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Discussion in 'Shooting Related Threads' started by wireguy, Aug 24, 2012.

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  1. wireguy

    wireguy TS Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    copyright 2012 by Doug Scott


    Most of us have seen it. A beginner is attempting some clay target shooting with a friend or family member. Their perception of this first experience behind a shotgun may well determine whether this will be their first or their last attempt. The gun doesn't fit, they're shooting full power hunting loads, and the instruction they are receiving is simply destructive. "Line up the bead with the bird," and "You're behind it" are two of the unhelpful instructions often received by new shooters. How many shooters has the clay target sports lost because their first experience behind a shotgun was a painful embarrassment of bruised shoulders and targets that didn't break? How many of these losses might be salvaged if an educated shooter with a plan intervened and offered some gentle instruction?

    For years at local sporting clays shoots people I didn't know would walk up and call me by name. I was always puzzled about these people who were clearly happy to see me and who knew me even if I didn't know them. Then one day it hit me. Routinely jumping on any squad that was short I met and shot with many different people and unwittingly became an instructor to a lot of novice shooters. They became better shooters as I taught them a simple concept they could instantly grasp and put into practice on a short 50 target course. These people I didn't know knew me because they remembered the guy who placed a foundation for better shooting under them.

    All mature clay target shooters should have, in addition to their shooting skills, the ability to turn around a new shooter who is clearly not receiving quality instruction. We don't need to be master class shooters or professional instructors. We do need a simple, brief, universal technique to get the novice breaking targets, a system that quickly instills into the novice those fundamentals that are critical to success. Such a system must parallel something the novice already understands so the concept can be easily grasped and instantly put into practice.

    The parallel I use to instill that concept is steering an automobile for adults, or steering a bicycle for kids. Steering is a skill that is nearly universal among those old enough to shoot. Each of us has a steering reflex built right into us that causes us to automatically steer toward whatever our eyes are looking at. This is why we tend to drift left or right in traffic when we look left or right. Steering uses both eyes open, hands and eyes coordination people are already familiar with. Because of this familiarity the novice shooter can quickly see the parallel between steering an auto or bicycle, and steering a shotgun. Shotguns, automobiles and bicycles may be very different physically but they are all steered by feeding information through the eyes to the brain which is then transferred to the hands doing the steering. Steering is easy and natural, and typically well practiced.

    For two years I taught women to clay target shoot through N.R.A.'s Women On Target program. I had short minutes to instruct them before they went to the line to shoot. As they sat listening to a brief explanation of this concept I watched their eyes light up and heads nod as the concept took hold. Women who had never held a shotgun before understood fundamentally how to use one before they ever picked one up. Those women walked out to the line already buttressed with a foundation for success. Using shotguns that were ill suited to their use we still enjoyed a near 100% success rate and sent these ladies on their way with a great introduction to the clay target sports.

    The steering concept provides a simple way to show the novice shooter what they must do to break targets. They are already familiar with successfully steering autos and bikes through traffic in a fast moving environment. They can recognize the disaster it would be if they were to attempt to aim their transportation through traffic, one eye closed and sighting through the hood ornament. Because they are already familiar with the both eyes open, steer-where-you're-looking concept and the fact that it works, they can quickly grasp the concept as it applies to moving a shotgun to a target.

