Article by Dan Chason
I used to swing a pretty mean shotgun. In fact, I would rather have my .870 Remington with me than any gun I own as it just fits me naturally. It comes so naturally because a shotgun was the first gun I personally owned and the first one that I just had a natural eye for when it came to hitting what I aimed at.
It was 1970 and I was living in Millry, Alabama. One day at school, we were told about an event put on by the local sheriff where all children were invited to experience the shooting sports. I told my Dad about it and gained permission to attend. I was 9 years old. I didn’t sleep the night before as I imagined medals dangling from my neck. I was no stranger to shooting or shotguns as I had shot my Dad’s 12 gauge J.C. Higgins pump shotgun for almost 2 years. Not only that, my Dad had given me my first single shot .20 gauge for Christmas the year before and I was ready. Or at least I thought I was.
When I arrived via my trusty bicycle, there were kids going every which way. The Sheriff lined us all up for the standard safety speech. I eyed the gun rack and saw every kind of shotgun a man could ever see. I was pumped up. I stepped up to the line for my first try at skeet shooting and the deputy handed me a 12 gauge single shot that was as long as my bicycle. I yelled “pull,” and that is the last thing I remember. I hit the skeet, or so they told me, and continued until I was crowned the champion of the event. I don’t know where that medal is today but it probably got locked up by my Mama as I would not take it off. It was a proud day.
Flash forward to the proud age of 50 and there I am on a range with a man I grew to call a friend, Vernon Bradley. I had my trusty shotgun and an awkward grin, my mind telling me this was going to be a repeat of my younger days.
When I saw Vernon shoot not one, but six, straight skeet FROM THE HIP, I knew I was out of my league. This man, I soon learned was a shooting legend. Teaching everything from the Boy Scouts, 4-H and many a junior shooter, I soon took to his teaching as a mindful protege’.
Vernon’s wife, Ashley is a six-time Louisiana champion in sporting clays and a National Champion as well. First thing I thought was if she is the champion, there is no way I’m shooting in her presence.
Vernon is the ultimate instructor. Hand gun, shotgun, rifle or muzzle loader all find their home on his range. I have watched him take an experience shooter or a novice to levels never seen.
His quick advise is this: Match the shooter to the gun, not the gun to the shooter. Stay with a 20 gauge if you are under 5’10” as 12 gauge guns are made for the frame.
When it comes to shooting live birds, the most common mistake is the shooter doesn’t trust their dominant eye. The dominate eye dictates the swing and shot placement. As a pro duck guide, he has seen shooters hit one, miss five and hit one. The reason, he says, is the variation of shot shells and not patterning the gun to assure it will hit where you aim.
This is accomplished by patterning the gun on a paper target.
See where it hits and adjust chokes accordingly. The other big mistake
shooters make is being planted in their stance. Shotgun shooting is natural. Swing in the direction of the target and trust your eyes. Shoot with the dominant eye and keep both eyes open.
Vernon is a student of the new sport called Helice. This sport is a modification of the “pigeon shoots” of days ago. According to him, if you sport yourself a good shooter, take part in a Helice shoot and you will understand what it takes to consistently shoot any game bird in any situation.
Vernon was a part of the 1994 Olympics where he worked with the Great Britain team in Atlanta as a diagnostic trainer. This accomplishment pales in his eyes when it comes to the hundreds of 4-H’ers and Boy Scout youngsters who have learned the proper way to shoot from someone who starts them with the basics and takes them to heights only limited by their desires.
The secret is stance, establishing the dominant eye and a lot of patience when teaching a young shooter. As a grandfather or father, it is easy to hand a child or beginning shooter a gun and take pride in watching them learn. When setting up a first-time shooter, remember to start small. Handing a young or small statured shooter a 12 gauge with a 3-inch magnum only builds a flincher for life. Start with small loads (8- shot) with a light gun. Remember ear and eye protection. Let them learn to enjoy the shooting sports. It is no fun to have a gun handed to you that knocks you down or blackens your eye. There is not much incentive there to repeat it if it is not enjoyed. Start with low brass shells with a 20 gauge and work from there.
Vernon’s ideology and long term work has proven to produce world class shooters. He offers private instruction as well as shooting classes for groups or organizations. You can reach him at 318-366-3825. My advice is to listen, watch and enjoy. Maybe he will even do some hip shooting for you as well.