Perhaps the most misunderstood thing in shooting a shotgun is where you are supposed to be looking when you mount the gun and take the shot. On the surface it is easy to understand that you must look at the bird and that the gun must be in front of the bird to hit it because it is moving, but what does that really look like? Here is where perception and reality take a spin on the wild side and where we spend most of our time when teaching clays or birds in the field. Believe you me we have heard some of the strangest perceptions of what really happens when people shoot shotguns at moving targets. Everything from “I keep one eye on the target and one eye on the gun” to “I just mount the gun and swing it real fast and that spreads the shot out in an oval giving me a bigger pattern to hit the bird with.” It seems to us that there is a great deal of misconception about what really happens when shooting a shotgun, which is what Vicki calls “cash flow!”
Where the eyes are really looking when the shot is taken and just how much focus is given the bird and how much can be given the bird is what separates the good shots from the not so good. The good shots from their own experience either on the sporting course or in the field have determined exactly what their sight pictures look like and just how much awareness they can give the barrel and still kill the bird, painted or feathered. The reason we said “their sight pictures” was that sight pictures are a perception because it occurs in the periphery. We have discussed this in our seminars and in this column, but it seems we need to repeat ourselves so here goes:
Pay attention now, because this is where all the misconceptions occur and why. The target and the gun cannot share the same space or the shot will be missed behind. So that leaves the target in our primary or “center” vision and puts the gun in our periphery. Why is this so confusing? Well it has to do with the arrival time of the visual input to the brain. The information from our center vision arrives at the motor center in 5mls and the information in our periphery arrives as much as 200mls to 300mls behind real time. Remember now, the gun is in the periphery and the target is in our center vision, so input about where the target is arrives to your brain in real time (5mls) and information about the gun arrives as much as .3 seconds behind real time. Where you think you saw the barrel when the target broke, all be it real to you, it was not. Muzzle awareness is a perception because of this varying time delay to the brain. That is why on some days you are shooting very well and are not concerned about where the barrel really is but when you start missing the first thing you do is (not to look at the bird harder) to concentrate more on where the barrel is and you all know what happens after that. It is this sliding focus ratio that confuses shooters worldwide.
Our research has shown us that focus ratios of 95% on the target and no more that 5% on the gun are required for optimal performance with a shotgun on clays or live birds. That ratio can slide as long it is up on the target side of the ratio, meaning 96/4 or 98/2, but when the ratio goes the other way, nothing good happens. People who shoot consistently well with a shotgun know what this looks like to them and as a result can reproduce it over and over. Those of you who have not spent the required time behind the gun think you know what this looks like, but because you don’t understand your sight pictures and the required focus ratios to consistently produce them, your results are anything but consistent. Because sight pictures are a perception, they must be experienced to be recognized and rarely will two people have the same sight picture on the same bird even thought they both hit the bird consistently.
This perhaps is the one biggest problem that must be overcome by new and recreational shooters. They think they understand the concept of focusing on the bird and pointing the gun ahead of the bird when taking the shot, but without the experience of actually doing it, they are constantly frustrated by their results. This is also why we stress so much to shooters to learn to move and mount the gun consistently by practicing their gun mount at home with the flashlight drill and the three bullet drill. By practicing those two simple drills everyday for three or four weeks, a hopeful shooter can easily improve their field percentage (shots per bird) by as much as 50%, but that would take time and time is the one thing that we can’t buy or manufacture more of. This is why so many try to buy a shotgun game. Whether it is a new expensive gun or having their gun “fitted” or installing glow worm sights on the end of the rib, eventually you will find yourself in the fraternity of many who finally come see us–The More Money Than Brains and Ability Club! You know the ones we are talking about, they have $30,000 worth of gun and $.03 worth of talent because they have not put forth the effort and taken the time to turn the moving and mounting of the gun into a skill. Remember, all skill resides in the subconscious, which means it happens without you thinking about it and until moving and mounting the gun becomes a skill for you, unfortunately you will be missing more than you are hitting when shooting clays or the real thing. After all, if you are thinking about what you are doing with the gun as you move and mount it, what do you think your focus ratio will be?–Gil Ash