Human beings are blessed with a wonderful thing – binocular vision. The body has a unique, subconscious coordination among the hands, brain, and eyes. This coordination is all we need to smash true pairs in flight or bring down a hard-flushing quail. When we put impediments between the target and our innate shotgunning ability, the chances of missing increases. Impediments that keep one from seeing the target to our best ability can prevent the brain and body from successfully executing the task at hand. Tapping into this underlying reservoir of shotgunning talent isn’t difficult. The proper mindset, combined with some basic technique, will get you headed in the right direction.
Use Both Eyes
If seeing is the key to breaking clays – and it is – it only makes sense to use both eyes while shotgunning. The bodies’ coordination is at its best only when both eyes are open. Unless you know for sure that you are cross-eye dominant, meaning that the eye that looks down the rib of the shotgun isn’t their dominant eye, you should keep both eyes open. With both eyes open, focus solely on the target and remove any conscious calculation of lead from the equation.
If your dominant eye is not the one that you bring up to the rib, you can attempt to correct this shortcoming by either switching hands or obscuring your vision. Deciding which to do is more or less a question of goals. If your ultimate goal is to become the best possible shooter you can be, or you are rather new to shooting clays, than you should switch hands. Doing so will involve a fairly lengthy transition period. If you don’t have plans of competing and just want to break more clays the next time you are out, try closing the dominant eye while shooting or placing a bit of Scotch Tape on the dominant-side lens of your shooting glasses.
Clear Your Mind
But how do you move beyond this dependency on using a conscious sight picture? The trick is to not think about the shot while shooting. A pre-shot routine, in which you pick the spot where you want to position your eyes and start the barrel of your gun (which aren’t in the same place, by the way) and where you want break the target can help. Picking those three spots is all the thinking you want to do. After that, use a simple word or phrase – I often say “watch it break” to myself – before calling for the target. This will help eliminate extraneous thoughts that might inhibit your natural shotgunning ability.
With a clear mindset prior to the shot, all the shooter needs to do is see the target. But there’s seeing and then there’s really seeing. The term “hard focus” is often used, and it’s as good a description as any for what you want to do. If you’re passively focused on the sky around it, the target will take you by surprise when it appears and will look to be moving much faster than it actually is. Instead, keep your eyes focused on a spot a few feet in front of where the clay bird will first appear and then drill in laser-like on the leading edge of the bird as soon as your eyes detect movement. This will cause the target to pop out of the sky and seem to slow down, giving you the opportunity to make a smooth, unhurried gun mount before breaking the target.
Get the Connection
While the majority of shotgunning is mental, a bit of technique can help as well. At one end of the target’s flight is the spot where you start to pick up the bird and establish a hard focus. At the other end is the place where you want to break the bird, the specifics of which are influenced by the particulars of how that target is thrown and whether there’s another target in the sky at the same time that you need to hit. In between these two points is the place you want to position the muzzle of your shotgun.
As a rule of thumb, start your muzzle about half the way along the target’s flight path. Hold the muzzle on the target line. With this kind of head start, the idea of muzzle speed becomes moot. The moment you see the target, wait for it. As it meets the muzzle, slowly move the gun through the target and pull the trigger. A compact, smooth move with your barrels is the final piece to slowing down the target, getting a hit, and gaining proficiency in the art of shotgunning.