Hit Your Target

Minnesota Valley NWR_credit USFWS

First Shot

How to introduce adults and kids to trap, skeet, or clays

Regardless of the game, the key to help­ing first-timers break clay targets is making them feel comfortable. “With shooting fundamentals, there isn’t a great difference between introducing an adult or a child to these sports,” says Zach Snow, manager of shooting promotions for the National Shooting Sports Foundation and a certi­fied National Sporting Clays Association instructor. “The most important things are safety and having fun so they’ll want to get back on the line a second time.”

After you explain the rules of safety, pick an easy target. Snow recommends starting with trap because the path of the target is the most predictable and beginners gener­ally find going-away shots easier to hit. “In trap, it’s easier to cover the target. You don’t have to swing as much,” he says. “Other good starter targets include Station 7 on a skeet field and any basic quartering or incoming shot on a sporting clays course.” Snow encourages making a big deal of every target a first-timer breaks to build his or her confidence.

Using a smaller gauge firearm and low-brass target loads (as opposed to field loads) makes the experience more comfortable. “Start with a .20 gauge semi-automatic or a .28 gauge, especially if the person is small-framed or young,” Snow says. “It reduces recoil without noticeably reducing the odds of hitting the targets.” He also points out that if cost is a factor, shells for a .20 gauge are generally cheaper than those for smaller gauge shotguns.

Above all, Snow says, keep it simple. “Less is more when it comes to teaching a newcomer. Reinforce the positive, and tell the person to keep their eyes on the target,” he says. “The harder you look, the harder they break.”

For more information on how to get started in shotguns sports, visit the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Web site.

Shooting Wildlife

How to take wildlife photos like a pro

Whether you’re shooting a thousand-pound grizzly or a one-ounce songbird, turn your snapshots into photos worth framing with these four cornerstones of wildlife photography.

1. Focus on the eye. As humans, we connect with other people through eye contact. The same is true with animals. To make that eye contact through a photo, the eye of the animal needs to be in sharp focus, not soft (blurry) or hidden from view. Focus your lens first on the eye. Holding that focus, move the camera to frame the shot.

2. Get closer. The more the animal fills the frame, the more compelling the photo, yet getting physically nearer may be unsafe or might spook your subject. Get closer by using a larger lens. Most professional wildlife photographers use a 400mm lens or larger. I use a Sigma 150mm to 500mm zoom as my standard wildlife lens. It’s always on a camera in my bag (or pack when I’m in the backcountry).

3. Frame off-center. Unlike shooting at a target with a bow or gun, a bullseye with a camera is rarely a hot shot. Instead, follow the “rule of thirds.” Imagine a grid with lines marking the left, right, top, and bottom thirds of the frame (forming nine squares). Place your subject along one of those lines. If you can place the subject where two grid lines cross, that’s even better! For example, when photographing a heron on a log, place the log along the bottom third of the frame and the heron on the left third of the frame. If you can place the heron’s head (or eye) where two grid lines intersect, your image will be particularly compelling.

4. Check the edges. The tail missing from a fish, a telephone pole that appears behind an animal’s head, or branches that poke in from the sides of the frame can lessen a photo’s allure. Scan around your subject before clicking to make sure you’ve got the whole creature and no unwanted distractions in your picture.

Like any outdoor skill, shooting the perfect wildlife photo takes practice. You often need to be quick to “click,” as the model rarely pauses for long. But if you aim for the eye and watch your framing, you’ll soon be shooting images worth showing.

An award-winning outdoor photographer and writer based in Red Lodge, Montana, Lisa Densmore’s images have appeared in hundreds of magazines as well as books, calendars, galleries, skis, cars, home accessories, and just about any place else a photo can appear (www.LisaDensmore.com).