Dry training is the catch-all name for any form of training with the gun that does not involve actually firing at a target. The purpose is to train the various and complex movements that go to make up a shot or shots without the distraction of a target.
Traditional shotgun coaching requires the pupil to focus on a fast moving target while simultaneously coordinating several unfamiliar movements. It is only natural that the target gets most attention while the technical considerations receive little or none. This quickly leads to the situation where poor techniques are repeatedly practiced and eventually become habit.
Some sort of compromise is eventually reached where targets are hit despite the poor technique, and this is seen as some sort of progress. It actually is not, because it means the pupil is acquiring bad habits that limit their potential and so must at some stage be unlearned.
The Total Shooting approach is to spend a lot of training time away from actual shooting, not only in the early learning stages but at the highest competition levels, too. Shooting coaches who read this will argue that they are mostly employed by the hour, and not cheaply, and that pupils expect to fire the gun in that hour! Of course they do, and actual shooting and coaching remains an important factor. But it’s not the only factor. Dry training costs nothing yet is highly beneficial, and anyone not liking what they read here can simply switch off and no money or face is lost. But if you are keen to improve, especially if you are a serious competitive shooter, then read on.
Dry Training Basics
The purpose of Dry Training is to enable us to learn the vital motor skills of key techniques by practising them without the encumbrance of a target. Taking this one stage further, it's much easier for us to learn a complex movement when it's broken down into smaller pieces. This allows total concentration on each part of the overall technique until it is thoroughly learned. Then the component parts can be linked together. This practice produces good results in a satisfyingly short period of time, and great results during the shooter’s competitive life.
For best effect time should be set aside for this training, and an area selected that is both safe (in that no one should feel threatened by the fact you are working with a gun) and quiet. This is serious practice and you don’t want distraction or interruption. Start with no more than ten minutes at a time and gradually build up to thirty minutes. Be certain to observe all safety procedures, especially checking that the gun is not loaded prior to commencing all training.
Since this is a serious training period treat it as such. Set yourself a keyword or phrase that announces training has started - something simple like ‘dry training starts’ will do. When you’ve finished the session ‘dry training concludes’ will bring the period to a definite end. In this way you can decide exactly how long you intend to devote to dry training at each session and stick with it.
This is far superior to simply picking up the gun, waggling it few times and putting it down again (although this is still much better than nothing).
Here are some of the easier drills that all shooters looking to improve should employ on a regular basis. Some are physically easy, some a bit more strenuous. All are extremely beneficial.
Anyone can stand properly, can't they? Well, you would think so, but in fact you will see many poor stances that hinder rather than encourage good shooting. The function of the stance is to allow the shooter to present the properly mounted gun squarely to the target, wherever it might be, easily and efficiently whilst retaining good balance. This will promote the fluid swing that we all aspire to.
This is not as simple as it first sounds. A good stance will feel entirely natural, not forced in any way. The following is the basic stance that should be learnt from the outset.
The feet are no more than shoulder width apart, preferably less. They are turned only slightly out from parallel, never splayed. The right handed Shot will have the left foot about six inches ahead of the right. Body weight is spread evenly between the two feet. The legs are never locked straight, but are flexed slightly at the knees
This is where we should all start. However, as anyone who watches top shooters in action will have noticed, stances can vary quite considerably. At one extreme is the very narrow stance with an upright posture. This provides good mobility but with relatively poor balance. At the opposite end is the wider stance with anything from a slight to a quite pronounced knees bend. This is very similar to a combat stance. It provides good balance but has a quite limited arc of movement. This is fine for the Skeet disciplines, where the arcs of movement are quite small, but less good for game shooting or Sporting, where mobility can be important. All these stances will find the centre of gravity falling between the feet, never outside of them.
A line through the points of the shoulders should be parallel with a similar line drawn through the hips. This is so at address and also during shooting. At no time should the shoulders turn without an equal turn of the hips. Twisting of the shoulders, with no or minimum hip movement, must be avoided.
The posterior is tucked in, not being allowed to stick out like a duck. The groin is pushed forward and up, the stomach is pulled in and the spine is kept relatively straight. This does not imply tension, but good simple posture. Many shooters who stand in a poor posture do so because of weak back and stomach muscles, and also because they are probably overweight. This is easily corrected with core conditioning, exercise and a sensible diet.
The arms should just fall from the shoulders, not be tensed. The shoulders must also be allowed to drop naturally, not be hunched up. Elbows drop into a natural position, not pushed out from the body, and this creates a natural and strong shoulder position for the gun to mount into.
In this basic position the shooter is centred, both physically and mentally. Get used to the feel of it, as it's the starting position for every shot.
The fixed triangle
Viewed from above the arms and gun form a triangle. The angles of this triangle must not change, either at address (by pulling the gun across the body) or during the shot (same). Now see Basics in detail
A simple stance drill
This simple but important drill is based on the 'fixed triangle', and the principle of remaining centred at all times. By practicing this you will ensure you remain in good balance regardless of whether the shot is high, low, left or right.
Start in the ready position as shown, taking care that your weight falls evenly between the feet and that your basic stance position is as described. Now revolve to the left, maintaining good balance. The maximum you can turn before encountering tension will be about 45 degrees. Take care to maintain the fixed triangle and avoid pulling the gun across your body. The latter is a very common fault when turning to the left and it disrupts the gunmount position. This finish position will be a frequent starting position when addressing a target that will fly from left to right.
Return to the basic position and then revolve to the right, again concentrating on maintaining the feeling of being centred. Again 45 degrees will be about the limit before tension creeps in. This finish position will be a frequent starting position when addressing a target that will fly from right to left.
Turning from the extreme left position to the extreme right, and vice versa, gives a total turning arc of 90 degrees. This seemingly limited arc is actually more than enough to deal with practically any clay target encountered.
Basic Dry Training methods concentrate on - fixed spot gun mounting, centring the stance, centring the moving stance and moving gun mount. Get these right and you are well on your way to mastering shotgun shooting! Avoid overdoing it in the early stages, especially dry gun mounting. It must also be noted that Dry Training is not a substitute for Live Training!