At this writing, Vicki and I have just returned from Argentina coaching shooters on doves and pigeons, which, if you have never done, you should do at least once. We will be in Bolivia between now and September 1 coaching on doves and pigeons in the same lodge. If any of you are thinking about making a trip like this, give us a call and go with us and we will coach you in the field and you will get better!
We have shooters come to us from all over the country not only to become top-ranked competitive shooters, but to become better wingshooters. Our October dates in Houston are always full of shooters who have been hunting but are embarrassed at their lack of proficiency, to put it mildly. They are eager to show us their bruises on their shoulders (which is actually their bicep) and we instantly know what has to be done to get them to improve their field percentage!
The most common misconception in wingshooting is that you can look down the barrel and aim the barrel three feet in front of the target, painted or feathered! When booking the lesson, we ask what seems to be the problem and, without exception, students all say they have trouble stopping their swing and getting the lead right. Some are cross-dominant, so they shoot with one eye closed.
To that, our first question is always, “Are you looking down the barrel when you shoot?” There is an eerie silence on the phone and then the response, “Well of course I’m looking down the barrel and no matter how far I lead the bird I always end up behind the bird and stopping my swing!” Sound familiar?
If we could sell a pill that a week after you take it would guarantee you would be able to shoot at least 60-70 percent on doves for the rest of your lives, or even just for this season, we would sell out in a week at any price! The unfortunate thing in the reality of skill building is you can’t buy a good tomato, a good marriage or a good wingshooting game because they all take dedicated time and work.
We see the new chokes, florescent bead sights, faster ammo so you don’t have to lead the bird as much, a new gun just like you buddy who can shoot better than anyone you know and all manner of gadgets that shooters buy just to try to shoot better and none of them will work.
Skill begins as a conscious image or thought, and then you think your way through the act in your short-term memory. Done often enough, the brain chunks together the different parts of the act until all parts become one. At that point, the action becomes a dedicated circuit in your brain and is passed on to your long-term memory. The more you fire the circuit, the better and more synchronous it becomes and the better you get at that particular skill. Skill with a shotgun comes down to one thing — time on target with the gun — and that has nothing to do with how well you understand what you are about to do or are trying to do.
In fact, our research as professional shooting coaches for 26 years shows that the more you think about what you are doing when shooting a shotgun at a moving target, the worse you will do!
So why does thinking while shooting at a moving target cause you to miss? Well if you are thinking, you are in your short-term memory which operates 1/3 of a second behind what you are doing. If the target were still, you could think your way through the aiming process and become relatively successful. But the target is moving, and you must see the target where it is and shoot where it will be. That process overwhelms the short-term memory, which can only handle about 40 bits of data per second. That is why it is so essential for you to practice your gun mount and the actual sight pictures required to hit a moving target with a shotgun before you take to the field to hunt!
This is perhaps the most frustrating thing for us when teaching wingshooting to new shooters. People will not put in the time it takes the learn to move and mount the gun. More than 95 percent of the dove hunters out there could not tell you what the sight picture looks like when shooting a left-to-right or right-to-left shot! This issue is compounded when, albeit well intentioned, the first shot the typical beginner is introduced to is a straight-away clay target that puts the gun and the target in the same place creating all the eye dominance problems.
The reason for that is the coach is more interested in getting a beginner to hit a target rather than teaching a new shooter what the separation between the gun and the bird actually looks like.
It is gonna take about 3,000 repetitions to really begin the process of learning how to move and mount the gun and begin to show the brain what the sight picture really looks like. While there is no app that represents a short cut to proficiency and consistency, there is one exercise that we have used for shooters all over the world and we can guarantee it will work provided you actually put in the time. The best part of this is that it is free, and you can do it at home.
Place two objects on a bookshelf about 15 inches apart and back up about 12 to 15 feet away from them. With an unloaded gun, look at the left object and mount the gun on the right object. This is the sight picture on a left-to-right target (eyes to the left of the barrel for right-handed shooters). Now look at the right object and mount the gun on the left object. This is the sight picture on a right-to-left target (eyes across the barrel for a right-handed shooter). Repeat until the confusion goes away.
Your brain is having to combine two retinal images into one that are 32″ in front of your nose while focusing on an object 30 yards away. This is very confusing in the beginning, but if you will practice this drill for 20 minutes a day for 21 days, it will look clear and the eye problems will go away. There are so many things that will happen to your ability to hit a moving object after you actually do this one simple drill, but you have to do the work to receive the reward.
Practicing the left-to-right and right-to-left sight picture is paramount to becoming a good wingshooter. As we mentioned earlier, when shooting a moving target, the thinking brain cannot respond or react fast enough to put the gun in the right place consistently. The unfortunate thing about building skill is that regardless of how well you understand what you must do, your ability to do so comes down to how many times you have done it successfully!
You can get your 3,000 reps by doing the drill we have mentioned above, or you can go to the sporting clays range and actually shoot your gun and begin to understand things such as seeing the target behind the muzzle, moving the muzzle the same speed as the target, what recoil is like, where your feet need to be, follow-through and how to correct from a miss. Like it or not, these are things that must be done enough times in order for you to shoot without thinking.
You hear a lot about gun fit and follow through and, while they are important, if the sight picture is correct and the muzzle speed is the same as the target’s speed and the gun mount is a little off, you have a better than average chance to hit the bird. Conversely, if the sight picture is WRONG, no amount of perfection in the gun fit, gun mount, foot position, follow through, choke selection or ammo selection will break the target!
As professional shooting coaches for 26 years we have to demonstrate breaking clays and birds with students’ guns that do not fit us! We will be the first to tell you that the two things that are the most important to having success with a shotgun on a moving target are the correct sight picture and adjusting the muzzle speed to the targets speed before you send the shot. When you combine a good practiced move and mount with a gun that reasonably fits the shooter with a clear practiced sight picture, good things happen in the field.
So, you have a choice to make. If you wait until a week before opening day to begin practicing the move mount and sight pictures, you will not experience much fun or success.–Gil and Vicki Ash