    A quick explanation to a new shooter might sound like this: "When you are shooting, you line up the bead with the target, right? That's what new shooters are often told, and that's what seems logical, but in fact that is completely wrong. This is a shotgun, not a rifle, and shotguns don't have sights and are not aimed. This bead (or light pipe) on the end of your barrel isn't a sight and it isn't there for you to look at or line up with the target. There's a reason it's there but your eyes MUST be focused out at the target. Look, when you are driving (or riding a bicycle) you steer it to where you want it to go and it's no big deal to steer it there, right? When you are steering, do you find it helpful to close one eye and aim your vehicle, sighting through the steering wheel or hood ornament or handlebars? Of course not. You simply look out there at where you want it to go, with both eyes open, and steering it there is easy and natural. It's much the same when we are shooting clay targets. Where are we trying to get the shotgun to go? To the target, right? It is natural to think you achieve this by aiming, but in fact aiming a shotgun will cause you to miss the target nearly every time. We get the shotgun to go to the target the same way we get a car or bicycle to go where we want it to go. We focus both our eyes out there where we want the shotgun to go. When we focus our eyes on the target we will naturally steer the gun to what our eyes are focused on. We never need to see the bead, and in fact looking back it breaks the data link from the target through our eyes to our brain. Our brain must have accurate and continuous information about what the target is doing so it can tell our hands how to steer the gun to the target. The brain can't collect that information through our eyes if our eyes are looking at the bead. Breaking that data link for even an instant by looking back at the bead destroys the data stream from the target to our brain and kills any likelihood of connecting with the target, so if you notice the bead in your forward vision just ignore it. Clay target shooting really boils down to three very simple things. Keep your cheek locked down on the stock, focus your eyes on the target, and move the gun with authority." The answer to their logical question, "Then why is there a bead on my barrel?" is simply "You will mentally register it even as your eyes focus on the target, and your brain will receive feedback at the subliminal level about the position of your muzzle. We perceive the bead as invisible because our eyes are focused on the target."

    The concept of steering the gun to the target takes about three minutes to explain. The new shooter can quickly understand the concept because it mirrors something they already understand and practice every day. It gives the new shooter a foundation for success they can turn to again and again. It will help them ignore bad shooting advice in the future because now they understand what works, and why. It can, with a bit of coaching, give the new shooter the one thing they need most - broken targets.

    The clay target sports have lots of competition for people's time and money today. People have options for entertainment that never existed in the past. To keep new shooters we need their first experiences behind the gun to be fun. Broken targets equals fun, and if it's fun they will come back for more. The sore shoulder will be remembered fondly if the targets were breaking. We mature shooters need to be prepared to give the new shooters in our midst who aren't getting a great start the opportunity to enjoy some success by teaching them the simple concept of steering their shotguns. It's great for the new shooter, great for our sports, and I can tell you from personal experience, great to take someone from lost and struggling to crushing clays and grinning.
  2. joe kuhn

    joe kuhn Furry Lives Matter

    Jan 29, 1998
    Nice article. I'm particularly fond of his explanation about the stream of data between your eyes and your brain not being interrupted. Never heard it put quite that way and said so well.

    Here's what I do with the raw beginner:

    "Point your gun at my shoulder."

    (I hold my index fingers up like they are a gun and point at the student's shoulder. Repeat this until the student is able to do it with his/her fingers; no real gun. Some can't; they appear to be shy about it.)

    "Now look at my nose and shoot it when your gun gets there."

    (Model first and then have the student do it, watching closely to be sure their eyes are doing what they should be doing which is moving to your nose. Gun should come through your nose and fire when it gets there. Some people will pull an imaginary trigger, others will make a sound. Some will do both. Accept all options. Repeat until students does this well.)

    (Switch to other shoulder and repeat.)

    There's no sense in continuing if the student cannot do this simple exercise.

    I tried the above just the other night and the student could not move and shoot my nose. She had a very weak move and trigger pull that was not coordinated at all. And that is how she shot when it came time to shoot real targets. She shot less than 10 times and did not break a target. Of course her husband's 870 hurt her when she shot so we stopped. I'll bring my autoloader for the 'next time' if there is one. We did emphasize holding it tight to her shoulder, but what we didn't do was test it by pulling on the bbl to be sure it was in fact tight (with an empty gun). I saw her husband the next day and he said she was scared to shoot the gun so she didn't even think about moving it to the target. Sometimes we do need to help shooters at the very beginning. It's a lot different than "Hey Joe, you're coming off your gun."

  3. treefrog

    treefrog TS Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    Great article, I'm going to post this at the club
  4. clayman51

    clayman51 Member

    Jan 29, 1998

    Nice article!!

    I have used the concept about looking back at the beads breaks the communication link, but the steering example helps define that by example!

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