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Ask The Instructor: Loose Vs. Tight Focus

Question: What’s the difference between loose focus and tight focus, and when should you use each?

Answer: There are indeed two types of focus. Peripheral focus (or ambient focus) is characterized by relaxed eye muscles and provides for a wide field of view. We use ambient focus for reading, computer work and driving. It is the predominant mode for our eyes throughout our daily lives and under most circumstances. Acute focus (fovial or central vision focus) involves the conscious and intense contraction of your eye muscles to narrow your focal field of view. You are likely to use fovial focus when repairing a chain link necklace with very small links, assembling a small scale model or performing other close-up work. The relationship between peripheral and central focus, and the importance of athletes leveraging both when intercepting a moving target, has been extensively researched and well documented. In clay target sports, a shooter must use his or her peripheral vision (loose focus) at the visual pick-up point and, once the target is visually acquired, apply acute central vision focus through shot execution to kill the target.

If you have been shooting sporting clays for a number of years, you have likely noticed that your ability to visually acquire targets has improved over time. Once you get to a certain level of technical ability, much of your success will be determined by your ability to correctly employ both your peripheral and your central vision — your peripheral vision at the visual pickup point to acquire the target and your acute central vision focus through shot execution. One of the most common reasons for a miss is a lack of visual intensity on the target through the break point. This soft focus usually occurs because the shooter either fails to apply acute focus after initially acquiring the target or the shooter allows his acute focus to soften just prior to shot execution in order to “check” the lead. Acquiring clay targets with your peripheral vision and following through visually to kill the target are critical elements of success in clay target shooting.

Don Currie is NSCA’s Chief Instructor, an Orvis Wingshooting School instructor, and Master Class competitor. To get free shooting tips and videos, sign up for his monthly newsletter. You can also see more tips from Currie at

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