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Secrets off the shoulder: Excising the Cause of a Miss (Part 3)

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Secrets off the shoulder

Excising the cause of a miss (Part 3)

(Target “database”, Eye Dominance and Gun fit)

“Where was I on that target?”  Following a miss, this is perhaps the most frequently asked question on the sporting clays course.  As we discussed, however, the “why” we are missing a particular target is infinitely more important than “where” we are missing the target.  Knowing that you were behind a particular target for example, is not as important as knowing the cause of the miss.  Shooting behind the target is a symptom.  Diagnosing and excising the cause of the miss however, is the surest path to success.

In the last two installments of this series, we discussed flawed visual focus and flawed movement as potential causes of a miss, to include stance, barrel orientation, gun mount and gun movement.  One other easily explainable miss is the one attributed to “insufficient target database”.  It’s the sporting clays equivalent of “shock and awe”.  Ask someone who went to the National Championship last year to tell you about the 60-yard quartering away midi from the 50-foot tower.  I had never seen nor shot a target like that.  There is only one cure for insufficient target database: shoot more.  Go to big tournaments where the variety and difficulty of the targets will expand your target database.  That leaves us with the two remaining causes of a miss.  I saved the best causes, or perhaps the most difficult-to-diagnose causes, for last.  Misses caused by improper Gun Fit and Eye Dominance anomalies are perhaps the most difficult to diagnose for two reasons: they masquerade as other causes such as flawed focus, and they are almost impossible to diagnose without a seasoned instructor or gun fitter off the shoulder.

For illustration purposes, let’s assume you are a right-handed shooter and consistently missing high and behind a particular left-to-right crosser.  Your shooting buddy tells you that you are stopping the gun and missing behind.  What do you do on the next pair?  Just keep swinging through the break point.  Right?  Not really.  The cause (or why?) of stopping your shotgun may be attributed to any number of flaws including, a) visually checking the barrel prior to shot execution, b) spoiling or occluding the target line, c) improper gun movement, or d) improper mount.  And this names just a handful that we discussed previously in this series.  Now, enter gun fit and eye dominance.  We have now exponentially increased the possible explanations for this type of miss.  At this point, self-diagnosis for any shooter, whether E Class or Master, is nearly impossible and engaging the services of a competent instructor or gun fitter is well advised.

Eye Dominance

The top tier shooters in our sport, with few exceptions, are solidly dominant in one eye and shoot from the side of their dominant eye.  While there is no specific study to back this up, the statistics I’ve gathered on my students indicate that about 21% of the population is solidly dominant in one eye or the other, with the remainder having some degree of anomaly such as being center-ocular, co-dominant or having some degree of center ocular shift.  Many shooters with eye dominance anomalies shoot amazingly well.  Others have the potential to progress much further with their shooting performance and the only thing standing in their way is a couple of hours with an instructor knowledgeable about eye dominance anomalies.   Simply put, and without getting into a lot of technical detail for which there is a plethora of available supporting science, your dominant eye controls the movement of your hands and gun to the target.  If, for example, you are solidly dominant in your right eye and you are shooting off your right shoulder, then your hands and gun will respond to the images captured by the right eye and the impulses sent from your brain to your hands and arms will be from the perspective of your shooting eye.  If your eye dominance status is something other than solidly right eye dominant (again, assuming you are shooting right handed) then the impulses from your brain to your body may be feeding off visual interference from the non-shooting eye.  These anomalies may result in your non-shooting eye influencing the sub-conscious placement of the gun during shot execution usually causing a miss to the left (for the right-handed shooter).  So how do you know if you have one of these visual anomalies? For the “do-it-yourselfer”, most self-tests for eye dominance will only tell you whether you are “more right-eye dominant” or “more left-eye dominant” but will not detect center-ocular tendencies or co-dominance.  If you are thinking that your optometrist or ophthalmologist might be a good resource, think again.  There are a select few sports-vision specialists that are experts but, in my experience, few understand how eye-dominance anomalies relate to a particular pattern of target-misses in clay target sports.  There are a number of tests and tools that an experienced instructor can use to assess and correct for these anomalies, but the tests alone won’t tell the whole story.  The degree to which the non-shooting eye interferes with a shooter’s sub-conscious gun movement will vary greatly from person-to-person and even target-to-target!  To complicate things even further, if a knowledgeable instructor were to test you for eye dominance and the results of the test alone indicated that you were right-eye dominant with some center ocular tendencies, this anomaly may or may not negatively affect your shooting.  Only after testing you AND watching you shoot on a variety of target presentations, should your instructor consider some type of “occlusion” such as a dot or small patch.

Gunfit:

In shotgunning, unlike rifle and pistol shooting, proper eye-barrel alignment is achieved naturally as you apply sharp visual focus to the target.  Proper eye-barrel alignment is felt and should not be visually verified using the front and rear sights, as you would in rifle shooting.  When, during your well-executed gun mount, the comb of your “well-fitting” shotgun makes contact with your lower cheek ledge, the gun will shoot where your eye is looking.  By “well-fitting “shotgun we mean that, as the shot is delivered, the entire iris portion of the eye (colored portion) floats just atop and centered on the top of the rib.  A patterning board is a vital tool for gunfitters, and I use mine for every gun fitting.  It can easily show the point of impact (POI) of your shot pattern in comparison to your point of focus.  If the eye of a right-handed shooter is off-center to the left (to the inside), then the stock is said to have insufficient cast and the point of impact will be to the left of where the shooter is looking (the focal point).  If the eye is too far to the right of the center of the rib (to the outside), then the stock is said to have too much cast and the point of impact will be to the right of the focal point.  If the eye is too high over the rib (drop at comb too slight), the point of impact will similarly be over top of the focal point.  A strange thing happens, however, when the shooter’s pupil falls below the rib (excessive drop-at-comb) as the mount is completed, particularly on transitioning, crossing or descending targets.  In this situation, the shooter’s line of sight with the target is momentarily blocked.  The target is occluded just before the shot is executed and the non-shooting eye takes over causing a loss of barrel speed and a miss to the inside.  In all cases where I have seen this type of gun fit anomaly plague a shooter, the shooter is completely unaware that he or she is breaking the connection between the eye and the target.  In additional to using a patterning board as a diagnostic tool, any fitter worth his salt will also watch you engage actual clay targets because shooters tend to apply more cheek pressure to the comb when they are engaging actual targets than when they are shooting a patterning board.  Having your instructor observe you while engaging a variety of target presentations, in addition to the patterning board, will usually expose any variation in mount mechanics.

What makes eye dominance anomalies and subtle gun fit issues so difficult to diagnose?  From the instructor’s point of view, from behind the gun, a target missed high and behind may look the same whether the cause is lack of focus, improper movement, insufficient faith, gun fit issues or eye dominance anomalies.  While it may sound self-serving to drum up business for instructors in the sport, there is good reason.  It is much easier, and in the long run cheaper, for a coach and gun fitter with a well-trained eye to identify the cause of a miss, than it is for you to rely on your shooting buddies.  If you find yourself going to your second or third box of shells trying to consistently break a crossing target, it’s probably time to have a coach observing off the shoulder

© Don Currie – 2013

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