Getting schooled: Hitting the clays course with Collegiate Coach Anne Mauro

The first time I shot sporting clays I was about 15 or 16 and went through the course with my Remington 870 in 20 gauge. Dad and I drove the hour and forty five minutes to M&M Hunting & Sporting Clays in Pennsville, NJ, and little did I know that I was being exposed to a different kind of shooting addiction. Back in the 90’s, my firearm and shooting experience was mostly limited to rifle shooting with the scouts, plinking informally, and of course plenty of wing shooting while duck hunting. Getting into sporting clays was a natural fit and fills part of the niche in my shooting activities I might refer to as #fuddlife. Decades later, as an adult, sporting clays still remains one of my favored shooting sports.

Like most things in life, you don’t have to be great at sporting clays to enjoy it. I always considered myself a casual contender when it comes to breaking clays, and depending on who I’m shooting with, depends on how I rank. When close friend and content creator Charlie Cook from Riding Shotgun With Charlie and Charlie’s Gun Grams called me about a show he filmed and invitation he got, I was all ears. Cook, an award winning personality in the Second Amendment community, said we had an invitation to do some learning, filming, and hanging out with Anne Mauro, the shotgun shooting Head Coach from the University of Maryland.

 

Cook and I met up with Mauro at M&M on a mid April morning. The weather was crisp with the threat of misty rain hanging over our heads most of the day. Mauro hopped out of her car and greeted us. Not all giants stand five foot two, and this one, well admittedly said that she’s actually five one and three quarters of an inch, noting, “We don’t worry about that quarter inch.” None-the-less, we spent the day looking up at clay shooting greatness. We quickly learned to not get caught smiling at the faces Mauro made on the rare occasion she missed a break, because she’d dart her eyes and us and scoldingly say “Don’t laugh.” There’s only one response during such occasions, “Yes ma’am.”

The only thing we had planned out was that we were going to shoot up some shotgun shells and hopefully dust a few birds. After exchanging our pleasantries, we jumped into the golf cart, bellowed out a “tally-ho”, and Mauro zipped us off towards a stand in the advanced course. I felt like a mid-teen looking through and beyond the black curtains into the room in the back of a video rental store. I did not belong on the advanced course. There was something clandestine to this to me.

A funny point of contention when talking about the sport of sporting clays with Mauro was Mauro never liked the comparison of it being like golf with shotguns. Aside from having to walk from place to place, or get in a golf cart to get where you’d be going, the two are completely different. Personally, I always associated the comparison to being some sort of a Jedi mind trick to gentrify a shooting sport, make it seem more civilized. The comparison was designed perhaps to bring appeal to firearms and a shooting sport to a hoplophobic population. Why else would we say “tally-ho” whilst on our motorized horse on this clay hunt adventure? I decried to Mauro that we would forever refer to the golf cart as a shotgun cart in support of her protest.

The meat and potatoes of our day in the field were the tips and tricks we were able to glom off Mauro. Cook and I had experience with shotgun shooting, but nothing like the level of what Mauro was accustomed to working with. When talking to her, she indicated she’s coached every end of the spectrum from newbie to a shooter that needed to be reconstructed with new methodologies, but most importantly she happily gives all she has to whomever she’s coaching.

I’ve had some pupils over the years that they’ve had coaches…that they don’t want, who’s ever been working with them, doesn’t want them to out shoot them. It’s when you get into a competitive world, you start to see a lot of that. My feeling is if I can make them the best shooter that they can be and give them everything, then you know, it’s only four feathers in my hat, which is awesome. It’s a win-win for everybody and that’s what you want. That’s what it should be. A true coach is going to bring out the absolute best and do anything and everything to get their athletes to where they need to be, to where they know they can perform. – Anne Mauro

The first stage we stopped at, Mauro just threw us into the hot seat. She shot off a few look birds for us (ones just thrown so we can see the path they take), and then let us have at it. This was one of those days I was grateful we did not have a scoresheet, as the number of misses added up considerably. I joked that Cook and I both were able to miss our shots with equal swiftness. Mauro stepped into the box to show us how it was done.

The first thing I noticed was how Mauro handled the mounting of her shotgun. I always established my mount and cheek weld, then called for the bird when ready. I’d swing to and through, pulling the trigger when ready. Mauro would mount the gun, then pull her face away from the comb. She’d call for the bird and when ready to track the bird she’d remount, and then fire. 

