Hap's Corner November 2017

Published 11/09/2017


Success in the shooting sports is, as Gaius Julius Caesar said of Gaul,”…omnis divisa est in partes tres.” Success is divided into three parts, physical, equipment and mental.

Shooting does not require the physical abilities of a superhero. One of its beauties is that it is blind to height, weight, speed, gender, or age. A mask, colorful form fitting clothing with a logo on the chest, and cape are not necessary, although some of the newest shooting garb would make you think that there are some practitioners of the sport who are not quite clear on that facet of equipment.

Shooting is unique among sports because traditional rifle and pistol competition is static.  It seems that almost every other sport is dynamic, requiring movement. In shooting the ability to be still pays big dividends when one is trying to shoot a 10.9 at 50 meters.

The sport requires nothing more of a participant than average physical abilities. A sure test of the potential of a shooter is to give that person an ice cream cone.  If they can pick it up and lick it there is a good chance they will succeed in time.  If they smash it into their forehead it will just take more time.

Good equipment plays no small part in being a good shooter. The rules keep the playing field level in this aspect as your gear must conform to various restrictions in regard to size, weight, and shape. However, most shooters are inveterate tinkerers and even the best equipment can be improved upon by a good gunsmith. It is even possible to buy a few points by spending the gross national product of a small third world nation on ammunition.

Given that most shooters have equal ability and equipment, the dividing line between good, better, and best is in your head. As the celebrated philosopher, sports psychologist, and Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra put it, “Ninety per cent of the game is mental. The other half is physical.”

The mental part of the sport encompasses a variety of things, chief among them are goal setting, building and maintaining self confidence, managing stress, imagery, pre-match planning, and dealing with unusual circumstances. These are all part and parcel of the mental game that can best be defined as preparation, the most important aspect of success.

Confucius said that, “ The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” I am agreement with the Chinese sage to a point, but I don’t think the will to win is the key. Every competitor wishes to win, but having the will to prepare to win is what really matters. It’s putting in the long lonely hours of hard work focusing on every little detail that counts. There is a big difference between wishing and willing.

Like an enormous bank vault door that easily swings on the smallest of ball bearings successful preparation hinges on the shooter’s journal. The journal is the key element in preparation because it contains the written plan to success. The written word is the lens that focuses thoughts and allows us to clearly see the steps on the road to our goal. Thoughts are ephemeral, but once written they become permanent and we are committed to them.

There is a famous rifleman whom I am fortunate to call a friend. In his long competitive career he has accumulated numerous national, international, and world championships and records on his way to three Olympic medals-two being of gold and one of silver.

Nothing gets the best of him. He is undisturbed by Camp Perry winds and rain or the intense pressure cooker of world class competition. He is very open about saying that the only way to out shoot him is to out prepare him. He keeps a journal and says that no detail is too minute not to be recorded and reviewed. He boasts that if you want to beat him you have to get up each morning before he does and he claims that no one owns an alarm clock that rings that early.

I have shot with him often and observed his every action hoping to pick up some tip that might make me better. He arrives in plenty of time for his relay, sets up his gear, and only then does he socialize. Ten or 15 minutes before his relay he sits behind his scope observing conditions. He has just one eccentricity. Immediately before going to the line he opens his journal, removes a battered, tattered, and yellowed piece of paper which he stares at it for a minute or so before carefully returning it and heading to the line. 

Over the years my curiosity about that piece of paper grew. I speculated what it might contain. A host of thoughts crossed my mind.  Was it an inspirational Biblical passage, a family photograph, or a very tight shot group from an important match? I had to know.

One day I was squadded next to him and my curiosity finally broke through my thin moral veneer. When he wandered off on some errand I furtively looked about insuring that my skullduggery was not being observed. Reaching over I snatched up the journal from his lawn chair and quickly pulled out the piece of paper.

My jaw dropped. Two lines of neatly printed block letters read: CARTRIDGES: POINTY END FIRST and under it; SIGHTS: COUNTER CLOCK WISE-UP AND RIGHT.

He was right: no detail is too minute not to be recorded and reviewed when you prepare to be the best.