Pre-Shot Routine

Pre-Shot Routine

Pre-Shot Routine

Author:  Luther Cutts, Head Instructor (NSCA Level 3), Competitor 

In the article Pre-Shot Planning, we discussed the concept and the benefits of planning your shots in advance. Properly done, you should be done your pre-shot planning before you step into the stand and prepare to call for the first target.  One of the most obvious benefits that flows from the pre-shot planning should be a significant reduction in the stress and uncertainty of knowing where the target is going to be.  There are few worse feelings than not being able to see the target because you are looking in the wrong place.

Presuming you now have a plan for how to deal with these target presentations, the next step is the pre-shot routine. If done properly, this should increase your consistency and improve your score.  The pre-shot routine is most shooters’ first foray into the mental end of the game – it is the next logical step for shooters who have the fundamental mechanics of shooting down, but are stuck in the 50% to 70% success bracket.

As the name suggests, your pre-shot routine should be the same, time after time.  A routine is something that is repeated over and over again – your morning routine might be to roll out of bed at 0530, shower, get dressed and get a Tim Hortons coffee before getting into work.  You do the same thing over and over because it works for you, and to do something different feels awkward and foreign.  The same principles work in shooting, but instead of doing it once a day, you will do it 50 times for 50 pairs of targets.

One of the more difficult aspects of getting people into a pre-shot routine is that there is no set pattern of behaviour that works for everyone.  Each person needs to develop their own pre-shot routine – they need to find that routine that works for them.  Some people have very simple routines, while others can have rather elaborate routines.  Some people’s routines are quite noticeable to other people on their squad, while other routines are virtually invisible to the casual observer.

The question often arises, “Which is better?  The simple or the elaborate pre-shot routine?”  The answer is, it depends.  And the only way to determine which one will work best for you is to experiment. 

I have never taught anyone a specific pre-shot routine, but I have introduced the principles of the technique and encouraged them to play with it.  As is commonly said in the study of karate – “The doorway opening is narrow, but you are expected to enter deeply.”  In layman’s terms, you will get out of this only what you put into it.  If you try to incorporate a pre-shot routine into your shooting on stations 1 and 2, and then abandon it completely, you will never reap the benefits from this technique.

If, on the other hand, you tinker with it and find something that is not onerous and you notice your scores improving, you will join the ranks of shooters who have used this technique to sharpen their focus and improve their enjoyment of the game.

I have had some success in teaching this to shooters, not by telling them what to do, but rather by describing what other successful shooters have done and letting them experiment until they discover what works for them.  Here are some of the things I have seen shooters do over the years – these are not a listing of what one person does, but a collage of what I have seen dozens of shooters do.

  • Take a deep, cleansing breath before setting up for the shot
  • Check the position of the hands on the shotgun
  • Orient the cartridges in the barrels of an over/under shotgun so that the information on the headstamp is the same for every shot
  • Say something to themselves before calling for the bird, such as “Look at the target”
  • Move their head and eyes and watch the trajectory of the target, even though there are no targets in the air at the time
  • Move their feet as though they are trying to clean the bottoms of their boots
  • Close their eyes and visualize the target breaking

I am sure there are many others – these are simply some of the obvious the ones that I have noticed over the years as a FITASC Referee.

I think one of the keys to having a pre-shot routine that works for you is to find one that is not overly complex – if your pre-shot routine has 19 steps, I suspect you are not going to rely on it for every shot, as it becomes a burden.  It has taken me about six years to get my pre-shot routine into a bite-sized package, and it does work for me.  My pre-shot routine is:

  • Close my shotgun
  • Close my eyes and take in/release a big breath of air
  • Open my eyes and say, to myself, “Look at the bird”
  • Call “Pull”

Someone standing behind me is unlikely to notice any of this.  

I met a fellow in North Carolina in November of 2017, and I was fortunate enough to be able to work with him for an afternoon.  He was a very interesting fellow – he had spent his entire Army career as a member of their shooting team and was an accomplished rifle shooter.  He was a good sporting clays shooter, being somewhat competitive in AA class.  He felt he could do better, so he came to the Level III course as a volunteer student.

His shooting fundamentals were excellent – his mount was rock-solid and he saw the target very well. He was a little soft on his hold point, but we got that sorted out relatively quickly.  When spent the next 90 minutes working on his pre-shot routine, which he had never heard of.  He was skeptical at first, but being a good student, he did as he was told.  When we were done, we exchanged email addresses and we have remained in touch.

In the spring of 2018, he sent me a note, advising me he had punched into Master class and he was winning events with some regularity.  In June, he won a good-sized shoot (about 90 shooters) and in the process, bettered some very good shooters.  He frequently shoots in the 90s in competition.  

Needless to say, he is delighted with his progress. He attributes his recent success to his pre-shot routine.  He said it quiets the voices in his head, and allows him to shoot with a calm, clear mind.

If you are seeking better scores and improved consistency, the pre-shot routine might be one way to attain your goals.  If you do give this a go, be patient with yourself, and try different things.  The evidence suggests that you will be pleasantly surprised!

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