She explained some of her process when we were having lunch later that day at a Jersey diner:

So every target has an angle, speed, and a distance to it. You got the speed and the distance. That’s going to give us some information. We’re going to take that information and process it. In that process, where do we get it? Where do we see it best, is where we’re going to break it. We’re going to move back along that line, about a third to halfway back. And then the eyes are going to come off of that. To see on that line…you’re going to see that flash. Sometimes you’ll see it come off the arm or a little bit past it. Or we’ll see it pop up out of a tree, or see it come up through shrubs, that’s how hard you have to be looking for it. And you’re just going to then connect on the line.

Cook and I glanced at each other when Mauro effortlessly dusted bird after bird. We then got back into the box ourselves to try to work on coming up with a plan, as Mauro instructed us, establish a mount, pull away from the comb, and then call for a bird. After getting on a couple, Mauro then had us go after falling birds. The falling bird was always a “no no” in my book. Why have gravity work against me? Mauro said to plan it out and to make sure to lead the bird enough. She held her hand up to me with four fingers meeting her thumb, communicating in a language I’m fluent in, then slowly she opened her hand she said, “Poof. Just like that.”

 

To me, shotgunning always was like taking a bit of chicken bones and throwing them down on the table for a read. There’s a primal art form to the instinctive nature of using a shotgun. I feel we need to rely on semi-dormant evolutionary traits when getting on dynamic targets in that manner. We talked a little about target presentations and the “when” of pulling the trigger:

Petrolino: So you said to pick your spot where you’re going to shoot be based off of where you see the bird best, right? Now let’s say just for an example, you have a presentation where you’ve got two teal coming straight up. Dark, small birds, right? Would you wait for the apex if the apex isn’t where you see the birds best?
Mauro: So it’s all going to depend based on the presentation of it. Okay, is it going to be that? Are they going to be too different? How far apart are they going to be? The two closer together? Am I going to take one on the rise and the other on the draw? Is it going to be I can take one and then move right over to the next bird? So there again, based on the timing, and the presentation of it, you’d have to see it to to be able to tell. But from there, I’m going to make my plan.

All I kept thinking was “Visualize and attack”, picturing an opponent talking badly about high quality H2O. See the bird. Plan out the shot. Visualize it all and then attack.

One of the final things we really talked about was our relationship with the shotgun bead and what to do with our eyes. The bead is the sight, right? Well, those of you who live the #fuddlife know a thing or two about the shotgun bead, aiming, and pointing. We talked about this relationship:

Cook: So what I do is I close my left eye, and I’m right handed guy, left eye dominant. Or bring my gun up, hold it right handed, close my left eye, adjust everything, try to make sure I’m not looking down the barrel, but at the barrel. I can see some of the barrel, you know what I mean? And then after I set up, I open both eyes. And I’m like, “Okay, am I going to keep both eyes open?” And keep both eyes open and embarrass myself? I’m not going to close one and see if I can really try to hit this. And I don’t…I don’t know which one I do. Like I try to say, “Okay, it’s gonna be this way.” But I know, if I open both eyes I can see the birds coming from the left a little easier and quicker. Then I probably get all up inside my head too much.

Cook talks about his battered relationship with pointing a shotgun, meanwhile I was thinking about how much he’s outshot me the last few times we’ve gone to shoot sporting clays. He may say he’s not sure what he’s doing, but the dusted clays say otherwise.

Mauro: That’s it. So having that, when you close your left eye you lose that periphery. Right? There’s a couple little tricks to do kind of with your, your glasses and a little piece of tape. A little sticker. A lot of times, we just just use the regular magic tape, scotch tape there. If you put it on an angle, see it come this way (indicates across the lens), people tape it this way. If you put it just right at an angle over the lens, drop it down, you’ll have to see the targets that are off to your your left, and right. It then blocks it for that split second to allow then your right eye to become the dominant eye. Then everything’s back in and you keep both eyes open.

Mauro talked about how the eye acts as the rear sight. After the bead on the shotgun, there’s no other “sights”. The eye fulfills that need. The real value in the front bead, and even those equipped with a mid-bead on a shotgun, is to establish and keep the same relationship between the shooter and their shotgun through a replicable mount.

