Shotgunning Advice from Vincent Hancock

Fredrick Broden
by T. Edward Nickens -

The Olympic champ’s top-five tips for improving your shot

Two-time Olympic skeet gold medalist Vincent Hancock recently returned from the International Shooting Sport Federation’s World Cup in San Marino, Italy, where he won the bronze medal and came home with something else that put a smile on his face. “Throughout the meet,” he explains, “I noticed that I had this same problem, a choppy move where my hand was moving like the right angle of a triangle when it should have been moving like the hypotenuse.” He’d sorted through the issue by the end of the meet, and returned home glad to have uncovered this chink in his armor. “That’s absolutely a positive thing,” he says. “It gives me a focal point to work on as I prepare for Rio.”


Hearing Hancock fess up to a problem of form should give comfort to us lesser mortals: There’s always a way to up our game. While this Georgia-born shooter is gunning for his third consecutive gold, the rest of us can work on breaking more targets at the range or bringing home more birds from the field. Here are Hancock’s top-five tips for getting on target.

Look at the target properly.
“The old adage ‘Aim small, miss small’ is at play here. Whether it’s a clay target or something with feathers, you absolutely must lock your focus on the smallest piece of the target you can identify. The beak or the eyes. On a clay target, zero in on the very leading edge and the raised rim around the clay bird or the place where orange meets black. Don’t look at the bird as a whole. The wings will distract you. Find that tiny spot on the front of the target. Focus on it, and when you see it clearly, pull the trigger.”

Get a handle on lead.
“People stress out over how much to lead the target, but we don’t really see lead when we’re shooting. You’ll miss if you’re telling yourself: OK, three feet looks about right, now pull the trigger. It’s too complicated. Once you get the mechanics of mount and focus down, you won’t have to think about lead very much. When a quarterback throws to a receiver, he’s not telling himself: At this angle and distance, and he’s running this fast, I’d better lead him twelve feet. Same with the shotgun. Look at the target, see it clearly, and pull the trigger.”

Your mount matters.
“The move to the target—literally, how you go about pointing the shotgun—is critical. Too many people bring the back hand up too quickly so they can seat the stock to the shoulder. When you lead with the back hand, however, the muzzle dips, and you have to bring the barrel even farther up to catch the bird. That creates a check-mark shape of movement, which you need to avoid. The bead of the barrel should never drop below the target. Lead with the foregrip hand first, pushing outward just a tiny bit toward the target, and your back hand will follow it automatically. Practice this at home. Pick a spot on the wall, put the shotgun bead on the spot, and mount the gun while the bead never leaves the mark. I’ve done this tens of thousands of time at home.”

Experiment with lens colors.
“People don’t realize what a difference the proper eyewear can make, whether you’re on a range or in the field. If you’re shooting a gray bird through gray sunglasses, you’re making things so much more difficult than they have to be. You need to experiment with colors, because this is very individualized, and it has a lot to do with your own eye color. Bright orange works great for me, but it might be super dark for you. Experiment. Go to a range that sells glasses and try on as many colors as they have. Wear each color for at least a minute or two to give your eyes time to adjust. For field hunting, I go with a darker orange. For thick cover and quail, I’ll put on my yellow lenses. It helps so much to be able to pick out a bird’s beak or the edge of a clay target.”

Upgrade your shells.
I know it sounds simple, but the easiest way to up your score or shoot more birds is to shoot better shells. I see it all the time. At the range or in the field, people show up with the craziest bunch of on-sale shells just because they think they might save a few dollars. But cheap shells vary so much—in a single box, shells can vary up to 200 feet per second from shell to shell. So you can miss a bird, and it’s not your fault except that you wanted to save a dollar. I’m not saying you have to shoot the top of the line. Just buy better quality shells. A lot of that field grade stuff, they are literally sweeping the factory floor and pouring it back in. Stay away from that stuff.”