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Shotgun 101 – Evolution

The evolution from beginner to advanced…. 

Whether you are a clays or wing shooter, none of us start with the same game we end up with. What we do and what we see is a definite evolution, based on how much we practice our passion with the smooth bore.   

As Boone and Crocket Scorer, and Gil’s late friend and client, Homer Saye said many times, “The most mainest thing about shotgun shooting is focus on the target!”  Now you must understand that Homer was a big game hunter and loved to shoot hand-thrown pigeons and got really good at it, but he put in the time and saw Gil on a regular basis as well as getting his son Conner involved in shooting a shotgun.  While on the surface shooting a rifle and shooting a shotgun seem similar, believe us when we tell you they are anything but.   

When shooting a rifle, the shooter is looking down the barrel and lining up the barrel with the target. While holding the barrel on the target, the shooter begins to squeeze the trigger and the gun goes off. But when the gun is going to go off should be a surprise to the shooter.   

When shooting a shotgun, the shooter is never looking down the barrel, because if they are looking down the barrel and at the target at the same time, the barrel would have to be on the bird. If the bird is moving, the barrel would be behind the bird.  

The wing/clay shooter must be looking at the target to hit it and the muzzle must be ahead of the target (painted or feathered). What that looks like varies from shooter to shooter, based on their experience in the field or on the range.  We have yet to meet anyone who begins this journey who is not confused in the beginning. Through experience and perseverance, patience and determination, eventually shooters understand what the sight picture looks like to them.   

Even as professional coaches we must spend time practicing our craft because if you don’t use it you will lose it.  This is the one critical thing that part time wing/clay shooters don’t do enough of — spending time at the range building sight pictures and working on timing and focus on the targets pays big dividends when in the field or on the range. 

The other huge difference in wing/clay shooting is how the trigger is pulled.  When the target is still, you line everything up and squeeze the trigger and the gun goes off when it goes off.   When the target and the gun are moving, when the brain sees what it wants to see to send the shot, the trigger must be pulled decisively at that instant or the sight picture could change, and a miss will occur.  In wing and clay shooting this is called timing and when the muzzle is synced and the sight picture is stable, the trigger must be pulled decisively. 

When shooting a shotgun at clays or birds, the target is always in our primary visual circle and the gun is always in the periphery. What that looks like differs greatly from shooter to shooter and whether the shooter is a clays shooter or a wing shooter.   

In the beginning, the shooter unfortunately will be focused on the end of the gun and looking down the barrel. When this occurs, the shooters are very confused because they see the front bead and they see the left side of the barrel and everything in their periphery is a double image.  It is at this point that the shooter is misdiagnosed as cross dominant and they close an eye.  

While the images look clearer with one eye shut, the shooter ends up looking down the barrel and chasing the bird with the barrel, frantically trying to fix the shot at the end.  Just so you can better understand the confusion caused by muzzle awareness, here is an exercise you can do to experience the double vision we just described.   

In the room you are seated, choose an object like a light switch to focus on and make a fist with your thumb sticking straight up and position it under the light switch with both eyes open.  When focused on the light switch, you will be aware of two thumbs in your periphery.   

Once you are aware of the two thumbs, shift your focus to the tip of your thumb and notice how the light switch is now a double image.  So, if you are dove hunting and a flock of 10 doves flies over and you mount your gun and focus on the front bead sight, how many doves do you see?  The answer is 20, which is why when you flock shoot birds, regardless of the size of the flock, you learn there is a lot more air than bird out there. 

We don’t even check for dominance anymore in our clinics because the eyes don’t see. The brain sees and what the brain perceives in shooting a moving target is a product of how we have trained the brain to see it.  As we said previously, in the beginning what a shooter sees when shooting a moving target is very confusing, but as they shoot more and we would hope, take some lessons, and practice the sight pictures, things become more and more clear.  In the beginning the gun is very prominent in the shot and as you become more and more proficient, the gun becomes less and less a prominent part of the picture, allowing for more of your working memory to focus on the bird. 

One of the quickest pathways to proficiency is a gun mount drill we have dubbed “The Three Bullet Drill” and tens of thousands of wing and clay shooters all over the world have used this simple drill to explain to their brains how they want the visual data stream from their retinas to be interpreted.   

Just like your computer turns a sequence of ones and zeroes into many different diverse objects, your brain takes impulses from your senses and, based on the sequence of those impulses and your experiences in the past, creates your reality.  There was a time when four intersecting vertical lines meant nothing to you, but when you recognized them as a “W” and associated that letter with how it sounded when pronounced, based on how many times you used it, eventually it made its way to your long term memory. 

The Three Bullet Drill is designed to show your brain what it really looks like to have the gun ahead of a target, coming from the right or the left, and the two pictures are really different.  Place three shotgun shells on a bookcase about 8-12 inches apart and step across the room and face the shells.   

With an empty gun, look at the center shell and mount on the shell to the right, which is the left to right sight picture for a right-handed shooter, and you will see that both of your eyes are focused on the center shell that is to the left of the barrel.  Now focus on the center shell again and mount the gun on the left shell which is the right-to-left sight picture and you will see that you are looking across the barrel at the center shell.    

There are only two sight pictures and until you have shown your brain how you want it to interpret the retinal data stream into a sight picture, where you are looking at the target with the barrel in the periphery, it will be confused.   

The muzzles are always in the periphery and the sight pictures for a right-handed shooter on left-to-right shot, is both eyes focused to the left of the barrel and on a right-to-left shot you are focused across the barrel — just the opposite for lefties.  

You can’t do this drill too much or too often. In fact, this drill is the foundation of our Shotgun Training 101 course our son Brian has done in our Knowledge Vault web site.  Yes, you can learn how to shoot a shotgun on the internet now through our Knowledge Vault website.  Shooters from all over the world are logging in and having some amazing results. For new shooters, their understanding of good sound fundamentals in the beginning allows for accelerated learning and improvement on the clays range as well as in the field. 

Another really big paradigm shift in shooters as they become more experienced both on clays and then on birds is that they begin to see the target behind where the barrel is pointed.  Now we know this sounds like double talk, but we have found that when the shooter, through repetition, changes the way he pictures the shot from getting the gun in front of the bird to always seeing the bird behind the barrel, then the bird and the barrel have a place in the shot and the confusion melts away.   

We have shooters from Australia, Columbia, Mexico, Europe, South Africa, Chile, Canada and South America who are emailing us, telling how much less confusion they are experiencing in their wing and clay shooting and how much more consistent they have become in their shooting.   

There is one more common thread that all these shooters are discovering that is enabling them to self-correct in the field or on the range. That would be matching muzzle speed to the bird’s speed before sending the shot.  When your brain learns to accept the muzzle in your periphery, then you can work on matching the speed of the bird with your muzzle.   

Things you are aware of in your periphery are as much as 300MLS behind real time, but when the speed is matched long enough for you to see it, then the 300MLS delay is moot and what you see when the shot goes off is real and can be replicated and more importantly, corrected instantly in the field or on the rangeThe genesis of confidence is in self-correction and self-correction is impossible if you don’t know what it looked like when the trigger was pulled, which is why same speed at the end is so important. –Gil & Vicki Ash

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