To a very limited extent, the gear we purchase can help us improve our skills with either rifle or shotgun—or even bow. However, getting "really good" means improving our own performance, and that's always the hardest hurdle to overcome. It's safe to say you can't buy shooting skill, and the only way to obtain it is with practice.
Practice-shooting alone or with a friend is fine, but it's often hard to get motivated to do this seriously. If you're just blasting ammo, it's not practice. Serious practice means setting goals, tracking progress, analyzing technique and getting qualified coaching. I'm not organized or motivated enough to do those things in order to improve my shooting for hunting purposes, and very few people are. So, to improve my shooting skills as a hunter, I participate in a number of organized competitions.
"It's safe to say you can't buy shooting skill, and the only way to obtain it is with practice."
From what I've seen, getting involved in competitive shooting is a sure-fire way to find the motivation needed to improve your shooting ability. The simple knowledge that you're competing is often enough to get people to take their shooting practice seriously. Note that I didn't say, "competing against others." That's not necessary—and I stopped competing against others a long time ago. Now, I only compete against myself … working to improve my scores by shooting better and faster.
This summer has proven to be a good example. I haven't been happy with my bird shooting abilities, so I've joined the group at our local club that shoots a version of sporting clays called "5-stand." Our club has a great facility for this sport with many thousands of dollars invested. As a result, we have some extremely skilled and serious competitors that have become the driving force behind the trend locally. There are no shotgun snobs here though, and when I show up with my Remington 870 pump and put it the rack with their Perazzis, I'm completely welcome.
My first try at a round of 5-stand was nothing short of dismal. But with a month's worth of shooting under my belt now, I'm getting better. And a large part of why is the coaching I'm getting from those expert shotgunners present at the weekly sessions. They are all more than willing to share their knowledge with a guy who needs some serious help, and that willingness to help is, in my experience, typical of all the shooting sports. Whether it's 3-gun, silhouette, trap or service-rifle matches, I've consistently seen that if you show up to shoot with a desire to improve, you'll get all the help you can handle.
I don't know that I'll ever shoot a formal 5-stand match. But coming out to the weekly practice sessions these guys host still allows me to compete against myself by always trying to improve my performance and better my scores.
So, find out what shooting sports are active in your area and go burn some ammo—I've never seen one that won't improve your shooting skills as a hunter.