You know what they say – Practice makes Perfect
There is no better way to improve your shooting technique than by practicing at home with an empty gun. Needless to say the gun should be empty – check it! Always use a snap cap to protect the firing pin from damage. PLEASE make sure it is a snap cap and not a live shell as this tends to spoil the décor and upset the wife! And whilst we are on the subject always take the extra precaution of aiming at something inanimate even if life might be quieter.
A very useful practice routine is that of strapping a thin beam torch to the barrel and then practice mounting, singing left to right and vice versa whilst looking at the light. If you do this in a fairly dark room it will do is help you perfect a smooth swing.
Another very useful practice exercise involves a tall mirror and an orange dot. The exercise requires you to mount the gun whilst looking at the orange dot, then checking the gun to see if you are looking along the rib. After a while (maybe a week or so) you should be able to mount the gun with your eyes closed and end up looking along the rib and be on the dot.
Try repeating each exercise 10 – 15 times each as often as you want, you will be amazed at the difference it makes.
Where and How to Pick out your Target
It never ceases to amaze me just how many people don’t look for the target’s flight or even know how to look for the target. What do I mean by this? I see a lot of shooters waiting for the target to come into their field of vision as opposed to looking at the trap and following its flight from there. The advantages of looking at the trap or at least the direction from which the target s coming from is that it gives you more time to assess the flight path and it’s speed, this in turn gives you more time to mount and get a bead on the target.
The next section has been extracted from Dr. Vickers’ excellent article, “A Quiet Eye” [Golf Digest, January 2004]. Dr. Joan Vickers is a professor and director in kinesiology at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Although the study was written primarily for golfers I have applied it to shooting as there a many parallels.
The Quiet Eye Phenomenon
Dr.Vickers has been a pioneer in the identification, study and measurement of the Quiet Eye phenomenon in sports performance. You can access the original article here.
Why it is that shooting consistently high scores is so difficult for so many shooters? Almost anyone can learn to mount the gun and determine the lead in an acceptable manner. The difficulty lies in using your eyes to detect the right information about distance, speed and direction at the right time, then using your mind to relay that information to consistently make the shot string and target collide.
By recording data under laboratory conditions (using sophisticated eye-movement tracker technology, which allows us to monitor precisely what the eye focuses on and for how long) the mystery of what separates really good competitors from the rest is beginning to be figured out. We call it the Quiet Eye; here’s what it is and how you develop it.
The Quiet Eye occurs when your gaze remains absolutely still at the target pick-up point just before and as the target is called for and the gun move is initiated. There are two important aspects of this basic yet essential skill: location and duration. Concerning location, the shooter must determine his target pick-up point (look point) with precision. It must be on the line of the target, and the look point must be identified with a very small feature in the background of the scene.
Quiet Eye duration is also important. The expert shooters have a Quiet Eye duration of 2+ seconds on average, while less skilled shooters hold the gaze for less than one second. The same results have been found in a number of other sports, including rifle shooting, darts, billiards and basketball free throws. In all of the self-initiated target sports, the Quiet Eye is emerging as the primary indicator of optimal focus and concentration.
This QE period is essential because your hands are controlled by your brain. The brain gets valuable information from your eyes. As you shoot, your brain needs to organize more than 100 billion neuron networks that are informed by your gaze and then control your hands, arms and body as the shot is performed. These networks will stay organized for only a short period of time; a window of opportunity opens that must be used when it is at its most optimal. This is the QE period. The notion of being in The Zone or of “flow” in sport has been around for a long time. Until now, there has been only unscientific evidence that The Zone exists, let alone has measurable characteristics.
Perhaps the Quiet Eye will emerge as one of the objective measures. The Quiet Eye is the glue that keeps neurons from being scrambled when under stress. It supplies the right information at the right time. Overall, the Quiet Eye has the essence of simplicity alluded to when the shooter is in The Zone. More research will tell. In the meantime, QE is something you can learn and add to your game today.
Clean Chokes are Vital
Without a doubt dirty chokes will affect your shot pattern. Screw in chokes suffer from a build up of plastic and carbon caused by repeated firing but if you take the time to clean them out after every shoot you will reduce any negative effects dramatically. I use Slip 2000 choke tube cleaner as it does a great job. Let the chokes saok for a while, (time depends on how bad they are), and then give them a go with a bore brush, followed up by a clean rag and some gun oil. Don’t forget to use some custom choke tub grease, I use Hoppe’s Gun Grease on the threads to make sure they thread nice and smoothly. Not doing this might cause them to get stuck.
Staying in the gun is Different to Follow through
Staying in the gun is different to follow through. It is quite possible to have a good follow through but not stay in the gun or have a poor follow through but stay in the gun. So what is the difference?
Follow through means exactly that, following through as you squeeze the shot off. Staying in the gun refers to your head position throughout the whole shooting process. You should keep you head still and in the correct position in relation to the stock from the moment you pick up the target to a time after you shoot. This is more important when you are shooting multiple targets. Applying this simple discipline reduces the chance of missing the second target. It is a very good habit to get into and can be practiced at home.
However fixing this problem takes someone who knows what they are looking for. Always seek expert help as it is far less painful in the long run.
Trains Planes & Auto-mobiles or Rifles, Pistols and Shotguns
There a many differences between these gun types but the most obvious is the type of shot. With rifles and handguns you only have one bullet whereas a shotgun can shoot hundreds of pellets per shot. In addition when shooting with a shotgun the target is usually free flying with a maximum of one or two targets. Also the type of target can differ and so can the trajectory and speed. Without a doubt there are a lot of variables.
But it’s not just the characteristics of the guns that differ, even the way in which you shoot has to change. For example when shooting a rifle or pistol many people close their non-active eye and focus is usually on the front sight with the target slightly out of focus. To be accurate with a rifle you have to be in complete control of your breathing and trigger release.
Shooting a shotgun is completely different. Most people keep both eyes open, thus making it easier to judge the speed and flight path of the target. The target remains in focus whilst you look along the rib which is not the primary focus. You are aiming at an area and have multiple shot with which to hit the target. The emphasis is more on a smooth swing, remaining in the gun and following through. I have been through stance, forward allowance etc. in previous articles.