Many years ago, during my first week at the Field & Stream office in New York, I tracked down Dave Petzal. (He was easy to find. If I remember correctly he was sharpening a knife at his desk.) I asked if I could go shooting with him to get a few pointers. I’ve got one pointer for you, he told me, practice. I think he mentioned an ungodly amount of rounds, and then I trudged back to my cubicle. He was right. I needed practice…but I got very little of it in NYC.


Fast forward many years, and I’m now in the Lowcountry with the stark realization that I’m a horrible wing shot. (Deer and turkey I can handle. Dove and ducks make a mockery of me.) And now with a dog at my side the stakes are even higher. I’ve gotten used to letting myself down when the gun goes off, but Pritch just can’t comprehend when a bird doesn’t fall from the sky. Who can blame her?

So I signed up for a shooting lesson with Jim Arnold of Custom Shooting Sports. Arnold is a burly fellow who has won a grocery list of shooting titles and has coached quite a few champs as well. My goal, I told him, was to make sure I was building on the proper fundamentals, especially now that I’m spending time at the range.

In short, here’s what I took away: On the pattern board I learned I shoot high and to the left. And on the clay’s course Arnold narrowed down many things I need to work on. So much so that I later asked him to relay my top three priorities in an e-mail. Here’s what he had to say:

1. Come to a solid ready position when things get birdie.

2. Pick one bird and focus on that bird only.

3. Make a solid gun mount, resisting quick/panic firing before the barrels are stable.

Arnold suggested that since I have no kids in the house it’s not a bad idea to leave a gun in the corner and practice mounting it from a ready position whenever possible. Like a good teacher he also mentioned a few things I did well and complemented my hand-eye coordination. Overall, I gained confidence in my form (apparently I’m not as bad as I think) and the simple realization that Petzal was right. Practice.

Anyone else ever take a shooting lesson? Anyone need one?