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When You’re Having So Much Fun Shooting, Why Bother Competing?

It seems like such an easy question, you’re having the time of your life shooting sporting clays, why would you want to mess that up and ratchet up the pressure on yourself by competing? For me personally when I started shooting, in order to be on my SCTP team I had to commit to attending the state and national tournaments. I agreed at first because I just wanted to shoot and going to two competitions was a small price to pay to be able to shoot each week during practice. This is how the journey began but along the way a couple lessons snuck up on me. The first one was: even the casual weekend shooter wants to improve, the person shooting in the 60’s wants to make it to the 70’s, the 70’s want to be in the 80’s, and so on. The best way I’ve found to make this happen is to challenge yourself through competitions and all the preparation that happens before a competition. The second one is: Almost nothing in life of any significance is accomplished by accident. It usually starts with a dream, then a goal, and ultimately a plan that if executed ends in the achievement of said goal. In addition to these lessons, if you’re like me, along the way you might just run into a few unexpected surprises.

Regarding the first lesson, I fell instantly in love with Sporting Clays and my desire to get better was front and center. While my passion brought me to practice each week, it was the instruction I got from my coach, Bob Self, that delivered the skill improvement required to improve my scores. I can’t say I was serious about competing at this time, I was more focused on the fun. I remember shooting in a registered shoot once at 14, when I happened to be squaded with one of the top master class shooters in the state. After one station I heard him telling his buddies that the kid has no idea how hard those targets he was breaking were because he was too busy just having fun. Well the fun kept coming and honestly I didn’t spend a minute thinking about goals and what type of shooter I wanted to be years down the round, when you’re 14 and having the time of your life, that’s all you need. It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado and found there weren’t but 1 or 2 junior teams and none of them were close enough to where I lived to make regular practice feasible. This is where lesson number two came in, as it’s not much fun shooting by yourself, so I began to attend the local registered shoots near my home that took place just about every weekend.
It was at these shoots that I met some of the nicest adults in my life, people who went out of their way to encourage me, offered help and advice and seemed to take great satisfaction in watching me grow as a shooter. By combining their encouragement with my passion for the sport, the dye was cast. Goals quickly began to come into my head, if only I could be good enough to beat Mike Tilley and what if one day if the weather was just right and I was at the top of my game maybe just maybe I could beat Jon Kruger (honestly I’m not sure even I believed this goal was possible). Setting goals is the easy part of the journey and just as I did, I would encourage people to set aggressive goals like mine of beating Mike Tilley as well as ones that seem impossible like beating Jon Kruger. If you strive for the impossible, work hard and never lose focus, the impossible one day sneaks up on you and jumps out at you surprising the hell out of you. Not being someone who believes in luck, the next steps were practice, training, and simulations, as it’s only through hard work and focus that results in dreams being realized.
The first step is finding a coach that you click with, not just shooting style wise but also personality wise. I have been incredibly blessed to have run into three of these people during my career in Bob Self (MEC Sponsored Shooter), Lloyd Woodhouse (USA Olympic Coach) and Jon Kruger (1st inductee into the Sporting Clay Hall of Fame). Through these giants in the sport, I learned the difference between practice, training, and simulations. Many people think practice involves going out and shooting a round on the course, that’s not practice. Practice is all about repetition and developing muscle memory. Kruger used to have me shoot 200 rounds over 6-8 stations all in an hour. He taught me to stay at a station shooting the same pair over and over until I could break 10 pairs in a row. Try it for yourself, miss a bird and then you have to start over at 1. Not only does this teach you muscle memory, it also teaches your muscles to make the same movements when they are tired or fatigued. It also teaches you to deal with pressure, believe me as Jon counted out loud, 7, 8, 9, my anxiety rose, and my breathing got faster. Here is where you begin to learn consistency. Lloyd woodhouse once told me that I needed to learn to shoot how my dad drives. Confused at first Lloyd asked my dad how many times he touched the brake pedal while driving to the Olympic training center, to which my dad answered he didn’t know. Lloyd jumped on that saying “because due to repetition, what my dad’s eyes saw caused his hands and feet to move without thought, that’s how you have to learn to shoot. When your eyes capture the perfect picture, your finger should pull the trigger without any conscious thought.” Next involves training, I used to keep a shot log whenever I went to a registered shoot or tournament.
When I came across a target I struggled with the help of my dad, I would draw out the presentation, 30-yard crosser going left to right never getting more than 15 feet off the ground while flying 50 yards. Then before my next lesson I would tell Jon the birds I struggled on and we would spend an entire practice just focusing on these types of birds from a couple different angles. Now to be honest this part isn’t much fun in fact it’s extremely frustrating. I remember one training session shooting 100 rounds at the same target and missing 70% of them, talk about frustrating. But it is through the struggle and frustration that true learning appears. For me something finally clicked during all the frustration and I went from missing 70 out of the first 100 to hitting 80 out of the next 100 birds. The bird I always said “Oh no” when I walked up to the stand was now the one, I approached with great confidence.
The final piece is simulations. Practice and training are great, but they don’t give you the same feel of being in a tournament. You need to rotate through a group, watching, waiting and most importantly keeping score. There is something different that happens to us mentally with marks are made on a scorecard. In practice if you miss there is always another target, when your simulating there are no do overs, miss and a zero goes down on the scorecard. You have to learn to let go of the misses and focus on the next target as the zeros on the card can’t be erased but if you are able to let go of the past you can change the future. Simulation must involve walking that course, you’ll need friends willing to fill out a squad, your pre and post shoot routines must be identical to what you hope to execute in the upcoming tournament. I can’t say practice, training, and simulations are always fun, in fact most of the time it’s more hard work than fun. But if you are like me and enjoy pushing yourself to improve at a sport you love, the rewards are great. You will never know how good you can be unless you are willing to travel outside your bubble of that local club to compete at a regional or national tournament. If you are brave enough to begin this journey, you might be surprised where it will lead. When I began the only thought in my mind was having fun, sometimes fun is the spark that leads you to those special once in a lifetime moments, the ones that you will tell your kids and grandkids over and over until they can repeat it by heart.
My moment was the feeling you had in your stomach when they hand you a Red, White and Blue vest that reads USA and your name on the back. Marching behind our flag at the World English was a highlight of my life and one that only lit another fire: How much fun would it be to wear the Red, White and Blue while beating the world across the pond. Covid threw a wrench into my plans to travel to England last June to do just that but Covid will not snuff out my dream. I plan to put in the work Practicing, Training, Simulating and Competing on my way to earning my spot on the USA team next year as they travel to England to compete in the 2021 World English Championship. While this is my dream, your dreams likely come in many different shapes and sizes. This is one thing I can guarantee you though: Along the way, I’m confident you will find the shooting community is made up of some of the finest men and women this country has to offer. Total strangers who will after a round will feel like friends, people who will come up and say, “We shot together in Super Sporting at the US Open 3 years ago”. Personally, I have met some of my dearest friends and lifelong contacts through shooting and for that I am eternally grateful.
by Dalton Kirchhoefer

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