going to a gun club is very intimidating, but while some people (a.k.a. mean old men) may never be friendly to women at a gun club, you’ll find plenty who are. So follow my number one favorite rule: Show up.
Here are a few tips for beginner students looking for a shotgun instructor:
If you don’t already have a gun, see if you can find a range that has demo guns. I would, of course, recommend trying to find a Syren demo, since they are made to fit women, but I understand that that’s not always possible. We have several clubs across the country that have demo models, and we can most always ship demo guns to a rep or our dealer locations for you to try before you buy. That said, if there are rental guns available, try as many as you can. Just like trying on shoes at the store and walking around in them, it’s important to find a gun that fits and that you’re comfortable with.
Make sure that you have the right ammo for your lessons. If you find the right shotgun instructor, you’ll be shooting more than they’ll be talking, so get some shells that are ⅞ oz. or 1 oz. and 1,100 to 1,200 fps. Brand is less important than the specifications. Key phrases to look for are “extra-light target load,” “low recoil,” “feather-lights,” etc. Don’t get anything that says “handicap,” “super sporting,” “dove loads,” “game loads,” etc. Stay away from 1⅛ oz. and anything over 1,200 fps. The size of the shot, 7.5, 8 or 9, does not affect the recoil, but you can’t shoot anything lower than 7.5 at clay targets. You can figure out later if you want something “hotter,” but to start, low recoil is best for a good experience.
What if you don’t have a range close by that you can go to? These organizations can help you find an instructor.
The National Skeet Shooting Association and National Sporting Clays Association have websites that list all their Level I, II and III instructors by state. Barbara suggests: “I advise a beginner/novice shooter to book their lesson with a NSCA Level I or Level II instructor, because this instructor is well-versed in the proper sequence of instruction, ensuring the new student will get off to an exciting start. As a Level I instructor, I work mainly with women and teens. Our first few lessons cover gun safety, eye dominance, proper gun mount, stance…and hitting lots of targets! I allot time to shoot 25 to 50 easy target presentations.
The Amateur Trap Association has information on its site, as does the NSSF (the National Shooting Sports Foundation), which lists information on “Where to Shoot” on its website. (This includes rifle and pistol ranges, as well.)
And while it’s difficult to find an shotgun instructor when you’re new, it’s sometimes equally difficult to settle on just one when you have multiple options and everyone you know has a different favorite. That’s when you need to determine your goals in shotgun shooting. Do you want to learn to shoot just for fun, for annual hunting trips and maybe some charity shoots? Or have you been bitten by the “competition bug” and want to excel in your chosen shooting discipline?
Lots of the top shooters/instructors have a shooting method that works for them. Typically, an instructor will want you to shoot using his or her method. That’s great if that method works for you, but I would advise against totally changing the way you shoot. Over my 14 years of competition, I have heard so many shooters complain that their score was horrible because their new shotgun instructor changed the way they shot, and they were confused as to what to do to actually hit the targets.
Finding a coach that shoots in a similar way to you, and who will gently tweak your technique to improve your shooting is so important. Adjusting your hold point, break point, stance and gun fit are the basics, and making little improvements over time is much more valuable than making big ones all at once.
Kassidy was looking for a long-term coach for Bunker Trap: “When I first started one-on-one coaching, I didn’t know what to expect. My coach drilled me on certain target angles over and over, until I was comfortable with them. She also had me pick up a weight-training regimen to build my core strength. My coach has become one of my closest friends, and has been my rock throughout my shooting career. She has supported me through everything shooting-related as well as in life itself, and is one of the most influential people in my life.”
Barbara says (and I totally agree), “We always learn something from every shotgun instructor with whom we cross paths, but if competition and winning is a new student’s long-term goal, finding the right coach is well worth the time and effort.”
Barbara Garney is based in Houston, Texas, and is president of the Lady Clay Shooters. They host several events each year, as well as an annual fundraiser for a Houston-area charity. She is a long-time sporting clays shooter and has also served on the board of the Texas Sporting Clays Association. She recently joined Syren as a ProStaff shooter, and we are so lucky to have her on board!
A recent high school graduate, Kassidy Groeper will be attending Lindenwood University in the fall and shooting on its shotgun team (which has National Championships in spades). She was very active in FFA and her primary discipline is Bunker Trap, but she will be shooting all disciplines for the college team.
Read Lynne’s other tips on shotguns here.