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No Instruction Is Sometimes the Best Instruction

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October 19, 2012

No Instruction Is Sometimes the Best Instruction

By David E. Petzal

Before we get around to shooting, let us for a moment reflect on how far we have fallen by remembering Bess Truman, First Lady and wife of Harry Truman. Mrs. Truman’s predecessor was Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the Hillary Clinton of her time in terms of popularity and influence. Unlike Eleanor, however, Bess Truman detested Washington, politics, and in particular the press. During her time as First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt had held a weekly press conference, and so when Bess Truman got the job, she was asked when she would hold hers.

“There aren’t going to be any press conferences,” said Mrs. Truman, and she meant it. During Harry Truman’s eight years in the Oval Office, she held only one, which consisted of written questions submitted in advance, and of which many were answered, “No comment.”

Much of the time, Bess Truman did not even live in Washington. Imagine that today.

But let us now reflect on shooting technique, because there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and, the conventional wisdom has it, if you shoot the right way you will hit, and if you shoot the wrong way you will miss. Mostly this is true. When I shot Sporting Clays a little while back I saw some truly dreadful gunnery, and it was happening because the shooters responsible were doing everything wrong.

However, there are people who can do everything wrong and hit. A young man with whom I was talking yesterday told me about the first time he shot skeet. He had never picked up a shotgun before, and he broke 22. Immediately he was descended upon by a mob of onlookers who gave him all sorts of advice. Place your feet differently. Lean into the gun. And on, and on.

The result was that, on the next round, he hit 5 because he was thinking about what he had to do instead of just about breaking the birds, and thinking while you’re shooting is fatal. He’s never broken 22 since, or even come close.

When I was a kid, I played on a baseball team with a kid who held the bat with both arms straight back. I’ve never seen anyone with a stance like that. There was no way he could get his wrists and forearms into the swing, but he pounded the hell out of the ball anyway. No one messed with him, and as far as I know he is sending baseballs so far that there should be pilots on board.
If you see someone who’s breaking all the rules and shooting well anyway, leave them alone. Who cares if their form is good? A hit is a hit.

Comments (25)

Top Rated
All Comments
from rjw wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

More people should have that outlook.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Half-of-two wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

What a way to spoil something good for the kid! He had all the cionfidence in the world, then people told him he was doing it "wrong" but when he changed it up and did it the "right" way, his score dropped. I agree...who cares what kind of form the kid had, a hit is a hit. Besides, he was outside having a great time, not sitting in his room playing video games.

The baseball analogy is perfect, too. There's a kid on my son's team that pitches and uses the most awkward looking wind-up I've ever seen...it looks like it ought to hurt to throw the ball that way. The thing is, nobody can hit him!

9 times out of 10, form doesn't matter as long as the end result is what you're trying to acheive.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Model 61 wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

I have to tell you I have shoot Trap with two guys that were on the all american team, both were very good and done everything right. I have also shot with two guys that wear bib overalls, shot rusty guns and reloads people give them,(everything wrong) and they shot just as good and have a hell of a lot more fun doing it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from cmarcucci wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Although left eye dominant, I have been shooting right since the word go. Needless to say my shotgunning skills are less than legendary. Mythical would cover it. With that in mind, I recently set out to teach my youngest daughter to shoot clays. First a quick eye exam revealed rt. eye dominance (Google how to do this w/nothing more than your own hands). Next, we covered the basics of form and function, as best as a misguided father can. But good intentions be damned, she couldn’t even hit a standing target at 10 yds. After a generous amount of head scratching and mumble-speak, I realized she was shooting w/her right eye closed; left open. Not an optimal scenario for right handers. No, she’s a pretty smart girl. Turns out I had confused the poor child, having dwelled on the eye-dominance “thing” a bit too much. Post confusion, she was smackin’ ‘em right smart. So form and function, at least in my world, are very relative terms.

C. Marcucci

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from JamesD wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

When I was a kid I was discouraged from writing with my left hand and made to write with my right. I shoot with my left hand and all I can say is, my penmanship never was worth a damn but my marksmanship is pretty damn good.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jerry A. wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Seems like a very applicable cliche in these cases.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from benjaminwc wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

I believe it has been said..."there's more than one way to skin a cat." If I take out a first time shooter I usually lay down the very basics and let them fill in the rest.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

As a young man I was convinced to shoot in a local skeet tourniment which I ultimately won. I also was soon instructed by various more experienced shooters as to how I could improve. I made every effort to do so and have never won a tourniment since. One hit wonder huh?
Anyone ever read about the White House Rose Garden, Harry's comment about how it was fertilized, and Bess' reply to the press? Probably can Google & find it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from sticky wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Mr. Petzal,

I couldn't agree more. After two decades of playing and coaching football, I can firmly state that proper technique is hugely important to execution in the game. I have also learned that there are many athletes who just have a "nose for the football", and attempting to change their technique often results in slower and more tentative play. The caveat to this is when the athlete is doing something that puts his safety at risk, such as lowering the helmet at contact.

