Don introduces FAITH as a critical element in breaking sporting clays targets. The instant visual focus is achieved, and without any conscious awareness of the barrel, the shooter must know that the target will break and have the faith to pull the trigger.
(Appeared in the June-July issue of ClayShooting USA, p. 98.)
By Don Currie
How do Christians know they are going to heaven when they die?
How do sporting clays shooters break targets without knowing where the gun muzzle is in relationship to the target?
Both of these seemingly unrelated questions have the same answer: By Faith. The answer is so simple yet it eludes many for years, and some for a lifetime.
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines Faith as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof” and “complete trust.”
Faith, as the third principal in the Focus-Movement–Faith system, is the steadfast belief and trust in your innate ability to break a moving clay target with a shot-shell pellet stream while focusing exclusively and singularly on the target, without any perception of forward allowance or awareness of the barrel-target relationship. Another element of Faith, which we will discuss later, is possessing a high level of confidence in your ability to successfully execute your target engagement plan.
If you focus exclusively on the target, how are you going to make sure that the barrel is in the right place to break the target? It seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? It defies logic, particularly if you are a practiced rifle shooter or perhaps “cut your teeth” on the skeet field, where target speeds and trajectories are predicable. What about “lead”? What about all the videos and books you have purchased advocating different methods of calculating lead and estimating distance and speed?
The Moses of wing shooting, Robert Churchill, in his 1955 quintessential work “Game Shooting” wrote that “it is high time that the whole allowance system was deposited in the wastepaper basket. It is not practical, and it establishes an entirely false foundation of thought at the back of the shooter’s mind.” He further said that you should “glue your eyes to [the target], focus it, and see nothing else.” He implored the shooter to “keep your eye on the bird, forget all you ever knew and heard about the thousands of different allowances and the thousands of varieties of shots and let your eye and the natural overthrow of the gun take care of everything else.”
Can Churchill’s theory be proven scientifically? No, not exactly. It is a known fact that the human eye can not focus simultaneously on two or more objects at varying distances. That being the case, it is impossible to focus on the barrel and target simultaneously. Even if it were physically feasible, the limitless combinations of terrain, target type, trajectory and speed inherent in sporting clays, make the counter-theory of “measuring lead” a sure path to frustration. When playing the outfield in baseball, do you focus on your mitt when trying to catch a fly ball? In golf, do you keep your eye on the club head during your swing? So why would you look at the end of your gun when trying to intercept a moving clay target with your shot stream?
Churchill’s “method” has been practiced and faithfully employed by the giants in game shooting, and later sporting clays, for over a century. Absent the scientific proof, most of Churchill’s followers (this author included) have elevated Churchill’s theory to the status of “essential truth” having tested and rejected the alternatives. I don’t know of one of the immortals of game shooting or sporting clays, from the days of the glass ball target to present, who successfully employed a measurement system for applying forward allowance and breaking targets. Not one of them routinely measured the gap between the barrel and the target or considered the barrel-target relationship as part of their engagement system. It might sell videos, but it doesn’t work.
Sure, you can get away with “checking” the barrel here and there on closer or less technical targets. But more often than not, an attempt to check the barrel-target relationship or to simultaneously focus on both the barrel and the target results in a diffusion or softening of visual target focus, a loss of synchronization with the target and an almost certain miss.
I always get a chuckle out of listening to shooters attempt to determine the measured lead for a specific target. Perceived lead is irrelevant. Comparing notes on measured lead with squad mates is a waste of time. Even worse, it is harmful, places a false idea in your mind and increases the chances of a miss. If, after you engage a target, you have any notion of your forward allowance, you were not sufficiently focused on the target and your Faith and Focus likely wavered. Even if a shooter’s Movement is perfectly synchronized with the target and Focus is sharp, a lack of Faith can cause a last minute check of the barrel-target relationship…and a miss. In some cases, the last-minute check of the barrel with your peripheral vision can be subconscious. You didn’t plan to check. It just happened. The best cure for this is positive self-talk and the use of mental cues just prior to calling for the target. Tell yourself, and know in your conscious mind, that if your Focus on the target is sharp and timed correctly (see Part 1), the target will break. This is the essence of Faith.
Another aspect of Faith is confidence in your shot plan and your abilities. As discussed in Part 2 of this series (on Movement), it is essential that you establish a plan for engaging each target pair prior to stepping into the station. Once your plan is developed, it is critical that you have absolute Faith in your plan and that your abilities are sufficient to break the targets. Lanny Basham, an Olympic Champion and now CEO of Mental Management Systems, correctly points out that there is both a technical and mental aspect to the sport, both of which are critical elements of peak performance. While it may sound as if we are delving into the subject of sports psychology, “the mental game” is beyond the scope of this series. I encourage my students who want to compete at a higher level to turn to Lanny’s book “With Winning in Mind,” his accompanying CD series and Dr. Bob Rotella’s book “The Golfer’s Mind” for a more in-depth examination of the mental aspect of competing in a self-timed sport like sporting clays, skeet or trap. If you are serious about competing and winning at sporting clays, you should also engage an instructor who is a student and teacher of the mental game.
To the uninitiated, this sounds like voodoo, but the top performers in the sport all know these fundamentals well. Whenever I first introduce a student to their innate ability to break a target while having no awareness of the barrel-target relationship, they are flabbergasted. They can’t believe that it actually works. They are surprised when the target breaks. At that seminal moment, they have had their first taste of Faith.
I am a true believer and a “Churchill fundamentalist.” Do you need strong Faith to enjoy sporting clays? No. Similar to a joyful atheist, it is quite possible for a shooter who lacks Faith to eek out an existence perhaps even gleaning years of pleasure from our sport, while “measuring” every target. For other more committed shooters, Faith may be the final missing piece of the puzzle. You won’t wake up one day with an abundance of Faith. It is a gradual process. Each time you engage your Faith and achieve positive results, your confidence and your Faith will build.
In Part 4, the final article in the series, we will pull it all together and explore the relationship between Focus, Movement and Faith. By employing these three principles, you will break more targets and transform your game.
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