Trapshooting hall-of-famer Ray Stafford has smoked countless targets under pressure since he started shooting competitively in 1965. Along the way, he’s racked up a stellar string of victories in state, regional and world championships—and learned valuable lessons on making every shot. He shared with us his seven secrets to break more targets and have more fun on every trip to the firing line.

1. Choose The Right Load For The Job
Stafford favors the performance of Federal Premium Gold Medal Paper shotshells. “I use a 2¾-dram, 1-ounce No. 8 for the first shot at doubles,” he says. “I like it because there’s less recoil and it’s easier to keep my head on the stock for the second shot.”

As for breaking the second bird—and all singles—he opts for a 1 1/8-ounce charge of 7.5 shot, in the 2 3/4 dram.

When starting new shooters of all ages and statures, Stafford recommends avoiding heavy loads. “Start them out with a 1-ounce load to keep recoil down, so they’re not fighting the gun and are happy to shoot, rather than worried about getting beat up,” he says.

2. Practice With A Plan
Practice makes perfect, and Stafford says the goals of practice are more important than just shooting.

“The secret to productive practice is not shooting as much as you can, but practicing with the goal of improving what you do,” he says. “Otherwise you just repeat the same mistakes over and over.

“Trapshooting is a game of repetition,” he continues. “Once you develop a solid routine and do the same thing every time, you’ll be a much more consistent shooter.”

Toward that end, Stafford heads for the range with a simple yet critically important plan of attack. “I identify a problem with my shooting and figure out how to fix it,” he says.

3. Don’t Rush The Call
Stafford says one of the biggest mistakes people make is calling for the target before they’re ready. “As a result, the bird gets a jump on them, and they end up playing catch up, which makes it virtually impossible to keep your head down and make a good shot,” he says.

“To me, the most important things are being ready for the bird when you call for it, and seeing the bird when it comes out,” he adds.

Instead of throwing the gun up and calling too quickly, Stafford mounts his gun, takes enough time to get ready and then calls for the target.

4. Look Sharp
There’s an art to watching for the target, and it doesn’t include staring at your shotgun. “Don’t look at the bead on your barrel, look for the bird,” Stafford says.

“It’s hard to explain,” he says. “I’m not looking at any one place—just all around the barrel, waiting to catch the first movement as the bird comes out."

5. Let Instinct Pull The Trigger
“You can’t really think about pulling the trigger like you do with a pistol or rifle,” says Stafford. “It should be an instinctive pull that happens when you’re on the target.

6. Banish Pressure
Whether you’re competing at a local club or shooting at the Grand American, the pressure to break the next target can ruin your shooting routine. “Staying focused under pressure is probably the hardest part of trapshooting,” Stafford admits.

“Pressure is an internal force you put on yourself,” he continues. “When it becomes too much, your mind tries to escape the pressure by focusing on something else. So you notice anything in the background or other distractions that take your thoughts away from making a good shot."

Stafford keeps his cool by devoting his full attention to preparing for the shot. “Instead of worrying about making the shot or getting distracted, concentrate on the mechanics you worked on in practice,” he says. “Mount your gun, then make sure you’re ready and really looking for the target when you call for it.”

7. Win The End Game
Good shooting doesn’t end with pulling the trigger. Coming out of the gun early is a common mistake that can mean the difference between hits and misses.

“Once you shoot, watch the bird break before coming off the gun,” he says. “That’s as far as it needs to go. In my opinion, that completes the shot.”