By the way, did you know that Bess Truman was so bent out of shape over Harry not consulting her before he gave the order to drop the atomic bomb that she moved back to Missouri, leaving the President alone to deal with the aftermath of WWII?

ps. Love the references to the nether regions when discussing forces acting on rifle bullets on The Gun Nuts.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

I saw a sign in the gas station in my hometown before I ever started to drive whne JFK was president that read,

I MISS IKE!

Hell, I even miss Old Harry!"

Funny how that rings 50 years later....

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jim in Mo wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Dave, that young crazy armed baseball kid friend of yours wouldn't have been Stan Musial would it? Just kidding, but he was an example of how not to do something and be great.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

we may be able to teach someone the basics, but every individual has his or her own style, technic, and you cannot teach that.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from MReeder wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Could not agree more, including the baseball part. I don't know how many good, young natural hitters I've seen messed up by amateur youth coaches who could not resist messing with the kid's swing, even though the coaches themselves had no clue what they were talking about. They just couldn't leave well enough alone. If someone's naturally good and/or physically gifted at something, they'll either work out the proper form themselves over time or they'll work around it. Odds are if you slo-mo'd the hitter -- or the shooter -- you'd find out that no matter how goofy their stance or approach might have looked at first, they were probably picture-book perfect at the point of contact, or at the moment they pulled the trigger.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from coachsjike wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

dave
you can beat a team 22-2 or 6-5 in overtime, guess what? its still a win! you are absolutely right.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from postmodern_barbarian wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Ultimately, of course, the "right" form is what works best for you. That said, it helps a lot to understand the mechanics of the skill you're trying to master. Years ago, my wife and I were swimming laps at a local pool. I thought I was a reasonably good swimmer, but I noticed that she routinely swam 2 lengths of the pool in the same time that it took me to swim 1. She wasn't even trying to go fast, either. It was just that her stroke was far more efficient than mine. But then, she'd spent *years* learning what worked well and what didn't.

The young man who hit 22 / 25 on his first try at the skeet range surely did a lot of things "right" without knowing what they were. Best not to mess things up for him...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tootall75 wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

I have agree with most of the comments here...I have a group of 3 or 4 friends who grew up in the sticks not far from my hometown (which is not exactly a metropolis with a population of 2500). In any case, I have never seen better shooters in my life; these guys were literally raised on shotguns,were excellent ,could do things like place a glass jar on a bank with their back to it, turn shoot and smash the target in a heartbeat and a lot of other neat things (showoffs!).

I couldn't tell good technique from bad to be honest as the only time I used my shotgun is for grouse season(although I have shot skeet with my brother in law a couple of times in the last few months and boy do I need word) but these boys have a knack for breaking the targets more often than not and if I were to ask them if they were using proper technique, pretty sure I might be the next target, they could care less...they do what works for them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greg Hart wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

"Nothing succeeds like success."
Great article, I think we all need to be reminded how over-thinking can really ruin a good thing.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ralph the Rifleman wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Iget your point here Dave, But when does "Practice makes perfect" make sense??

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from duckdog07 wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

well if your shooting in the 90s at trap and you want to break 100 you have to be willing to drop down to the 80s in other words if you shoot good and you want to shoot great your going to have to learn to do it right!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

As David said, shooters don't have incommon is body structure and flexibility to get into position. Generally I find improvements can be taught in trigger, sight picture but the biggest mistake is follow through regardless of discipline.

