Secrets off the shoulder
Excising the cause of a miss (Part 2)
“Where was I on that target?” Following a miss, this is perhaps the most frequently asked question on the sporting clays course. As discussed in the last issue however, the “why” is infinitely more important than the “where”. Forged on the competition circuit and off the shoulder of countless aspiring sporting clays competitors, the information in this series will help you address the root causes of a miss.
In the last issue, we identified the five categories of causes for a missed target: 1) flawed FOCUS, 2) flawed MOVEMENT, 3) eye dominance issues, 4) gun fit issues, 5) insufficient target database. Having discussed flawed FOCUS in the last issue, we will delve into the subject of flawed MOVEMENT.
Movement is defined as the fluid, rhythmic and synchronized motion of the whole body, head, hands and gun as a single unit along the target line to the bird, culminating in the almost instantaneous discharging of the shotgun as sharp visual focus on the target is achieved and the gun mount to the cheek is completed. I call Movement the “focus multiplier”. If the movement of your shotgun (flow) with the target and the path of the gun barrel is appropriate for the target’s flight path, your ability to focus on the target at the breakpoint is actually multiplied. Conversely, your ability to achieve sharp visual focus on a target may be significantly handicapped if your Movement is not appropriate for the given target presentation. If you fail to achieve sharp visual focus (seeing detail) on a given target at the breakpoint, the reason may not be because you didn’t try hard enough to focus. In fact, it is just as likely that your deficient focus was the direct result of improper movement rather than insufficient effort. In other words, improper Movement to the target may have prevented you from seeing detail on the target at the breakpoint.
At the risk of concentrating too much on what not to do, let’s dissect the elements of proper Movement. The four essential elements of Movement are 1) Ready Position, 2) Forward hand moves first, 3) Head still, and 4) Move at a comfortable pace. We won’t get into detail here on Planning, as it has been covered under (“Shot Planning” and “The OPTIMAL Process®”). Let’s just say that pre-shot planning, visualization and rehearsal is critical to consistent shot execution. That brings us to Ready Position: the starting point of your body, eyes and gun as you call for the targets. The disciplined conduct of pre-shot planning will provide you with the following critical information: visual definition of the target lines, the breakpoints, the hold points and the visual pick-up points. The Ready Position has three elements: Stance (the positioning of your feet and balance), Draw Length (the distance between the top of the comb and the cheek ledge at the moment you call for the target), and barrel orientation (horizontal hold point as well as the vertical angle of your barrel in relationship to the target line).
Stance – The toe of the lead foot should be roughly oriented to the break point or slightly to the inside with the heel of the trail foot within 10 inches of the heel of the lead foot and at a comfortable angle. For a pair of targets, the toe of the lead foot should be oriented to the left-most breakpoint (for right handers) or right-most breakpoint (for “southpaws”). Your weight should be evenly distributed on both feet such that you can rotate your body from the ankles with little or no tension through each of the two breakpoints. Most common flaws: 1) establishing a stance that is too closed (with the outside of the lead foot oriented toward the break point), resulting in a dipping of the shoulder at the end of the movement, 2) spreading the feet too far apart, limiting your ability to rotate to each breakpoint without dipping the shoulders, and 3) Improper balance with the weight distributed too far forward or too far back.
Draw Length – Similar to your horizontal hold point, the distance between the comb of the shotgun and your cheek when you call for the target will vary and depend on a number of factors including the length of the target’s flight line, the window of opportunity you have to engage the target, the speed of the target and the precision required. As a general rule, I recommend using a full draw (comb on the “nipple line”) for long crossers or other long-window targets, a pre-mounted (zero draw) for trap-like targets, and a half draw (somewhere in between) for quartering targets and everything else in between. (Of course, if you are shooting FITASC, you don’t have a choice). There are any number of exceptions to these basic guidelines, but these are the starting points I recommend using for planning purposes. Most common flaws: 1) Draw length too short, diminishing the ability of the eye to pick up and focus on the target, 2) Draw length too long leading to inefficient movement through the breakpoint.
Barrel orientation – The orientation of your gun barrel, both horizontally (the hold point) and vertically (elevation of the barrel at the ready position) will vary greatly depending on the line and character of the particular target. The correct barrel orientation for a given target should put you in a starting position that, a) enables you to achieve the appropriate flow or synchronization with the target to generate the right amount of gun speed, b) enables you to raise the comb to the cheek and the barrel to the target line with both hands working equally and together, avoiding any teetering of the barrel or encroachment of the target line by the muzzle. Most common flaws: 1) Starting with the gun too close to the trap, generating excessive gun speed (especially on quartering or trap-like targets). 2) Starting with the gun too close to the break point, resulting in either inadequate gun speed (or in an irregular movement in which the barrel moves back toward the target when the target is first launched then reverses course back to the break point — aka, the “Zorro move”), 3) Barrel orientation too high, resulting in a barrel wobble as the muzzle is lowered and then raised again to the target line and break point.
Once pre-shot planning is complete, and the proper ready position is established, the only thing between you and a dead pair goes back to the definition of Movement: the fluid, rhythmic and synchronized motion of the whole body, head, hands and gun as a single unit along the target line to the bird, culminating in the almost instantaneous discharging of the shotgun as sharp visual focus on the target is achieved and the gun mount to the cheek is completed. Presuming that you have closely studied the targets during pre-shot planning, all you have to do is achieve good “pace” of “flow” with the target and apply sharp visual focus to the target just prior to and through the breakpoint while keeping the head still and the front hand leading the gun to the target. Insure that you move the gun barrel along a path that keeps the rib below the target line so that your eye can focus on the target without occlusion. Your gun should come up to the line and breakpoint with both hands working equally and together with all of the weight of the gun in your hands. Most common flaws: 1) the trigger hand overpowers the front hand, causing the butt of the gun to rise faster than the muzzle, resulting in a see-saw motion, 2) movement of the barrel is out of synchronization with the target, 3) excessive head movement, interrupting sharp visual focus on the target, or 4) movement of the muzzle is too close to the target line, thus occluding the shooter’s line of sight to the target just prior to and through the breakpoint. This last one is commonly referred to as “spoiling the line” and is often caused by “riding the target”. Spoiling the line is one of the most common flaws that prevent shooters from seeing the target clearly, particularly on straight-line crossers or targets that transition or descend at the break point.
Remember, where you missed a target is an irrelevant and often destructive piece of information. It’s the why that’s important. Analyze the targets and be disciplined about your pre-shot planning process. Establish a solid ready position, being intentional and consistent about where your eyes and gun will be when calling for the targets. As the target is launched and you start your move, let the front hand move first, keep the head still move at an appropriate pace… while moving upward to the breakpoint on descending targets. As your visual focus reaches a crescendo and the comb reaches your cheek, you pull the trigger. Another dead pair.
© Don Currie – 2014