Shooting Clay Pigeons is an Intuitive Skill

west-virginia-shooting-clay-pigeons.jpeg“Stop thinking!” Jim Flynn repeated.

Apparently that’s why I couldn’t hit a clay pigeon flying at 44 mph away from me.

Thinking, he said, slows the trigger finger. The goal is to feel the shot, to let the primitive voice in the back of my head know when to pull the trigger on the Browning 20-gauge over-under.

“You KNOW when to shoot,” Flynn coaches. “Don’t stop to think about it. This is a hand-eye coordination game, not a thinking game. It’s a reaction game. When you think about it you’re not thinking fast enough to hit that thing.”

I never “thought” of shooting clays as a Zen activity. Quite the opposite. I expected it to be a thinking game of precision and timing. Sure, getting into position is a science. But then instinct rules, according to Flynn, who is a range safety officer for Sporting Clays at Canaan Valley Resort in Canaan Valley, West Virginia.

We met him as we went from adventure to adventure in surrounding Tucker County. In more than five decades on this planet, this was the first time I’d ever shouldered a real gun and pulled the trigger. While I didn’t shatter any records or clay pigeons, I managed to chip away at five of the 25 clay discs flying away from me.

The decision to shoot was filled with existential angst. For decades, I’ve rebelled against my family of gun collectors. While some parents knock over stationary bowling pins, mine shot moving clay pigeons. Both Mom and Dad have hit perfect 25s in competition. They have trophies to prove it. My sons hunt and are familiar with guns.

I wore my lack of gun experience like a medal. I am a proud gun-control advocate who’d never touched a loaded firearm. Why should I?

After too much thinking, I surrendered my rebel pride and shrugged into a khaki vest and dumped 25 shells into the pockets. Plastic yellow safety glasses perched atop my head and orange ear-plug sponges ready, I listened to Flynn’s dead-serious safety lecture.

A former military man – Coast Guard and Navy – he honed his skills shooting clay pigeons aboard a ship. Today, he teaches both shooting and skiing.

The next thing he taught me was the stance. Flynn positioned me left foot forward, butt of the shotgun snugged under my collarbone, left hand supporting the barrel (elbow down) and right hand near the trigger. With the gun pulled tightly into my body, butt nudged against my right cheek, he showed me how to put a bead on the target.

It was time to lose my firearm virginity. I pulled the trigger, the gun bucked into my shoulder and I missed the stationery practice target. I’m competitive, so I had to continue until I hit something.

When I followed Flynn’s instructions perfectly, I hit a stationary clay pigeon. On my third try.

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