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How do I point versus aim a shotgun?

Q:  I was a rifle shooter before I started shooting a shotgun, and I struggle with “pointing” vs. “aiming.” How can I get out of the habit of aiming? 

A:  Having grown up shooting and competing in small-bore rifle, I can sympathize.  Most shooters, with a little practice, will progress to a point where applying sharp visual focus to the target becomes natural.  There are two techniques I would recommend you employ to avoiding aiming.

First, increase the intensity of your focus.  Just as a batter tries to “see the threads” on a 90 mph fastball, the sporting clays shooter should focus on a very small part of the target, not the whole target.  Normally, this is the leading edge of the target at the breakpoint but on some targets, like the trap or quartering target, it might be the back edge of the target.  I like to tell my students to apply sharp visual focus to a piece of the target about the size of a dime.

Secondly, you might need to time your focus.  On a fast going-away trap target, you don’t have the luxury of time so timing your focus is neither advisable nor necessary.  For a long, high, incoming arcing target however, you have a long time to look at the target.  The human eye can’t hold intense focus on a target for more than about three seconds.  If you apply intense visual focus to a target too early in its flight path, your peripheral vision will tend to engage before the target reaches its breakpoint.  Time your focus so that your most intense visual focus engages just prior to and through the break point.  By focusing small and timing your focus, you will avoid engaging your peripheral vision and your hands will move to the target more precisely.

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