Shotgun Tips and Tricks – Don’t Think, Just Shoot


shotgunning-Ash-2-021116Skill is what happens when you are not thinking!

We have read several studies about why people do recreational sports and how many people are seeking coaching in their sports. While the numbers of people seeking shooting instruction is definitely increasing, it is why people do recreational sports that intrigued us the most. In a recent study in UK Sports Coaching, the researchers made reference to the fact that everyone has a deep psychological need to feel competent. In recreational sport, because most people take up a sport because it is fun, the coach must mix skill improvement with fun–and the two don’t always mix easily.

In the traditional sense of coaching, improvement typically follows a fairly strict order and sequence that is decided upon by the coach. In coaching recreational sport, the student typically determines how quickly they want to progress and how often they are willing to train and explore doing new things to learn how to do something better.   After all, they do want to get better, but at the same time, they are doing a sport because it is fun. The fun must remain in it for them to continue, but we also learned that need for feeling competent is the real driver in sport.

Success has everything to do with the frequency and duration of tasking, and the drive for competency is really a driving force as to why people do a sport. But competence alone is not the driver. There is more and more evidence that shows people have three psychological needs that influence their motivation to do sport: competence, relatedness and autonomy.

Shotgunning-081016When these needs are met, several things happen and we have witnessed them all in our clients. Our shooters experience enhanced motivation, enjoyment, effort, persistence, performance and psychological well being. What we see in clients is that they keep coming back to us and shooting on their own because they keep getting better; it is almost as if they are getting a buzz from it. So we come back to competence–making our shooters feel good about developing their skill level whether on clays or birds–and realizing that, when the target is still, competence can be achieved more quickly and easily than when the target is moving!

Perhaps the one thing in our sport of clay and wing shooting that is the most difficult to explain is what it really looks like when you pull the trigger on a moving target. If the target is still, then the sights are aligned with the target and the trigger is squeezed. The outcome is more determined by the trigger control than sight picture.

When the target is moving, the shooter must look at the target and keep their eyes glued to the target and mount the gun and point it ahead of where the bird is. On the surface, that seems easy to do, but the reality is that it the single most confusing picture on the planet to most first-time wing or clay shooters.

On our website we have gone to great lengths to explain with video animations and ShotKam video on clays as well as game birds what sight picture looks like and we are getting amazing results from shooters all over the world. We have shooters who are watching our ShotKam videos,e doing some home drills with mounting their gun and improving at an amazing rate.

When the gun fits with slight cheek pressure it dramatically improves consistency shot to shot.
When the gun fits with slight cheek pressure it dramatically improves consistency shot to shot.

The scientists call this perceptual-cognitive training and it has to do with how the brain anticipates and follows through with what you do in recreational sports. Everything you do is a series of circuits in your brain firing in a sequence that create an action that is typically a reaction to movement of some kind, which is translated into a visual cue to the brain.

The quicker the brain recognizes this cue and the clearer it becomes through repetition, the better and more specific the response is that in turn creates competence–something we all like having. Perceptual-cognitive training has shown the greatest and most specific effects on performance in sports that involve the interception of a target, and in sports requiring strategic reactions, such as soccer. We believe that wing and clay shooting is definitely a sport that involves the interception of a moving target, and a sport that requires strategic reactions!

One of the studies we read had to do with pitch recognition in baseball players. Perceptual-cognitive training was used to move correct interpretation of the pitch being served up by the pitcher from 25% to 75%, watching only the first 5 milliseconds of the pitch. That was as it left the pitchers hand, with all other cues about the pitcher’s movements blocked from view. The players were asked to guess what the pitch was just by seeing the 5-millisecond clip of the ball leaving the pitchers hand and nothing else. If they guessed right, great, if not they were corrected and they went through the process again and again and the above results were the outcome.

Of interest is that a famous baseball player, Willie Mayes, was known to spend two hours before each game viewing previous game films taken from behind the plate of each of the pitchers he knew he would face in the upcoming game. His history as a batter is in the record books and he was clearly doing perceptual-cognitive training before it had a name!

Shotgun-mount-high-readyThe brain cannot attempt to do anything until it has a picture, and the more vivid that picture the better the response will be (competence). As we understand it, the picture in the mind’s eye evolves first as many different cues, and then as the response occurs over and over again, the brain begins to be able to anticipate the picture with fewer and fewer preliminary cues! That is how skill is developed through repetition.

The “picture” in shooting a still target is a much more simple static picture with fewer cues that can more easily be learned and anticipated by the brain, but the picture of shooting a moving target is dramatically more complex with countless more cues. This would explain why understanding what the sight picture looks like is so important in wing and clay shooting and why it is so important to practice the moving and mounting of the shotgun until it becomes automatic and happens correctly without you thinking about it. This would also explain why it takes so many more repetitions to produce competence with a shotgun on a moving target than with a rifle, pistol or bow on a stationary target. The more familiar with the initial cue the brain becomes through repetition, the sooner the action of intercepting the moving target can begin and the sooner the action can begin the more time you have to react and the better the reaction becomes.

The thinking brain takes about 300 milliseconds to function, so if you are thinking about what you are doing you are behind to begin with! The more skillful you become at anything, the less you think while doing it and the fewer cues required for you to anticipate far enough ahead of the action and react correctly every time. Chunking allows the brain to group many cues into one, which allows for the brain to anticipate farther and farther ahead of what is about to happen. The more you practice the fundamentals, the more competent you become, and the more competent you become the more you will enjoy wing and clay shooting. Remember…skill is what happens when you are not thinking!Gil & Vicki Ash

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