The term “hold point” is one of the most commonly used phrases in all of sporting clays. In simple terms, the hold point that a shooter selects for a given shot is a reference for where the gun is pointed when the shooter calls for the target. Due to the fact that no two sporting clays presentations are the same, this point varies based on the method a shooter plans to apply to the target – a decision typically influenced by the angle, speed, and distance of the presentation. The concept is simple in principle, but paramount in practice.
First and foremost, it is important to realize that determining a hold point is a learned behavior and there is no substitute for experience. Many of us can recall a moment in the early stages of our sporting clays journey when we felt the panic of selecting a hold point too close to the trap. The target soars past our barrel and we spent the rest of the shot trying to catch back up. As we get better, we learn from these mistakes and begin to develop a generic knowledge of where our hold point should be for each presentation. However, unless we truly understand all the factors at play, consistency can be very difficult to achieve.
Let’s start with at the very beginning – “why do we start with the gun at a standstill?” It’s a valid question, as most physical processes in sports do not start this way. Almost every player on the PGA Tour starts his or her backswing with a little bit of motion to promote fluidity, so it is easy to see how one might believe we should apply the same concept in shotgunning. The reason most good shooters avoid this practice is two-fold. First, success in sporting clays revolves around disciplined vision. Our eyes react to motion; therefore, our goal is to maintain focus on the target and only see the gun with our peripheral vision. If we begin to move our gun before we call for the target, there is a chance our eyes will react to the movement of the barrel and glance at the gun, disrupting our visual discipline. Secondly, in order for this early movement to work, we would have to assume the target was thrown in a timely manner four consecutive times at a given station. Even the best referees are going to experience human error in the time it takes them to press the button, and the inconsistency of the equipment virtually precludes the possibility of four good presentations. Therefore, the best practice is to start with the gun at a fixed point – the hold point.
The next step is generalizing where we should start relative to the line of the target. A common misconception is that the hold point needs to be somewhere on the target’s flight path, however there is a distinct advantage to starting slightly below this line to ensure we acquire the target visually without the gun occluding our view. As we see the target emerge, we will then begin moving the gun back up towards the line of the target and merging with that line, just as we would merge into traffic on the highway. This movement will be covered further in other sections, but it is important to understand that we need to start low when selecting a hold point so that we do not cover up the target with the muzzle as it appears. This is especially imperative for shooters with any sort of conflicting eye-dominance, as they will struggle to see “through” the barrel and have a hard time recovering from a hold point that is too high.
Finally, we need to determine which point in the target’s flight path is ideal. This depends on both the presentation and the technique we use. Generally, pulling away from or swinging through targets will generate more aggressive hold points, or hold points that are closer to the target’s point of origin. Conversely, maintaining or collapsing the lead on targets will lead to hold points on the more conservative end of the spectrum. Thus, the faster we plan to move the gun relative to the target, the more aggressive our hold point becomes, and vice versa. Consider a crossing target in a small window. One shooter may choose a hold point very close to where they first see the target, so that they can connect to the target for as long as the window will allow. This connection is important when shooting maintained lead or pull-away techniques. Another shooter, however, may opt for minimal gun movement and apply a collapsing lead or intercept technique, which would merit a much more conservative hold point. Either way is perfectly acceptable, the important thing is to make sure the point we select matches the technique we choose to apply and allows us enough time to react to the target without any panic or discomfort.
Once we have this point selected, it is very important that we use an object in the background as a reference for our hold point. This could be anything from a fence post to a bald spot on a tree, but it needs to be relatively precise. Herein lies the true benefit of having a deliberate hold point – we build consistency by ensuring that we start in the same place pair after pair, turning what would be a variable in the field into a constant on the range, ultimately putting more X’s on the scorecard.
While all of these concepts need to be considered, theory will only get us so far. Individual preference and ability play a strong role, and it’s important to be honest with ourselves about our physical limitations when it comes to reflexes and vision. The only way to truly narrow down what works best for each of us is to put rounds down range. With volume, we will each slowly calibrate our own individual formula for sustainable success.