Shotgun 101 – What About The Lead?

Shotgun tips

In our Beginner Program in our Knowledge Vault we stress, among other things, the importance of three basic things that must be mastered to accelerate the learning curve; learning to move and mount the gun, learning to see and understand the separation between the gun and the target, adjusting gun speed to bird’s speed. 

Our research has proven that consistency comes from these three things and when mastered, learning accelerates to as much as three times faster due to the shooters not having to think about what they are doing while they are doing it!  Being able to know what the shot is going to look like when the trigger is pulled and to visualize the movie of how the shot is going to come together before you close the gun and call pull is huge. 

The more times you predict where and how the shot will come together the easier it becomes to visualize in detail what you are about to ask your brain to do and the more consistent you will become.  If you predict it and you hit the target you replicate what you just did and if you miss because you had a prediction, the correction becomes more obvious and your chances of hitting the next target go way up.

Beginning shooters especially are constantly asking: “how much should I lead it?” or “How do I calculate the lead?”  Lead is probably the most talked about and at the same time most misunderstood part of shooting a moving target with a shotgun.  So how do you learn how to trust that your eyes and your gun movement will automatically create the right lead for you?  If there ever was a loaded question, “How do I calculate the lead on a moving target with a shotgun?” would be at the top of the list!

  • Lead…..guiding something in a certain direction
  • Lead…..a part in a production
  • Lead…..being first in line
  • Lead… example for others to follow
  • Lead…..directing an orchestra or band
  • Lead… play the first card or domino in a game
  • Lead…..Precedent….follow the lead
  • Lead…..Clue
  • Lead…..the distance a runner is off base toward the next base

And these are only a few definitions of the word “Lead.”  This four-letter word, which incidentally ends in a hard consonant, is pronounced differently, based on how it is used in a sentence and, yes, it does have something to do with hitting a moving target with a shotgun, but when emphasized too much can cause the demise of even the simplest of shots in all clay and wing shooting disciplines.

While the same word can mean so many different things to wing and clay shooters around the world, it is a necessity and at the same time for most an inconsistent mystery.  To hit a moving target with a shotgun you must see the target where it is but shoot where it is going to be. The more you know about how big the lead is, the bigger it becomes and the less emphasis you put on it the smaller it becomes.  Confused yet?

First, let’s look at what it really looks like, because shooters’ perceptions are really all over the map when it comes to what the separation between the muzzle and the target really looks like, especially in the beginning.  When focused on the target as you mount the gun, you will be aware of two barrels in your periphery (and there is only one). If your focus shifts back to the front bead you will see two targets (and there is really only one). 

So, the confusion comes when the brain must choose one of the barrel images to create the separation necessary to implement the lead ahead of the target, but which one must it choose?  Our research has shown that the earlier in a shooter’s journey this can be sorted out defined and trained, the easier it becomes for the shooter to progress.  The eyes don’t see, the brain sees and the better you define for the brain how you want the visual stream of data from both retinas to be interpreted, the sooner the confusion will go away. 

The easiest and quickest way to define how you want your brain to interpret the two retinal images is to place two objects on a book shelf about 10 inches apart and back up across the room.  Look at the left object (simulating the target) and mount the gun on the right object, which would put the gun to the right or ahead of a target going left to right, all the time having both eyes focused on the target (left object).  

This would simulate the left-to-right sight picture with the eyes focused on the target and the gun mounted in front of the target and in the periphery.  For a right-handed shooter, both eyes would be looking at the target to the left of the barrel (not down the barrel!) and if the shooter is left-handed, the shooter will be looking at the object to the left of the barrel, which would be across the barrel.  Then do the drill, looking at the right object and mount the gun on the left object, which would simulate the sight picture on a right-to-left target.

Understanding what it really looks like to see the target behind where the barrel is pointed and to see the separation over and over better explains to the brain how you want it to interpret the visual data streaming from both retinas. Until your brain understands what this really looks like to you, it will be confusing as your focus bounces back and forth from the bird to the muzzle and back to the bird again. 

The first step in creating any consistency with a shotgun on a moving target is understanding what the separation really looks like to you. Believe us when we say it will evolve and get easier the more you force your brain to create the separation.  The reason you must force your brain to create the separation is due to what we have come to call the “aiming perception.” 

Almost every brain out there has a perception that when the gun is mounted, the shooter must look down the barrel and at the bird at the same time, which leads to all sorts of visual anomalies, none of which leads to success with a shotgun.  If, when the gun mounts, the shooter is looking at the bird and down the barrel at the same time, then the gun and bird are in the same place, which ends up being behind the bird if it’s moving!

Try as you may to not see the barrel, it is part of the picture albeit a very small part of your visual awareness. The barrel is always in your periphery and the target is always in your primary or sharp vision.  Maintaining the separation between the two and seeing the barrel in your periphery allows for final adjustment of the lead, line and speed as the shot comes together. 

Being able to visualize how the last shot came together and either replicate it or correct it is really huge in progressing to higher scores and consistency.  Something else we have learned in our years of helping others achieve their personal goals is, in order to ascend to higher and higher levels of performance with a shotgun you must be able to self-correct! 

While the barrel is not the most important thing in the shot, it does play an important role in correction and consistency.  If the sight picture is correct (separation and speed match) and a miss occurs, the correction is simple, either double it or cut it in half.  If the target is a crosser with speed and distance, double the lead and if a fast quartering fast target, cut the lead in half. 

Sounds too simple, we know, but here is where knowing what the last shot looked like and accepting the muzzle in the picture increases confidence and consistency.  You can’t make this simple lead correction if the sight picture was not correct, because the only time the correct lead is correct is when the target and muzzle are going the same speed long enough for you to know they are matched.

At each level of performance you go through, your focus and your sight pictures will continue to be redefined as your brain automatizes your shooting circuits as you fire them over and over so that they begin to fire quicker and with less and less interference from conscious thought.  The more the circuit is fired the more the brain will suspend from your awareness anything that is confusing or not essential to achieve the desired result.  Focus on the target, create separation and match speed and you will be surprised at what your brain can do when you get out of its way and just let it.–Gil & Vicki Ash

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