Petrolino: [In the past] I was shooting one eye closed, I’m very conscious of the bead. And, you know, this was a habit that I had for a very long time. As we know, we’re supposed to be shooting both eyes open, focusing on the target. So then how do you make that transition to where you’re able to do all this? I have a mid-bead on my shotgun. What I’ll do is I will line up the beads. You have your little figure eight or your, your snowman (the front bead aligned with the mid-bead). I know that everything’s oriented properly to my, you know, physiology. And then I’ll close my left eye. When I do that, I get everything set up. Then once I’m ready for the bird and ready to call for it, then I open my left eye. I have both eyes open, then I’m not even worried about the beads, I’m just using them as a frame of reference to get started.
Mauro: Well, because then you start to get that muscle memory. Right? The gun is right where I need to be. Or even if I’ve got that, as we’ve worked on today, a little bit of that cheek mount kind of where it’s down. But I know that when I come up, I’m not having to now check; “is it coming?” I know that when I come up it’s going to be right where I need it. I have that confidence. My vision is how that barrel is out on that clay.

Still chatting at the diner, I asked Mauro about where we were that day. Apparently the drive was about the same length for her from Maryland as it was for us, from central Jersey. I said “Tell me about M&M, what first brought you there?”

It was my husband who wanted me to…he thought it’d be fun for me to pick up sporting clays. I grew up shooting pistol and had never picked up a shotgun. And I said, “Okay, but you’re not going to teach me.” it was actually an anniversary gift for my husband to come up and have some lessons with Anthony [Matarese] (Matarese’s family owns M&M and he’s a world class sporting clays shooter). It was, I’ve never looked back. It’s been awesome. So I’ve had a lot of great times if it wouldn’t have been for that. It’s really kind of funny, because I’ve gone on to obviously design firearms, I teach all over the country, Head Coach of a collegiate team, coach with USA shooting…the whole bit. So I’ve really gone on to do an awful lot of really great, great opportunities that I’ve had. So I kind of break all the glass ceilings that are put there. I’m just like, when people say “You can’t do that,” I just punch right through it. Go right through the top of it and look back down and say “What’s next month?” Or “More.” I can handle it. So that part’s exciting. But this is my you know, home away from home training range up here. This is where I come to, to truly train, which is awesome. They’re just a great family, a great business there. They run probably some of the absolute best shoots in the country. When they have their big, whether they have regionals or the US Open or super blast anything they have. They just…it runs like clockwork, they don’t skip a beat, which is awesome. People come in from all over the country for shoots which is awesome. But they have the you know, beginner-intermediate course. And then they have the advanced course, and you know, today we were on the advanced course. But guys, we’re crushing some clays there. – Anne Mauro

Our conversation continued on. We all talked a bit about everything else that we’re into…the different people Cook interviewed, the people I had a chance to work with while writing articles. There are so many different walks of life in our world of the Second Amendment, and luckily I do get to meander with many of them. Everything kind of got pulled into acute focus by Mauro:

And then as you said, it starts to bring everybody together, people are more aware, we all tend to be in our own little…our own little inner circle with what we do within an industry or sport, we “play” or [are into self] defense, or anything. Now to kind of pull all this together, it just makes the family bigger, which is awesome. Everybody’s willing to share what they know, or who they know. What they’ve been through learning different parts. And it’s…it’s exciting.

Cook and I may have learned a thing or two about upping our shotgun game. We went over how to handle the mounting of the gun when there’s ample time to look for a bird. We discussed eyes, eye dominance, shooting with both eyes open, looking at the target versus the bead, etc. to the Nth degree. Cook and I were instructed on coming up with a plan of attack when it came time to take on a new station. Mauro gave us valuable information about living our best #fuddlife.

We also walked away with more than all that. Mauro’s circle intertwined with my circle and Cook’s circle. We expanded our network. We laughed at each other’s missed targets (and may have gotten a death stare or two in the process). We tally-ho’ed our way through the woods on a shotgun cart. We broke bread and took part in the fellowship of the shooting spots. We shot the breeze about everything and nothing. We were safe. We had fun. And now we’re old friends.

Want to catch some footage from the shoot at M&M? Check it out HERE or in the embed below:

Aug 18, 2022 5:30 PM ET