In the fourth and final part of this well-known series, which later evolved into Amazon’s highest rated sporting clays DVD, Don pulls together the three elements of FOCUS, MOVEMENT and FAITH, and describes how each element impacts the others.
(Appeared in the August-September Issue of ClayShootingUSA Magazine)
By Don Currie
In my pursuit of higher scores, I’ve taken lessons from many of the biggest names in the sport: Wendell Cherry, John Woolley, Bill Maguire, Bobby Fowler and others. But it was Bill Kempffer, friend and owner of Deep River Sporting Clays, NSCA Level III instructor and avid wing shooter, who handed me “The Holy Grail” last year.
The Focus-Movement-Faith System that he shared with me doesn’t replace the lessons, the thousands of targets or years of experience in the sport. It does however provide a break-through roadmap that distills all the basic principles of clay target sports and wing shooting down to just three elements. The system has its roots in Robert Churchill’s “Instinctive Method” of game shooting. More importantly for competitors, the Focus-Movement-Faith System allows the shooter to self-diagnose and attribute a miss to one or more of these three elements while still in the stand, preventing further accumulation of zeros on the scorecard. In the previous three parts in this series, we dissected each of the three elements. In this fourth and final part, rather than rehashing what we’ve already covered, we will look at how Focus, Movement and Faith relate to each other and how taking one or more for granted can result in a miss. Speaking of misses…if you missed any of the previous three parts in this series, you can dig them out of your magazine rack or find them at www.DonCurrie.com under the Tips and Techniques section.
Fo + M + Fa = X
It’s not a chemical compound. It’s the formula for a broken target: Sharp Focus just prior to and through the breakpoint combined with sound Movement, mount and synchronization with the target, topped off with a stalwart Faith in Churchill’s principle of forward allowance, your shot plan and your abilities. Together, they equal Xs on the scorecard.
So what’s the formula for a miss? The good news is, disaster can be averted while still in the stand, by evaluating your Focus, Movement and Faith to determine which one(s) might have failed you. The bad news is, there is more than one way to miss.
(M + Fa) – Fo = 0 [Flawed Focus]
Did you see detail on the target? Did you “focus small”? Did you apply sharp focus too soon or for too long? Proper visual Focus actually maintains target alignment during your move with the target. It can possibly even overcome an otherwise flawed Movement or wavering Faith. Churchill put it best when he said that the shooter’s eye should be “fully occupied with the bird, and, if he holds his gun properly, he will hit whatever he is looking at.” Your focus must be exclusively on the target, with no perception of the barrel-target relationship. Conscious sight pictures and measuring lead do not work. If, after breaking a target, you think you know what the lead is, you were not sufficiently focused on the target and your perception of lead is a false one. Furthermore, for closer targets or those showing belly or face, focusing on the whole target is not sufficient. You must see detail on the target and “focus small,” typically on the leading edge or rings of the target. Failing to apply focus to a small point on the target can cause your focus to diffuse, your awareness to shift to the barrel and your shot string to miss the target.
Timing your focus is also critical. Your strongest visual focus on a target should be just prior to and through the break-point. If you focus on a target too early in its flight path, your eye may not be able to sustain sharp focus through the break point. As a result, your focus will diffuse, you will become conscious of the barrel-target relationship, your barrel will fall out of sync with the target and you will miss. In the case of a long incoming target for example, be patient. Avoid applying sharp visual focus until the target approaches the break-point. While Focus is perhaps the most important of the three principles, it is somewhat dependant on the other two.
(Fo + Fa) – M = 0 [Flawed Movement]
Once practiced and perfected, the execution of your movement should be subconscious and guided by proper visual focus. As discussed in Part II, Movement starts with a good pre-shot planning process in which you map your target line across the background and identify your visual pick-up point, hold points and break points. While this may sound like a lot of work, it is this hard work outside the box that builds sufficient confidence to allow your subconscious to take over inside the box.
A frequently misunderstood principle of Movement is the importance of alignment with the target line and synchronization with the target. It is not enough to just “move.” The movement of body and gun as one unit must be in perfect flow and synchronization with the target just prior to and through the breakpoint. If your gun barrel is out of alignment with the target line at the hold point, it is more likely that your barrel will be moving at a different angle from the target line through the breakpoint.
Movement and Focus are highly interdependent elements. Wendell Cherry said it best: “A shooter’s visual focus is controlled by how accurately the gun mount mirrors the flight of the bird. The entire length of the gun, from muzzle to heel, must be in perfect rhythm with the target all the way to the face and shoulder letting the eyes stay on the target. If the gun is moving faster than the target, the shooter’s focus will be uncontrollably pulled away from the target.” In short, Movement that is out of sync with the target will negatively affect Focus.
(Fo + M) – Fa = 0 [Lack of Faith]
Lack of Faith can and will affect both Focus and Movement. Of the three elements, Faith is perhaps the most difficult to master. Because it is so difficult, it takes most shooters a long time to learn how to control it. When does Faith most often fail? Anytime: In competition, when trying to shoot a target with which you often have difficulty, when shooting better than you think you should, when you see a shooter in front of you shooting a true pair in a way that differs from the way you were going to shoot it and when you try not to miss. When you call for the bird, do you have complete Faith in your ability to hit the target while having no perception of the barrel-target relationship?
As in life, the greater your Faith, the less likely it is that you will be tempted. In my experience both shooting and coaching, one of the most common causes of a miss is a last-second check of the barrel-target relationship. Lack of Faith can also cause your muscles to tighten and your Movement to stiffen or stop. It can cause you to move your break points out and shift your hold points back closer to the trap. Most importantly however, it will cause your visual focus to diffuse and your attention to be drawn away from the target.
While Focus and Movement can be controlled physically, controlling Faith, confidence or trust delves into the realm of sports psychology. A solid, consistent and unwavering pre-shot routine is one of the keys to achieving Faith consistently. There is a ton of written material on this subject, of which I have read a good portion. I even went so far as to consult a sport psychologist…but that’s another story.
It’s tournament day. You are at the shooting station, waiting for your turn in the box. You conduct your pre-shot planning. You map the target lines and carefully select your visual pick-up point, hold points and break points. You step into the station, orienting your stance to the breakpoints. You visualize yourself breaking the pair. You take a deep breath and exhale. You move your gun to the hold point with your barrel oriented on the target line.
Your work is done. It’s all instinct from here. Make Churchill proud. “PULL”
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© 2010 – Don Currie – All rights reserved.