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The saying goes “Beware the man with one gun, he knows how to use it.”

I know a lot of good shots who own a bunch of guns and do very well with all of them. However, at the very highest levels of shotgunning, world class competitors practice so much and perform at such a high level, they become closely attuned to their equipment. They become one-gun shooters in a way that generalists like me can’t fully comprehend.

A few years ago I met Gregg Wolf, a young sporting clays shooter from Minnesota who had just won a World FITASC Sporting Clays title. Wolf’s shotgun, a Beretta 687, had been rebuilt several times internally. The stock had been repaired with electrician’s tape and Super Glue in a couple of places. A large enough piece of the stock head was missing that you could peek inside and see the springs and sears. Wolf guessed he had 500,000 rounds through the gun. “Beretta wants to replace it,” he said, “but I don’t want to give it up. It will take me months to learn a new gun.” That is sensitivity.

Wolf’s comment reminded me of the oft-told story about Ted Williams. Williams, of course, was a freakishly gifted athlete and was obsessed with the craft of hitting a baseball. Once, when presented with four identical 34-ounce Louisville Sluggers, he hefted them all and said, “This one is lighter than the others.” As the story goes, it was, by half an ounce. For that matter, years ago I interviewed turkey calling champion Matt Morett. As we finished the interview he took several identical production turkey calls of the kind he used in competition and made a few yelps on each one. To me, they all sounded exactly the same. To Morett’s expert ear, each was different. He picked one, said, “This one’s got the sound I like,” and gave it to me.

Are the very best shooters and athletes hyper-attuned to their equipment because they spend so much time practicing with it, or are they born with a Princess and the Pea-like sensitivity to tiny differences that helps them become the best?