Question: Can you go over the process of picking where your eye should be during the pre-shoot routine and where the barrel should be? Should I look beyond the flight path? An instructor told me it’s better to focus way out than in because it takes one’s eyes longer to focus out than in.
Answer: The visual pick-up point is the spot along the target’s flight path at which the eyes should settle when the shooter is in the ready position and calls for the target. While there is no hard-and-fast rule, it is important to be intentional about your visual pick-up point.
What we know is this: 1) Planning and sticking to a specific visual pick-up point will improve consistency. 2) The speed at which different shooters are able to visually connect with a moving target is different from shooter to shooter. For example, the eyes of older shooters don’t merge with the target as quickly as those of younger shooters. 3) Research tells us that optimal focus on a moving object is best achieved when there is a smooth transition, or hand-off, between the peripheral vision and the central vision. This means that we must acquire the target at the visual pick-up point with our peripheral vision, then apply acute central vision focus to the target in order to most efficiently break it. Said another way, we must acquire the target with our peripheral vision and kill it with our acute central vision. The optimal visual pick-up point then is a spot along the target line where the peripheral vision can efficiently acquire the target and transition to acute focus without allowing the target to outrun the eyes.
Your instructor is correct in telling you to focus beyond the flight path because your eyes can more quickly refocus on a near object from far away than vice versa. I instruct my students to place their eyes just over the barrel for outgoing/incoming targets, 4 to 6 inches to the left or right of the barrel on quartering targets (toward the trap) and halfway between the barrel and the trap on crossing targets. In most cases, looking at the trap (focusing on the visual pick-up point with the central vision) will allow the target to outrun the eyes, causing an abrupt gun movement to the target. Acquiring the target at the ready position with your peripheral vision will visually slow the target down and promote superior visual focus at the break point.