Ask Phil: The Mental Side of Skeet Shooting

This is, I hope, the first of many installments of "Ask Phil" in which I answer your questions about shotgunning or anything else you want to ask me about, except, of course, for rifles, about which I am completely clueless, and besides, we already have a guy who knows something about rifles writing for this site. Send your questions to fsgunnuts@gmail.com. If we use your question, Cabela's will hook you up with your choice of S.T.R. Max Hearing Protection ear muffs, an Xtreme Range Bag, or an Interchangeable Shooting Glasses 3-Lens Kit.

Here’s the first question:

Phil,
I have a question for you regarding something I've observed while shooting skeet and I wonder if you have heard of this happening to anyone else before. Because life gets in the way, sometimes I'll go months without shooting skeet. When I finally make it out to the gun club, I'll shoot a 21 or 22, which is pretty good for me, in the first round. Second and third rounds, though, will typically result in scores of 14 or 15. This happens every time I go back to shooting after a brief hiatus. Is it all between the ears?
--John

Yes, the problem is all between your ears. You bring no expectations to that first round of the year. You’re not worried about your score because you haven’t shot for several months. You shoot without fear of missing. You’re happy when you break birds, you don’t care when you don’t. Skeet feels new and exciting again. Your mind is engaged, and you pay attention to each target and they explode into dust. We should all be so lucky to shoot in this frame of mind every time.

Next round you’re thinking, “22 targets my first time out! I’ll shoot an even better score. This is my year!” Now you are counting hits and misses, and the misses weigh on you. You get careful and stop trusting your eye-hand coordination. You try to aim shots, or double-check leads, and that way lies madness, despair and lots of missing behind targets. Pretty soon you’re right back in the teens where you usually shoot.

Incidentally, you can see this same syndrome at work when you try someone else’s gun. It feels strange in your hands and that strangeness makes you focus on the birds a little harder. You shoot a good score and you have to own this gun. It’s you. You buy it, and all of a sudden the magic is gone and you’re shooting the same bad scores you always shoot. See, the magic wasn’t in the gun. It was inside you all along.

One could conclude that the answer to the problem is obvious: never practice, and borrow someone else’s gun every time you shoot.

A better answer is to work on your mental game. The book Zen Putting, by Dr. Joe Parent, is excellent guide to the mental side of golf. Do not be put off by its subject matter, nor its touchy-feeliness. It will help you break more targets.