Vicki Ash shotgun

Shotgun Tips & Tricks – What You See Comes From The Brain!


“The way we see is not determined by what we want to see, but by how we have learned to practice seeing!”…. Gadi Geiger.

Vicki & Gil Ash
Vicki & Gil Ash

My how the science is changing when it comes to how our brains really function and create the almost impossible synchronous movements we call skill. If you get the chance to see any of the episodes of “Brain Games” on National Geographic channel, don’t miss them as they are incredible at showing how proficient our brains really are and also how our brains can be tricked into thinking they see something that is really not there.

As we have continued studying the visual processing system of the brain, we begin to learn that, as we become skillful at something, the less we are consciously focused on any one thing. So to create an analogy of what we are writing about here, look at talking or walking or playing a violin or shooting a shotgun for that matter. Regardless of what it is, when it becomes a skill, the less you are consciously focused on it when performing, the more things just take care of themselves as you do your skill.   As you get better at anything by doing it, the brain begins to take more of the things you do and chunks them together so that you perceive them as one. The more you practice, the more the brain is able to chunk more and more of these actions into one chunk. This act of chunking is what allows you to perform at higher and higher levels, because you have done the action so much that it has become a skill. You find yourself concentrating less, and the brain just fills in everything that needs to be there for you to perform.

We call the stuff that is chunked together “filler,” and the brain’s ability to create the filler is totally dependent upon how many times you have done something–not on how well you understand how something should be done. The act of seeing and interpreting what we see and how quickly that happens is a circuit in the brain that must be developed, just like the circuit that allows for mounting the gun. The reason we are constantly on all wing shooters to practice their gun mount is because most will never mount the gun enough for it to become a skill. As a result, they will have to think more about what they are doing with the gun, which in turn takes away from their ability to focus on the target and makes them look at the gun during the shot, which causes misses in the field.

The other unique thing about this filler we are talking about is that it is something you develop for yourself, and you must develop it through doing the action–not thinking about it–and you can’t use someone else’s filler. You must develop it on your own.

Vicki Ash shotgunSo how does this pertain to wing shooting or clay shooting with your favorite shotgun? We don’t care who you are or how much you have talked about it or read about it. The first time you picked up a shotgun to shoot a moving target, painted or feathered, it was the most confusing thing you had ever done. Come on now, admit it–it was confusing, wasn’t it? However, if you were among those of us whose desire to achieve, you overcame the fear of facing the confusion, and just kept shooting and got better. As you got better, you allowed the brain to stumble through the misses and begin to chunk different parts of the movements together, and they became easier to do and then all of a sudden, you began to shoot better by thinking of less! You just experienced chunking and building the filler in the brain.

As your journey continues and you shoot more, the brain develops this filler based on your experiences and the more filler you have, the more the brain has chunked things together and sees many chunks as one. So in the beginning, you were focused on the many different parts of the gun mount, but after 5,000 gun mounts, it is now all of a sudden just one thing. It happens consistently, but you are focused so much less on what you are doing. All skill resides in the filler in the brain, not in the analytical part of the brain, and you must build your own filler because you can’t use someone else’s filler which is why you can’t take a lesson from a pro and all of a sudden become a pro! Through your experience you gained by mounting the gun 5,000 times, you built this filler we are talking about and you no longer must think about what you are doing when you move and mount the gun–it just happens. So why is this so important in shotgunning? Well read on and you will begin to understand why Vicki said at Convention last year, “You will never shoot better than the quality of your basic move and mount!”

Attendees spend time on the shotgun rangeIt seems as though wherever you go with a shotgun you hear shooters always talking about seeing the front edge of the target or the head of the bird. Bob Brister told us once that when he shot pigeons he could see the eye of the bird, and we can say with some certainty that all shotgunners agree that you must see the target to hit it. Well, focusing on a target is a brain thing, too, because when you focus on a target, the brain must interpret what it is seeing and then begin to anticipate where it will be in the future! As a shooter, you can tell yourself to focus on the front of the target or the head of the pigeon or duck or pheasant or dove, but if part of your brain is tied up in focusing on what you are doing while mounting the gun, then that takes away from your focus on the target!

So we finds ourselves back at the beginning realizing that anything that is done as a skill is developed by the person doing it, and that is the only way it will become a skill. Any skill is a circuit in the brain that is developed through a person’s experience of doing, not thinking about, something. When something becomes a skill, as you perform the skill you are focused on less and the brain fills in what is necessary to perform the skill, which allows for greater amounts of focus on fewer things, which allows for higher and higher levels of performance.

shotgunninghardmountUntil your move and mount become a skill, it is impossible to focus enough on the target to shoot consistently well and continue to improve. Imagine what it would be like to never have to worry about whether your gun was mounted correctly or never have to look at the barrel to know exactly where it was pointing! You will never experience this utopia until you, through repetition and experience, build the filler in your brain to the point that it just knows all this stuff and you become less and less aware of the stuff you are most worried about. Remember, the more skillful you become at anything the less consciously aware you become of things. You will never become skillful at anything, much less shooting, if you keep constantly second guessing your mount, your move, your lead or anything else while you are performing!–Gil & Vicki Ash

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