Eyes First, Then The Gun

Shooting single targets is relatively simple in that you know where it is coming from and where it is going. It becomes easy to set up to break them consistently.  Another way to say that is that there are very few, if any, variables in single targets unless you are one of the shooters who insists on mounting the gun and chasing lead.  If you are, hopefully one day you will get out of your own way and realize that the targets will slow down if you learn how to merge the muzzles in front of the target and trust your eye/hand coordination to put the lead in the shot.

“Barrel draggers” and “lead chasers” get so hung-up in “what style is it,” or “what method is it,” or “whatever I do I don’t want to spot shoot it.”  We find that way too much attention is given to style and methods and not enough emphasis is given to application.  Our research indicates that while some “styles” or “methods” do increase or decrease risk for some shooters and not for others, it is not the “style” or “method” one uses that creates consistency.  Last time we checked there were no “style” or “method” points on the scorecard, just hits and misses. Turning the misses into hits has little to do with changes in “style” or “method.”  It does, however, have a lot to do with how many times you have done whatever it is that you do successfully and consistently.  We find that in teaching performance in this game and others, that attrition plays a big role in consistently great performances.

First target is broken.

How consistently you apply the fundamentals you believe in and how many times they have been applied successfully will be the determining factor in your consistency and results in your performance.  The thing that puzzles us is the amount of time and effort that is given to what the barrel is doing and how little emphasis is given to what the eyes

Head is raised to find the second target.

are doing.  We see shooters give great attention to what the muzzle is doing and where it is, but very little attention to what the eyes are focused on and how to optimize what vision we aging shooters have left.  We figure that is why 99 percent of the words used to talk about “method” and “style” talk about what the barrel is doing, not what the eyes are

Second target is acquired and focused on.

focused on or what the target is doing.  Until you realize that success in this game has more to do with what the eyes see and how the brain interprets that information, you will be destined to chasing targets that seem faster than they really are and inconsistency will become your best friend.

Sporting clays is a game of pairs

Gun moves to second target and target is broken.

and there are several principles that we think are essential in being consistent in shooting pairs regardless of difficulty, either on the course or in the field.  The first is “eyes first then the gun.”  Any movement given the gun prior to focus on the target is wasted and increases risk by the cube.  When you move the gun without focusing first on the target, you are giving output without input.  Put another way, you are anticipating the target.  How consistent do you think your best fundamental move on your best target would be if you began your move before you saw the target?  A good example of this would be a football receiver about to catch a pass and a half-a-split-second before the ball arrives, he takes his eyes off the ball to look where he is going to run after he catches it.  Not only did he not catch the ball, but he got hammered by the defender because he stopped reacting to what he saw and began to think.  If you are thinking, you are behind what is happening.  As our friend Sam Brown says, “If you’re gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough.”

When shooting pairs, after you have broken the first bird, you must see and focus on the second bird before you move the gun.  What we see is shooters looking for and chasing the second target with their eyes over the gun.  When your eyes are over the gun and there is nothing to focus on, guess what you will be looking at?  Pretty gun isn’t it?  The muzzle is not your friend.  It is this transition that we see that creates the overwhelming majority of misses on the second bird of a pair.  The shooter has a plan and has picked good break points.  The first target is broken in the first break point but rather than taking the head off the stock and looking back to where the second target actually is, the shooter leaves the head on the stock and looks for the target just to the left or right of the barrel.  When that is done, the target typically streaks in the shooter’s field of view and the shooter misreads the speed of the second target. With the gun in the field of view, by the time the shooter is able to focus on the target, it is already past the barrel and the shooter is already behind when the bird is seen.  This is not good.

When you move the gun without focusing first on the target, you are giving output without input. 

We call this “shorting the focal point.”  To be consistent on pairs, you obviously must hit the first target in the correct break point to hit a pair consistently, but to get the second one consistently, more often than not you must take your head off the stock to find and focus on the second target.  To focus on the target properly, you must get your nose on the target.  That is why we teach shooters always to point their noses in the focal point when calling for the target.  When you cut your eyes to see the bird, you see it but it will not be in focus until it gets over your nose.  Whether it is the first target or the second, in order to focus on it you must have your nose pointing at it.  There is an exception to this rule of lifting your head to see the second target and some would call it an advantage. If the first break point is chosen so that the second target is close enough to the first break point that you will not have to lift your head to focus on the second target, then you have minimized the eye movement to the second target.  When you couple this with minimizing the movement of the gun to break the second target, you have found the nirvana of sporting clays.  That’s right; you’ve done it. Welcome to the other side of the game.  All of a sudden things have gotten a lot slower and simpler and consistent for that matter.  You have actually made a plan and what’s more important, you have stuck to it!

You can hopefully see how important the visual transition to the second target is to create consistent results on all targets, painted or feathered.  How do you practice this, you ask?  Set up an incoming teal target at, say, 25 to 30 yards.  Load two shells and call for the target.  Shoot the target going up on the first shot and find the biggest piece and shoot it on the second shot.  If you have an over/under barrel, shoot skeet on the first shot and full on the second shot.  If you shoot a single barrel gun, IC will do. Just shoot 7 1/2s on the first and 9s on the piece.  You need not make the target hard because you are practicing the visual transition from the first broken target to the largest piece (second target).  Having the largest piece as the second target keeps you from being able to anticipate the second target.  It makes you stop and look at the whole situation, then find the largest piece and shoot it.  Many good things happen to your game when you train this way, not the least of which is that you will always have focus on the second target before you move the gun to it.  The reason pairs are missed is not the difficulty of the trajectory. It is that the visual transition is not trained properly and is not subconscious.  This is why practicing simple pairs, shooting five pairs in a row, over and over and over, is so important.  Like skating to a hockey player and dribbling to a basketball player, the visual transition from the first broken target to the second target must happen consistently and without thought in order for your performances to become better and more consistent.  This can be trained on the clays course and applied the very same way in the field on game birds, so remember: “Eyes first then the gun.”–Gil and Vicki Ash


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