Dirt, Steel & Clay
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By Daniel Schindler, Paragon Master Sporting Clays, Skeet, Trap & Wingshooting Instructor
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It’s a given, we all want to break targets and especially in competition with a scorekeeper behind us. That keeping score part very understandably introduces all kinds of distractions, stress and unwanted thoughts. I thought we might look at this scene of disruption from a different perspective, one that asks us to move our attention to a more productive place.

It was a very long time ago, so here it is as best as I can remember.

It was late Sunday morning, the final round in a golf Major. Jack Nicklaus, arguably the best golfer who ever played the game, was in contention at the top of the leader board. Literally millions of fans including me were watching, anxious for play to begin. The scene opens with Jack being interviewed.

It was clear to all; Jack’s attention was riveted on his game. His expression and demeanor said, “Not now!” That he did not want to be interrupted was palpable. The smiling, unsuspecting interviewer stood before Jack and asked how Jack felt about some of his competitors, listing them by name. Perceptibly perturbed, Jack asked him, “What are you talking about?”

The man with the microphone suddenly realized he was in the spotlight, alone, being asked a serious question he didn’t know how to answer. This was a classic moment with a bit of humor in it, but not for the man asking the question. Stuttering and stammering, he finally asked the same question again, emphasizing the names of those who Jack would be competing against today.

"This was a classic moment with a bit of humor in it,

but not for the man asking the question."

This was followed by a stern look from Jack who couldn’t believe he was being asked that question – twice. Jack said, “What competitors?” Recognizing the interviewer’s plight and that he might be asked the same question a third time, Jack said, “Look…I’m not here today to compete with anyone. I’m here to compete with whatever the golf course puts up.” With controlled politeness, Jack departed. The interviewer stood silently, praying that the recorder would burst into flames and destroy the interview.

There’s a lesson in that uncomfortable moment.

The lesson begins with our separating what we can control and what we cannot. Where will we put our attention? We can NOT control what others do – which begs the question – why would we try or even care? We can NOT control what the target is doing. We can NOT control our shot string one micro-second after it leaves our gun muzzle. The only thing we CAN control is what we are doing inside the shooting box.

What Jack said was absolutely correct and his demeanor understandable. He would have to estimate driving distances from the tee to the pin; evaluate fairway landscapes; avoid water hazards and sand traps; calculate putting green conditions and deceptive undulations; everything the golf course put up to thwart those attempting to finish with respectable scores. Like our game, it was actually a contest of strategies and execution. Who would complete their round with the fewest mistakes? Beginning to see the correlation here?

In our case, the word “dirt” stands for the terrain in front of the shooting box. Curves and gullies, mounds and hills, creating the illusion that the target is flying on “this” line when it’s actually not. Yeah, we can see height and left or right, but course setters set target lines to deceive the very best of shooters – intentionally and successfully. What we see is not always what we get.

The word “steel” stands for the trap machine. Here’s where the course designer creates all the mischief. So many choices – how to confound the shooters? Right here – with spring tensions and launch angles – starts the contest between shooter and target setter. How generous, how cantankerous will the setter be today? Let’s see, here are 2 shells.

And the word “clay” speaks for itself. Being a simple, fragile disc – free from the machine – It relies on speed, distance and angles to spoil the shooter’s best. It cares not about our determination nor our expectations. Its life span will depend solely on our gun management skills – and where we put our attention!

Joe Goodshot and Mary Nevermiss are not our competition today. Giving our attention away to what we have no control over, whatsoever, totally defeats our intentions behind the trigger. Focus on – isolate what matters – dirt, steel and clay. That focus hugely simplifies our mission in the shooting box, putting more X’s on our scorecard. There’s a Truth we can count on!

Thanks for visiting with us today. Be safe and I hope to see you out on the course. 


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About Dan Schindler

Dan Schindler is one of only 60 worldwide members of the Guild of Shooting Instructors (UK) and is one of the most highly respected Sporting Clays and Wingshooting Instructors in the US. Dan is an NSCA Level III Instructor (since 1995) and founded the Paragon School of Sporting with one goal in mind. Whether it be for the advanced competitor or providing the basics to the entry-level shooter, Paragon provides the simplest, most practical and most effective Instruction, Coaching and Mental Training for the Sporting Clays & Wingshooting enthusiast. Dan Schindler helps shooters alleviate a lot of their frustration by taking the mystery out of breaking targets, calling their own misses and make their own corrections. Lessons are fun, enlightening and our clients learn to shoot better in minutes!  

Dan Schindler's Books

NEW...Take Your Best Shot (Book I), 3rd Edition

Order NOW!

Released February 6, 2019

Take Your Best Shot is THE Gold Standard Primer and is all about the fundamentals, a requirement for good shooting. This book is used by high school and college shooting teams, recreational and competitive shooters from around the world. Solid, valuable, concise information that has helped thousands of shooters shoot more consistently with higher scores.


"Take Your Best Shot is the best clay and wingshooting shooting primer on the market that I have ever seen. The brilliance of its

simplicity aids in getting across the correct messages for successful shooting for ANY clay/wingshooting shooter, let alone a new

shooter. As a master instructor, founder/Head Coach of the Jacksonville University Varsity Shooting Team (a national championship

program), and JU faculty member, Take Your Best Shot is standard reading for ALL of our varsity shooters. Dan has managed to

capture the basics beautifully, and he has placed them in an easy, simple-to-follow, witty presentation. My students love the book and

read it time and again. Highly recommend, no matter what your level of shooting experience and expertise.”


David T. Dobson, M.B.A.,

Paragon Master Instructor

NSCA Instructor, Level III

NSSA Instructor, Level III


To The Target (Book II) Builds on the steps outlined in Book I. Emphasises Gun Management skills when the trap fires, creating a consistent, reliable, trustworthy swing.

Beyond the Target (Book III) is for shooters of all levels, filled with valuable information, clay target truths. Entertaining and a culmination of 3 decades of Dan' life's work as a teacher, competitor, published writer and much more.



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