Starting, Middle and Finishing – Part 1

In competitions, we sometimes get off to a shaky start, have a good middle and struggle to finish. At other times we get off to a good start, fall away in the middle and then finish well. On other occasions we get off to a good start and middle, but finish poorly. And on still other occasions, we either have a great day or it’s just a bad day all round. There are several factors that can cause this which include our comfort zone, our preparation, our nerves, and so on. In this series of articles, I will suggest some tactics that might be adopted to help with each situation. These are my ideas and not an exhaustive list, however I have used these techniques in different matches with success, so I suggest you work with them and find which ones will help you. This first article will focus on some tactics for starting well in matches.

The Pre-Match & Preparation Time

Your first sighter should be just like a match shot – you shouldn’t be using the sighters to find your position. My goal for my first sighter is to shoot a 10. I get pretty cross if I don’t shoot a 10, as I know I haven’t found my position properly before starting. This can be more problematic when you are using the same set of sights for multiple positions, however even in these circumstances you should know how many clicks you need to adjust between the different positions so that you are at least scoring a 9. In my mind it is completely unacceptable to have your first sighter as a 4 or 5 because you haven’t wound your sights in the correct amount for the next position. For example I know that before starting kneeling I wind my sights 12 clicks left and 8 clicks up.

So the first thing to determine is how much time you need to prepare for the match (sighters) in each position so that you can get a 10 for your first shot, especially in air rifle. Whilst some people can hop up to the line 5 or less minutes before the start and be ready, others need some more time. For many of us starting our preparation and position finding when the 10 minute preparation time call is made is simply not sufficient. To find out how long you need, consider how many shots it normally takes you in training to really get settled and find your position. At an average of about 1 shot every 40 seconds, multiply this out to find out how many minutes you need.

But before you even start your sighters or preparation time, you should have a good technique for getting yourself match ready. This may include your stretching exercises, listening to music, reading a book, closing your eyes and mentally rehearsing shots, deep breathing/relaxation techniques, or other methods. Some of us become too distracted by chatting to others to give ourselves the opportunity to properly prepare before we even start the sighting shots.

During preparation time, the goal must be to find the natural point of aim and correct position. It is particularly important to break position if the feeling is not right, and reset up, even if this occurs after a few minutes of holding. For the first couple of minutes, simply holding without looking through the sights will assist in finding the proper position. The overall position can then be adjusted to the target without using muscle force. The next few minutes can be spent checking the position and refining as necessary. The last few minutes can be spent dry-firing to get into the rhythm of the match.

I have found since purchasing my new air rifle that I need about 15 minutes to get ready to start. This extra time worked particularly well at a recent competition when I started with 99 – a good result for me!

Sighting shots.

Have a strong process to get yourself into your match during your sighters. For some people the first few shots of the match can be difficult so determining how to actually get yourself mentally ready to start during your sighters is really important. One technique that can be tried is to allocate yourself a few sighters to make sure your sights are centred, and then to mentally tell yourself you are starting your match with the next shot. Fire 10 shots in your sighters as if this were the first 10 shots of your match. An alternative technique is to fire sighters until you feel your rhythm and hold are good, and you are seeing the shots well. It doesn’t matter if the shots are 10’s or 9’s, as long as you feel comfortable and you feel that the 10’s are strong and good shots, and the 9’s are seen and why they are 9’s is understood.

What about when the sighters are just awful? Some of us have had the experience of firing 20 or more sighters and hardly hitting the 10. Our hold may or may not look terrible and it doesn’t seem to matter what we do – breaking position, breathing, rehearsal, and so on – nothing helps. What to do? There is no magic solution here unfortunately, and those of us that have experienced this know how frustrating it is. The factors of time ticking away & the need to start, panic about the score/result, all combine against us in these circumstances. When this occurs I feel resorting to the basics will assist:

  • rehearse what a good shot feels like
  • accept that the hold does not seem as still today
  • focus on our breathing process
  • concentrate on good trigger release and firing when the hold is steady, rather than still
  • concentrate on good follow through
  • say to ourselves, we can shoot a good shot (a ten)

Accept that if you have done all of the above and still end up with a 9.9, you can’t do any more. Sometimes just focussing on the basics can help get one into the match and recover the situation.

Starting the match.

When you have had good sighters and are confident, starting the match can be a little easier. Although sometimes the first shot(s) can be difficult or nervous the goal must be to fire in the same rhythm and time as during the sighters. In particular for the first few shots one must be careful not to overhold or conversely to rush it. No matter how nice and still the sighting shots have been, it can appear that the hold deteriorates once the match is commenced. An increased heartrate is heard or felt and this apparent deterioration can be influenced by the heightened sense of awareness that occurs under match pressure. I say “apparent” because sometimes we think we see more movement than might really exist. Under these circumstances, we must again resort to the basics described under sighting shots. We need to concentrate on a smooth, positive trigger release, focussing on our “good shot” picture and relaxing our body.

Another tactic that can be tried, and which I have used successfully, is to break the match down into small goals. For example (and this depends on your ability), telling yourself you just want to shoot 30 for the next three shots, or 39 for the next four shots, can break the large match into small manageable segments that are achievable. Some even like to just set one shot goals – i.e. to shoot a 10 on the next shot, although I have not found this as helpful.

A third tactic is to play games with yourself. For example, you may do things like focus on how your take your pellets out of your box so that you always make patterns. Or you may look at the target next to you and say to yourself okay – I have to beat the score on that shot that person has (be careful they are not shooting badly – you don’t want to beat an 8 with a 9!). Some of these things might sound a bit silly, but doing things that take your mind off your own result can work.

A final tactic is just to smile. Remember you are supposed to enjoy this sport. Smiling can help to relax you, so having a chuckle when you get another 9.9 can relieve the pressure. At the Athens Olympics, I saw Sonia Pfeilschifter shoot an 8 for her second match shot. Her response was to laugh about it, and when she finished her result was 396. Not bad with an 8!


Each shooter will have a different set of tactics that will work for them. Different matches will require the application of different tactics. Each of you need to trial the tactics suggested under match conditions and work out what will work for you. It is extremely important that you are not influenced by what the other shooters are doing on the line. Not everyone requires 15 minutes preparation time. Not everyone will take the full time to finish. Not everyone will restart shots when they are not right. But you can and should do these things if they are right for you. Finally remember that it is ok to restart a shot when it’s not right. If the lift feels wrong, your balance is wrong, your mind is not there, you’ve overheld, and so on, put the rifle down and start again. It is better to have 2 or 3 attempts at every shot than to fire shots and then berate yourself because you fired a 9 when you know you should have started again.

A final comment to consider. Sometimes we have poor results when under pressure in matches because our technique or hold are not strong enough. Consistent failure to achieve our training results in matches when all the above have been tried, could mean a positional or technique change are required.

First published: 2005