One thing I will not stand for is an Instructor wrongfully teaching a technique such as a right handed shooter shooting right handed in a left handed kneeling (left knee down)position, my back hurts just thinking about it and yes I did have some choice words with the Instructor I did!!!!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from chaslee wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Arnie Palmer swings a club worst than I do but he has done well with golf - I haven't

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

AHH? I'm not buyin it. Most that swing clubs wrong, etc. and initially do certain very unothodox visual maneuvers, do perform in the key hitting areas like most others that are good at what they do. Open stances that get described as way open that get closed at the last second etc. IN shooting a shotgun, I have seen excellent shots that have had no training as well. All can be described as having "instictive shooting" technique....see moving target, hit moving target letting their subconscious do the decision making, and that is very good technique. These people have youthful, very good senses of sight, and reaction time. The biggest handicap that a young, shotgunner has initially is....the started out shooting rifles, bb guns, where they shot with a fixed barrel, and sighted down the barrel.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Funny how new shooters who have focusing on the target down and not paying attention to stuff like gun fit, stance, posture, or the difference between lead because they just started shooting 1150 fps shells instead of 1200 fps shells seem to do well. The best shots seem to have somewhat unencumbered minds,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from duckcreekdick wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Proper shooting form in the approved style is to be commended but remember the wisdom of Roger Ascham (1515-1568) in his book "Toxophilus", one of the first books written in the English language and the first written on the subject of archery.

Q. What is the chief point in shooting, that every man laboureth to come to?

A. To hit the mark.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from JamesD wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

When I was a kid I was discouraged from writing with my left hand and made to write with my right. I shoot with my left hand and all I can say is, my penmanship never was worth a damn but my marksmanship is pretty damn good.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from rjw wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

More people should have that outlook.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Half-of-two wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

What a way to spoil something good for the kid! He had all the cionfidence in the world, then people told him he was doing it "wrong" but when he changed it up and did it the "right" way, his score dropped. I agree...who cares what kind of form the kid had, a hit is a hit. Besides, he was outside having a great time, not sitting in his room playing video games.

The baseball analogy is perfect, too. There's a kid on my son's team that pitches and uses the most awkward looking wind-up I've ever seen...it looks like it ought to hurt to throw the ball that way. The thing is, nobody can hit him!

9 times out of 10, form doesn't matter as long as the end result is what you're trying to acheive.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Model 61 wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

I have to tell you I have shoot Trap with two guys that were on the all american team, both were very good and done everything right. I have also shot with two guys that wear bib overalls, shot rusty guns and reloads people give them,(everything wrong) and they shot just as good and have a hell of a lot more fun doing it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from cmarcucci wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Although left eye dominant, I have been shooting right since the word go. Needless to say my shotgunning skills are less than legendary. Mythical would cover it. With that in mind, I recently set out to teach my youngest daughter to shoot clays. First a quick eye exam revealed rt. eye dominance (Google how to do this w/nothing more than your own hands). Next, we covered the basics of form and function, as best as a misguided father can. But good intentions be damned, she couldn’t even hit a standing target at 10 yds. After a generous amount of head scratching and mumble-speak, I realized she was shooting w/her right eye closed; left open. Not an optimal scenario for right handers. No, she’s a pretty smart girl. Turns out I had confused the poor child, having dwelled on the eye-dominance “thing” a bit too much. Post confusion, she was smackin’ ‘em right smart. So form and function, at least in my world, are very relative terms.

C. Marcucci

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jerry A. wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Seems like a very applicable cliche in these cases.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from benjaminwc wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

I believe it has been said..."there's more than one way to skin a cat." If I take out a first time shooter I usually lay down the very basics and let them fill in the rest.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

As a young man I was convinced to shoot in a local skeet tourniment which I ultimately won. I also was soon instructed by various more experienced shooters as to how I could improve. I made every effort to do so and have never won a tourniment since. One hit wonder huh?
Anyone ever read about the White House Rose Garden, Harry's comment about how it was fertilized, and Bess' reply to the press? Probably can Google & find it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from sticky wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Mr. Petzal,

I couldn't agree more. After two decades of playing and coaching football, I can firmly state that proper technique is hugely important to execution in the game. I have also learned that there are many athletes who just have a "nose for the football", and attempting to change their technique often results in slower and more tentative play. The caveat to this is when the athlete is doing something that puts his safety at risk, such as lowering the helmet at contact.

By the way, did you know that Bess Truman was so bent out of shape over Harry not consulting her before he gave the order to drop the atomic bomb that she moved back to Missouri, leaving the President alone to deal with the aftermath of WWII?

ps. Love the references to the nether regions when discussing forces acting on rifle bullets on The Gun Nuts.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

I saw a sign in the gas station in my hometown before I ever started to drive whne JFK was president that read,

I MISS IKE!

Hell, I even miss Old Harry!"

Funny how that rings 50 years later....

