Serious shotgunners are probably familiar with SCI’s resident expert coaches Gil and Vicki Ash and how much a clever device called a ShotKam influences their teachings. The ShotKam is a lightweight video camera that attaches under your barrel and videotapes your shot and where your barrel is pointing during the swing and shot. Playback reveals not only the “known unknowns,” such as if you’re leading enough, but also the “unknown unknowns,” such as you’re canting the gun. There are also adapters to attach the ShotKam to rifle barrels to record rifle shots.
“It’s a high-tech training tool that has taken away the frustration of not knowing why I missed,” says ShotKam’s David Stewart when telling me what ShotKam users say about the device. Gil Ash concurs, saying that in his experience, “The ones [shooters] who are learning from it are going to tell you that they didn’t know that they had so much excess movement in their swing and their move. They didn’t know how far behind the target they really were because in wingshooting and clay shooting, you can be in front and behind at the same time if you’re not in front far enough.”
With such potential to reveal what one is doing right and wrong when shotgunning, SCI requested a ShotKam and used Director of Communications Steve Comus as our test subject to see if he could glean any insight from the ShotKam to improve his wingshooting. Comus is an accomplished shotgunner who competes regularly at high levels and frequently argues with himself over details less experienced shooters would consider mere trifles. If ShotKam could help someone as capable, meticulous and methodical about wingshooting as Comus, it would really help your average SCI Member who shoots.
Set-up is simple. Charge the ShotKam using the included mini USB cord, then mount it plumb under your barrel nine to ten inches back from the muzzle using the gauge- or caliber-specific mount. Next, download the free ShotKam app to your phone or tablet so you can sight-in the ShotKam and view videos. “The ShotKam has built-in Wi-Fi, which allows the shooters to view the videos while in the field,” says Stewart. “This is a great feature for trouble shots, and it saves a lot of wasted cartridges and unbroken clays.”
Select the ShotKam’s Wi-Fi in your device’s settings and, with the secured and unloaded gun “aimed” at an object about 30 yards away, choose a reticle and “zero” the ShotKam using the app on your device. It takes only moments, and then you’re ready to shoot.
“[I]t’s heavy and takes some getting used to,” says Ash about how the 5.5-ounce ShotKam changes the handling dynamics of a shotgun, “but the brain will fix that pretty quickly,” he adds. True to what Ash said, Comus’ first shots were low as evidenced by him sawing the bottoms off of the targets. Once used to the added weight though, he was regularly turning clays into black puffs of smoke.
While we reviewed several videos right on the trap line to confirm that everything was working properly, much more was revealed once we downloaded the videos and viewed them on a desktop monitor. When playing back ShotKam videos, not only do you see the target and whether you hit or miss it, but you also see the reticle, which is where you have your muzzle pointed during the movement and the shot. You can also view video in slow motion or frame-by-frame and actually see your shot pellets as they fly through the air.
“There’s a lot of things that that camera will teach you that you’re not aware of. That’s one of the beauties about that camera,” says Ash. “It streams in real time and when you look at it in real time, you’re going to realize that there’s a lot of extra movement in everybody. That’s the first thing everybody notices.”
Stewart and Ash encouraged us to watch the ShotKam videos real-time and frame-by-frame, looking for common errors such as diminishing lead between the bird and the reticle, which indicates that you did not match the speed of the bird; the crosshair being too high, which indicates that your head is off the gun; and whether or not the hold-point is on the line of the target.
What Comus discovered was that what he thought he was doing at the moment of the shot and what he actually was doing sometimes were two different things – very close to being the same, but different and different enough to make a significant difference in a multi-hundred-round tournament.
“It was interesting to see that some of things I thought I was doing right were actually being done right,” Comus said. “However, for me the difference between a solid hit and a miss is in the subtleties and in the fractions of a second at the moment of the shot. By changing my timing a tiny, tiny bit and by focusing just a little more precisely at the moment of the shot, the hits went from turning targets into chunks to turning them into dust. I had been tending to go to the target and then just let things happen at the final fraction of a moment. I was close enough to hit the targets, but not close enough to crunch them consistently (hitting on the edge of the pattern). Clay target competition truly is a ‘one target’ game in that one more broken target so often separates the winner from everyone else. So, anything that can help turn a near-hit into a hit is worth doing. Shotkam is a valuable tool for any shooter. And, the more serious a shooter is, the more valuable the information from Shotkam is.”
According to Stewart, many people have “eureka” moments using the ShotKam when they realize they’re doing such obvious things as holding nowhere near where they thought they were or always shooting high or low instead of in front of or behind the bird. When played back in slow motion, the ShotKam reveals important subtleties such as if you are consistently hitting with only a percentage of your pattern. Some radical score improvements can come from correcting target-line height instead of lead.
A ShotKam is ideal for anybody who wants to better their wingshooting and re-watching the videos imprints the correct sight-picture into your brain. “What we perceive when we trigger the shot on a moving target is not real because it happens in the periphery,” explains Ash. “What this does is it brings together what you think you’re doing with what you’re really doing. From that, however you perceived it can be adjusted so your shooting can be better each time.”
The ShotKam has a patented shock absorption system that reduces barrel vibration forces on the camera from 1,000 Gs to 25 Gs for smooth playback. To save battery life, an accelerometer actives the camera on closing the gun and you won’t need to worry about editing footage because the camera only saves footage when it detects recoil. Every shot is date and time stamped.
When using a ShotKam, the value of moving the gun the same speed as the bird will become clear — matching the speed slows everything down at that point of time. You’ll find that the smoother your swing, the more you’ll smoke the targets, and the ShotKam will show if your swing is smooth or not. It allows the brain to map a visual image of how you want the shot to come together. “It actually does show you what it looks like,” explains Ash. “It makes it easier for the brain to visualize what you’re about to do because the eyes don’t see, the brain sees, and you’ve got to train the brain to get the right information or interpret the data like you want it interpreted — and the ShotKam don’t lie.”–Scott Mayer