“When shooting a moving target, you have one of two choices it is either here it comes or there it goes,” — Brian Ash
You are either anticipating the target’s arrival or you are reacting to what the target is doing! When you are anticipating the target’s arrival you are in control and already ahead of the target. But when you are reacting to the target, you are reacting to where the target is and inevitably will find yourself behind, even if you are ahead.
You see, in our game, you can be ahead and behind at the same time by not being ahead far enough to hit the target. That leads to the confusion and visual anomalies of what shooters think they see when shooting a moving target, especially when they focus on the lead.
When you are focused on getting the lead right, or adjusting the lead at the end of the shot, you are thinking, and the thinking part of the brain functions 300 ms behind real time. By the time you have adjusted, the lead is wrong. Even if you hit the target, you would have needed to lead it as much as 50 percent more in order to hit it to make up for the lag time that occurred while the thinking part of the brain processed the shot. When you are thinking, you are in short-term memory and all your skill is in your long-term memory. When you are thinking you are stinking! Let’s all agree on the fact that you can’t be thinking and performing at the same time.
When reacting, you tend to hurry and think your way through the sequence because you are reacting to what the target is doing where you see it. We see shooters closing their gun and calling pull with their eyes and gun muzzle right on the trap, without even giving what they are about to do a second thought.
As the target emerges, it is a streak at best, and when the shooter called for the target, they were behind it before it even came out of the machine! In a panic, shooters chase the target down from behind trying desperately to fix the shot at the end and they wonder why they never experience consistency or improvement even though they “practice” all the time.
If you shoot without a detailed visual program of the shot you are about to take before you call “pull,” you are destined to always be shooting with your short-term memory and not experience much improvement, if any, and certainly not any consistency.
We are finding out that practice is perhaps the most valuable, and at the same time most wasted, tool in our game of shooting a moving target with a shotgun. Shooters shoot a lot and think they are practicing, but all they are practicing is loading the gun and calling pull.
You have two kinds of memory, long-term and short-term. Short-term memory is great for remembering a phone number until you write it down, but it is designed to be used and then forgotten. It is very inefficient at controlling the sequential firing of complex circuits in the brain. The short-term memory can be aware of and orchestrate 40 bits of data per second. Long-term memory can be aware of and orchestrate 11,000,000 bits of data per second. Long-term memory is where all your skill is stored, and that part of your memory is virtually infinite and can orchestrate extremely large and complex circuits in the brain, which is why all your skill is stored in your long-term memory.
Skill begins as short-term memory and, after the circuit is fired enough and begins to happen without you thinking, it shifts over to long-term memory. A perfect illustration of this is getting into your iPhone. When you got your first iPhone, there were no instructions and you fumbled your way through trial and error (short-term memory) into learning how to use it. Now when you get a new phone, it takes little or no time until you are operating it with ease and no thought.
You learned how to use your first phone in short-term memory until you had used it exactly the same way over and over enough times that your brain began to do it without thinking. At that point, the act was passed over to your long-term memory as a skill.
In the same way, “how” you practice must eventually become repetition of the same sequence, the same way over and over every time you load the gun and call pull. Practice without visualizing the shot in detail like a movie showing the way you want the shot to happen before you close the gun and call pull is doing nothing to build skill and long-term memory.
When you combine visually preloading the shot like a movie and executing your shot according to your preload, and breaking the target like you intended to, then you begin to build long-term memory. Eventually you must begin to be more specific with how you want the shot to come together. Then, only through deliberate practice with a visual preload will you become consistent.
Consistent results are a result of a consistent approach. And if you plan the shot correctly and in detail, you can shoot without thinking, which is where we all want to be anyway.
When anticipating, you are never hurried and are in control of the situation! Anticipation without a plan becomes a reaction! There is a circuit in your visual cortex that is constantly anticipating 300 ms ahead of where you are, and you use it every day.
It knows more about you, your timing and balance and abilities than you do. The neurologists tell us we have found a way to allow for this circuit to take care of the lead on moving targets, and that it will do it with amazing consistency provided the target comes to the lead! The instant the target gets inside the lead, you are reacting to the target and you switch from long-term memory to short-term memory and begin to try to fix the shot.
The other unique thing we are finding in our research is that if you are too far in front of the target, as you begin to adjust gun speed to target speed, the brain slows everything down and fixes the lead. But if you let the target get too close, it can’t push the gun farther out.
When the target gets too close to the gun, such that it is inside the lead, the gun is in the way of the brain seeing where it needs to be. The brain sees the gun ahead of the bird, and gives the command to send the shot. But the shot will miss behind and the shooter will have this empty feeling because the shot looked right. How many times has it “looked right but did not break”?
The only way this circuit, located in an area called V5 in your visual motor cortex, can anticipate ahead of a moving target is to have an unobstructed view of the target and where it will be in the future. The calculation is based on where it has been similar to points in a graph. Once you have a few points in the graph, the brain projects where it will be in the future, and this computation continues unless the gun gets in the way.
Since the positioning points arrive at the same timing interval, as our targets slow down the points get closer together. That allows for the constant updating of the lead in the shot. The interesting thing is that the distance between the dots ends up being the correct lead and, as the target slows down, the distance between the dots gets smaller due to the speed of the target. Two things create lead in a shot, distance and speed, and of the two, speed creates more lead than distance. We can set up a high hovering crow at 50 yards and you can shoot almost right at it and hit it and then set a 20-0yard middi at 50 mph and you will need to be well in front of it.
Seeing the targets farther and farther behind the barrel and watching them as they come to you, as you sync the muzzle speed to the bird’s speed, one of the first things you become aware of is that there is no argument in your brain!
Argument comes from the target getting too close to the barrel when left brain says, “It’s too close push out!” to which the right brain asks, “How far?” to which the left brain replies “I don’t know” to which the right brain says “try this!” to which the left brain says, “OK I’m sending it!” The shot is taken, and the target is missed. This conversation takes about 1/4 to 1/2 of a second and is followed by any number of words that for some reason all end in hard consonants! The absence of the argument, and the detailed visualization of how you want the shot to come together, allow for you to access your long-term memory and not think while the target is in the air. We see shooters who are trying to “not see the barrel” or trying to “not think,” and they continue to fail because you can’t “not think,” and the barrel is part of the picture.
How do you visualize not seeing something? When the paradigm shift occurs in your brain from trying to get the gun in front of the target to always seeing the target behind the barrel, then you will be able to access the anticipation circuit in your brain and the targets will really slow down. Combine that with always visualizing how you want the shot to come together like a movie, and you will find that your practice will begin to build long-term memory and skill.–Gil and Vicki Ash