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jim in Mo wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Dave, that young crazy armed baseball kid friend of yours wouldn't have been Stan Musial would it? Just kidding, but he was an example of how not to do something and be great.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

we may be able to teach someone the basics, but every individual has his or her own style, technic, and you cannot teach that.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from MReeder wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Could not agree more, including the baseball part. I don't know how many good, young natural hitters I've seen messed up by amateur youth coaches who could not resist messing with the kid's swing, even though the coaches themselves had no clue what they were talking about. They just couldn't leave well enough alone. If someone's naturally good and/or physically gifted at something, they'll either work out the proper form themselves over time or they'll work around it. Odds are if you slo-mo'd the hitter -- or the shooter -- you'd find out that no matter how goofy their stance or approach might have looked at first, they were probably picture-book perfect at the point of contact, or at the moment they pulled the trigger.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from coachsjike wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

dave
you can beat a team 22-2 or 6-5 in overtime, guess what? its still a win! you are absolutely right.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from postmodern_barbarian wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Ultimately, of course, the "right" form is what works best for you. That said, it helps a lot to understand the mechanics of the skill you're trying to master. Years ago, my wife and I were swimming laps at a local pool. I thought I was a reasonably good swimmer, but I noticed that she routinely swam 2 lengths of the pool in the same time that it took me to swim 1. She wasn't even trying to go fast, either. It was just that her stroke was far more efficient than mine. But then, she'd spent *years* learning what worked well and what didn't.

The young man who hit 22 / 25 on his first try at the skeet range surely did a lot of things "right" without knowing what they were. Best not to mess things up for him...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tootall75 wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

I have agree with most of the comments here...I have a group of 3 or 4 friends who grew up in the sticks not far from my hometown (which is not exactly a metropolis with a population of 2500). In any case, I have never seen better shooters in my life; these guys were literally raised on shotguns,were excellent ,could do things like place a glass jar on a bank with their back to it, turn shoot and smash the target in a heartbeat and a lot of other neat things (showoffs!).

I couldn't tell good technique from bad to be honest as the only time I used my shotgun is for grouse season(although I have shot skeet with my brother in law a couple of times in the last few months and boy do I need word) but these boys have a knack for breaking the targets more often than not and if I were to ask them if they were using proper technique, pretty sure I might be the next target, they could care less...they do what works for them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greg Hart wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

"Nothing succeeds like success."
Great article, I think we all need to be reminded how over-thinking can really ruin a good thing.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ralph the Rifleman wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Iget your point here Dave, But when does "Practice makes perfect" make sense??

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from duckdog07 wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

well if your shooting in the 90s at trap and you want to break 100 you have to be willing to drop down to the 80s in other words if you shoot good and you want to shoot great your going to have to learn to do it right!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

As David said, shooters don't have incommon is body structure and flexibility to get into position. Generally I find improvements can be taught in trigger, sight picture but the biggest mistake is follow through regardless of discipline.

One thing I will not stand for is an Instructor wrongfully teaching a technique such as a right handed shooter shooting right handed in a left handed kneeling (left knee down)position, my back hurts just thinking about it and yes I did have some choice words with the Instructor I did!!!!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from chaslee wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

Arnie Palmer swings a club worst than I do but he has done well with golf - I haven't

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 25 weeks ago

AHH? I'm not buyin it. Most that swing clubs wrong, etc. and initially do certain very unothodox visual maneuvers, do perform in the key hitting areas like most others that are good at what they do. Open stances that get described as way open that get closed at the last second etc. IN shooting a shotgun, I have seen excellent shots that have had no training as well. All can be described as having "instictive shooting" technique....see moving target, hit moving target letting their subconscious do the decision making, and that is very good technique. These people have youthful, very good senses of sight, and reaction time. The biggest handicap that a young, shotgunner has initially is....the started out shooting rifles, bb guns, where they shot with a fixed barrel, and sighted down the barrel.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Funny how new shooters who have focusing on the target down and not paying attention to stuff like gun fit, stance, posture, or the difference between lead because they just started shooting 1150 fps shells instead of 1200 fps shells seem to do well. The best shots seem to have somewhat unencumbered minds,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from duckcreekdick wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Proper shooting form in the approved style is to be commended but remember the wisdom of Roger Ascham (1515-1568) in his book "Toxophilus", one of the first books written in the English language and the first written on the subject of archery.

Q. What is the chief point in shooting, that every man laboureth to come to?

A. To hit the mark.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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