Practice Now, Fold Birds in Fall

Tom La Prelle is a certified NSCA shooting instructor and veteran bird hunter. Follow his tips to get ready for your wingshooting season.
It all starts with your feet. For right-handed shooters, draw an imaginary line from the heel of your right foot to the toe of your left foot. Then extend that line downrange, it should point to where you want to shoot the clay (this is called the break point). During practice, get use to this position so that in the field you'll automatically step into it when it's time to shoot.
In shooting, like most sports it's hard to balance and move smoothly if you are leaning back on your heals, La Prelle says. Here's an example of poor form (leaning too far back).
Here's the right way to do it. Lean forward into the shot with about 60 percent of your weight on your front foot.
Smoothness not quickness is the key to properly mounting your shotgun. La Prelle says to practice mounting your gun at home, making sure to bring the gun to the same point on your face and shoulder every time. Stand in the middle of the room and mount your gun (unloaded obviously) pointing it at the seam where the wall meets the ceiling. Follow that line with your gun around the room in a smooth steady motion. When you get to the end of the room, put the gun down and do it again.
One of the biggest keys to breaking more clays is to focus on the target, not on your gun barrel. The bead on a shotgun barrel is not a sight or aim, but a point of reference to line up your face. So look past the bead at your target.
Train your eyes to automatically find the leading edge of the target. While other people shoot, practice picking up the clay as fast as you can and focus on the leading edge of it for as long as you can. This can be practiced when you're off the range too. When you're walking around outside and notice a bird fly by, practice picking up its beak as fast as you can. Soon, your eyes will naturally snap to anything that flies. La Prelle also has his clients practice this by just pointing at a flying targets with their hand.
Then when you hold your shotgun, point your index finger out just like you practiced without the gun.
Some people have a natural tendency to close an eye when they shoot, but it's easier for your brain to calculate speed, distance and direction if its getting information from both eyes. La Prelle use to shoot with one eye closed, but he forced himself to make the switch and he's been killing more birds ever since. If you're an eye closer, now's the time to break the habit. You might miss a few targets at first, but eventually, your shooing will improve.
You have a dominant eye, just like you have a dominant hand. Unfortunately right-handed shooters aren't always right-eye dominant and vice versa. This can be a real problem for some people. When La Prelle runs into a shooter with a dominant eye that's different than his dominant hand, he sometimes suggests having the shooter switch hands. If that's too uncomfortable, La Prelle puts some chapstick or scotch tape over the lens of the shooter's glasses (you should always shoot with protective glasses). He does this over the shooter's dominant eye, which forces the shooter to focus with his non-dominant eye without restricting his peripheral vision. After enough practice, the shooter is usually able to focus with his non-dominant eye without the aid of tape or chapstick.
There are three main shooting games that La Prelle recommends for getting ready for the hunting season: skeet, trap and sporting clays.
Station 1 on the skeet range offers shots at birds quartering away and quartering toward you. No need for a big lead here, just find the leading edge of the target, or the "beak" of the bird, and slap the trigger.
Station four on the skeet range is great practice for pass shooting ducks or doves. Your shot will be from about 25 yards and targets will be traveling at about 35 miles per hour (about the same speed as a teal) from your left and your right. For a shot like this, you will need to lead the target by what appears to be about 3.5 feet and follow through with your gun.
Trapshooting is ideal practice for grouse, pheasant and quail hunters.
If you have a problem pulling your head off the gun, practice by trapshooting. Load two shells into your gun, and have your buddy throw a clay. Try to shoot it. Immediately after you shoot have him throw another clay. You'll be forced to keep your head on the gun if you want to catch the second target.
Sporting clays gives you a chance at a variety of hunting shots. It's probably most beneficial for duck hunters, because it gives looks at multiple incoming birds. Before the shot establish your foot position, break point and focal points. When you call pull you should be shooting not thinking, La Prelle says. Also keep a log of your scores, then spend extra time practicing at the stations that give you trouble.
When you're feeling pretty confident start shooting doubles on the skeet range. Two targets force you to find the first bird quicker, but don't rush. La Prelle says most people have trouble shooting doubles because they either try to break the first clay too early or wait too late. Anyone who's ever sat in a duck blind knows this type of practice irreplaceable.
At the range you're going to see some fancy guns (La Prelle shoots a Krieghoff K-80) but don't get caught up in the glitz and glamour. Bring whatever gun you hunt with, because that's the gun you're going to want to feel comfortable shooting in the field.
To take lessons from La Prelle on Long Island call him at 631-220-5987. To visit Suffolk County Clays go to www.suffolkclays.com.