by Chris Cerino
I am hoping that some of the readers of this column are either certified instructors or seeking instructor certification. As an instructor for more than 11 years now, I have some strong opinions about instructor knowledge and performance. Understand that I do know that being a good shooter or instructor does not generally come quickly or easily.
I’d like to share with you my latest experience with an amazing shooter and instructor in High Point, NC. We started early in the morning, since the North Carolina sun was destined to cook the remains of this July day.
Championship shooter, firearms instructor and outdoor writer Dick Jones was taking my son Colton and I to a friend’s house for an early morning lesson in aerial target shooting, five stand style. This wasn’t going to be a one time 25-round run at the targets.
This was going to be a lesson where we could progress slowly and shoot as often as needed with personal coaching, until we experienced success. When we arrived everything was set up and ready to go. Throwers were set and filled, stations were placed, and the cool southern morning awaited the sound of gunfire.
I consider myself an accomplished shooter. I can shoot a variety of weapon systems but, like anyone else, I have my favorites, and there are those I prefer to shy away from. However, I’m also a competitor and an instructor who takes pride in possessing knowledge and passing on knowledge to increase the performance of those I train. So for me, today was going to be a welcome and necessary role reversal.
Dick knows that Colton and I know how to “run” a shotgun and that we can handle them and shoot them in a safe and proper fashion. He also knows I am not a wing shooter or aerial target shooter. Fact is I haven’t shot a round of sporting clays for about 20 years! A true teacher, he was looking forward to sharing and I to learning.
Dick Jones has a wide variety of shooting experience. He has been a competitor both as an individual and as a teammate. He has championship wins locally, statewide and nationally.
A pistol shooter and high power shooter, Dick hosts private lessons at his home when he has time. He has even coached his wife Cherie to the Ladies’ Northeast Side by Side Championship 2 years in a row now. This is a guy who knows shotgun shooting so, needless to say, I was going to listen to him and do my best to apply the principles he teaches.
You’ve heard me say, “Those who can, do and those who understand, should teach.” Dick understands. He understands what it takes to hit and he understands why we miss. He can watch a shooter and decipher what has caused you to miss. He corrects using pragmatic ideas and analogies.
As any good instructor should, he began by using the teaching theory of “Tell, Show, Do.” Much of what we covered brought back to mind what I had once known about wing shooting. Other information was a validation of skills which I had already been employing in not so perfect practice. Dick was able to talk to Colton in an easy-to-follow, analogous fashion about follow-through, focus, presentation of the shotgun, gun alignment, sight picture and hits and misses. He was able to get inside my head the way I try to get into anyone’s head I am training. He used a pragmatic, sensible approach to what it actually takes to shoot and how to accomplish the task.
By the time we had finished our first cycle through the stands, Colton and I felt very comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, we missed a lot! But, we were learning through making and correcting errors. I have used two phrases for a long time to describe learning and shooting. The first is that you learn best by making mistakes. The second is that we should strive for perfection and only settle at excellence. Dick was pushing us toward excellence.
For our second cycle through, Dick turned up the pace. He told us that we would shoot two report pairs and then a true pair at each station. He also told us that he would throw the first bird from an undisclosed thrower. We had to observe, orient, decide and act based on what we saw. I can’t say how many shots I missed, maybe three to five targets. Colton, however, only missed two targets during that entire round.
Colton and I shot less than 200 rounds between us in a total of about two and a half hours. The amount we fired and the time we used combined with a knowledgeable, qualified instructor made for a high value lesson.
Often I refer to the difference between “range officers” and “firearms instructors.” Although you may not need to be the best shooter around, you need to be pretty darn good. You need to be able to demonstrate the skills you preach. You need to know why it is you’re good. If you don’t know what creates success for you, how do you pass on that knowledge and skill to another? Dick is a master-class shotgunner who knows how to make you perform better. He understands what it takes to hit and can watch a person shoot and correct what they are doing wrong. The correction may not be a physical correction but rather a mental discipline one. A good instructor can see more than the physical errors.
Shooting well isn’t rocket science. It does, however, take some serious mental discipline. I can’t wait till the next time I can shoot with a shooter like Dick Jones.
Email Dick Jones at lewiscreekshooting.com. Email Cerino at: email@example.com.