Shotgun 101 – You Can’t Un-See The Barrel

We are beginning to see many of you showing up in our shooting clinics across the country, and your reactions to what and how we are teaching excites us. The follow-up calls from you inspire us to keep doing what we are doing and to keep researching the science of shooting moving targets! Our son Brian has been on Team OSP for nine years now and is beginning to develop his own clientele. He has taken over the Houston business, and since he is newer to the coaching game than Vicki and I, we decided to involve him in this article and ask the simple question…

“What continues to amaze you about shooter perceptions of what they see and think they see when shooting moving targets?”

Despite all the articles, books and videos that you and mom have made, so many shooters are still looking down the barrel and trying to aim the gun ahead of the target! You guys have written 16 books and countless articles and have 72 videos on YouTube that have been viewed over 12 million times.

On our Knowledge Vault website, there are 5,000-6,000 videos, and yet shooters still are chasing the target down with the barrel and trying to fix the shot at the end. What I have learned in the past nine years is, chasing the target down with the barrel is the leading cause of perceived dominance issues in shooters of all ages and genders. They have the perception that they can aim down the barrel with both eyes open and get the barrel ahead of the bird and pull the trigger and consistently hit moving targets. That will never happen.

One thing that just blows me away is shooters are trying to not see the barrel. How do you not see this big, long black pipe that is right in front of your face? A pipe that is getting ready to experience a controlled explosion and send a swarm of shot downrange, in an attempt to hit a moving target? You cannot un-see the barrel.

And in what we are teaching now, (where the barrel was when the shot was taken) is an important part of the shot, when it comes to being able to self-correct a miss or replicate the hit consistently. Getting the correct amount of muzzle awareness is the key to becoming more consistent and being able to self-correct. If you don’t know what it looked like when you pulled the trigger, then how will you be able to self-correct after a miss?

The gun is both the confusing thing about the shot and yet a very necessary thing for self-correcting. It’s confusing because when you are focused on the target and mount the gun you see two barrels in your periphery and when you focus back on the end of the gun you see two targets in your periphery but there is only one downrange.  Shooters actually think they have a dominance issue because they see two barrels, but when I tell them that is normal and then show them why sometimes they see two targets when there is only one in the sky, you can see the relief in their faces!

This visual phenomenon is called physiological diplopia and is a normal part of binocular vision. When I show shooters what causes this double vision by having them focus on a distant object and make a fist with their thumbs sticking straight up and put their thumbs under the distant object, they immediately see two thumbs in their periphery! Then when I have them focus on their thumb, they see two of the distant objects in their periphery and we talk about being on a dove hunt and 10 birds fly over and you throw the gun up and look at the barrel you now see 20 birds and only half of them are real! They realize at that point why they are so confused!

Brian and Gil were in Florida recently teaching at South Florida Shooting Club and Sarasota Trap, Skeet and Clays. On their way back to Houston, the above conversation began in the airport terminal and continued on the plane. Brian continued with this statement, “It is so true that the eyes don’t see what the brain does and the sight picture animations on the website seem to just make all the visual anomalies seem to disappear.

The next thing I see in shooters is they get way too involved and consciously trying to think their way through the shot. You and mom have proven this impossible over and over in your 31 years as professional coaches.

Another thing I heard you say, (that I stole from you the minute you said it) is that almost all shooters are trying to learn how to shoot a shotgun without missing, yet missing is the most essential part of learning. Because they are trying not to miss, they end up looking more at the gun than the target. Checking the lead and their swing stops and they miss behind.

If they would simply do their homework before they came to our clinics, things would go so much better and learning would happen so much more quickly. Just simply learning to mount the shotgun to the correct place on their shoulder and face and doing it enough so they can be reasonably consistent without thinking about what they are doing with the gun would speed-up the learning curve dramatically! That is why I did the Shotgun Training 101 course on the website, and we kept it simple and to the point. It’s there and they just don’t or won’t take the time to learn the basic sight pictures and how to mount the gun before they come to our clinics.

The conversation continued about how no one ends up with the same visual perceptions they began with and how our brains have cleaned-up our personal perceptions when we shoot our shotguns at clays or birds.

Neuro-scientist David Eagleman in his books and videos has said many times that our brains are constantly automatizing our circuits through repetition. As we repeat an action over and over the same way, through chunking different parts of the action together, eventually takes all the actions in the motion and views them as one thing.  

Everything that you view as a skill has been automatized by the brain. The better you become at any particular skill, the less visual input you need to perform at higher and higher levels. One third of your brain is dedicated to interpreting your visual perceptions and what you see is a perception based on how many times you have seen something similar in your past.

Our brains weigh about three pounds and are surrounded in darkness in our skull and are extremely adept at understanding sequences of impulses from our senses and creating what we perceive visually, based on our past experiences and how we remember them.

Let’s see if we can explain in simple terms how this really works. Can you remember the first palm tree you ever saw? As you examined it closely you made note of the trunk being skinny and tall and the fronds being in a clump at the top and how the old fronds would turn brown and hang down, making a place for birds to nest.

As you were examining the tree you were creating an image in your long-term memory that you would refer to as “palm tree” and after seeing many other palm trees your brain no longer had to look intently at a palm tree to recognize it as a palm tree. All your brain needed to “see” is a vague shape of a palm tree and you were automatically aware that there was a palm tree over there.

Put a palm tree with a crooked trunk in the group of trees and you would immediately single it out, examine it and it would be grouped in your memory as a palm tree with a crooked trunk. All our brain receives are sequences of data from our senses and, based on the sequences and your past experiences, interprets your reality.

This is why learning to shoot a moving target with a shotgun is so difficult and takes such a long time to master, especially for someone who has never done it before. They have no memory of previous experiences to draw from, so their brains must, through failure, begin to understand what it looks like to see the target behind where the gun is pointing and then how much separation there needs to be between the gun and the target.

The other unique thing about our brain is, for it to learn, it must first be confused and learn what something is not, and it forms its own opinion about what it is. The act of shooting a moving target with a shotgun is very confusing in the beginning and what that looks like to different people still amazes all three of us.

We have seen thousands of shooters on three continents, and each has their own perceptions, and their perceptions evolve with their experiences. The better the shooters become, the more their perceptions become similar.

However, in the beginning their perceptions are anything but similar! This is why someone who might be a good shot, but does not understand how the brain sees, can watch you shoot and try to tell you what you need to do to hit the target and it seldom works. The reason it seldom works is the experienced shooter will tell you what they would do if they were faced with the same result that you just experienced.

Because what we perceive visually is based on our past experiences, the only way you could implement the correction would be if you had a similar amount of experiences stored in your long-term memory. This is where an experienced coach can ask you a few questions and, based on your answers, will know where you are in your experience and visual perceptions. Then the coach can offer advice, based on their experiences as a coach that you will be able to implement and become successful.

The Ashes have written 16 books and have conducted shooting clinics, private lessons and seminars on three continents. They post a monthly podcast that can be accessed through their Knowledge Vault website at, which contains nearly 6,000 videos and all the articles they have written as professional coaches.

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