Target Talk… (Focus on the process)
By: Frank Neumayer
Shooter's Question to me:
I’ve been shooting Trap from the 27 yard line for over 20 years… but lately I’ve been struggling to get my handicap average back into the 90’s? I’m quite interested in hearing your thoughts on how you think I can resolve the problem?
First of all, you’re not alone! Many long-yardage shooters are asking this same question. Because this question has been baffling me as well, I decided to step back and apply an analytical approach to this issue. I’m already aware of a couple problems that I need to work on. First, I come out of the gun slightly when I’m not seeing the targets well. Secondly, I’m not maintaining intense focus on the target throughout the entire process of breaking it. Herein lies the key! To be consistent at breaking moving targets you must strictly follow a very exact “process”. This process is really a basic physics equation involving an applied action at a moving object while incorporating the factors of time, speed, and distance, where the actions of the shooter will determine success or failure. The critical factor in this equation is to correctly follow every step in the sequence, without deviation. Long yardage shooters have a much smaller margin for error, so each and every step must be followed with strict discipline, sharp focus, and with smooth and accurate precision from start to finish.
Actually, this is the same process we use for shooting singles and doubles. The only difference is that we’re up-closer, things are happening faster, and we enjoy a greater margin for error. Because of this, we can post some good scores with a little less focus on precision and accuracy. However, in handicap events as we move further back on the web, all the target breaking tolerances decrease and it becomes critical that we apply added focus, precision, and accuracy if we hope to post the same high scores. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Just like in the game of pro-football when you see a perfectly executed pass-play, but at the very last second the wide-open receiver drops the ball and the play is over. Most often, the receiver simply took his eyes off the ball at a critical point in the process. I think we shooters are doing the same thing. Maybe it’s a lack of concentration or fatigue, or maybe we’re just lazy or complacent due to years of experience and over-confidence? Whatever the cause, a millisecond before we pull the trigger we’re taking our eyes off the target, bailing-out of the process and allowing our efforts to end in failure.
None of the following information is new to an experienced shooter, but hopefully by breaking-down and revisiting the sequence of events and the phases and steps involved, we can develop a clearer understanding of exactly where we need to refocus our improvement efforts. This process has also been referred to as the “Precision Tracking” approach to breaking targets. That’s because with this approach the target is very carefully tracked with discipline, precision, and accuracy throughout each and every phase and each step involved. Also, to realize consistent success, every phase and every step must also be strictly followed in an exact sequence. Here’s how I break it all down:
Phase 1: In the beginning phase all of the focus is on the shooter and on how well you set-up and prepare yourself prior to taking the shot. Here are the key steps involved: 1) Set-up properly for the hardest possible break you can expect from the particular post you’re standing on. 2) Mount and lock into the gun, while at the same time adjusting for the correct hold-point over the house. 3) Focus your eyes out into the breaking zone and don’t come back to check the bead. 4) Once ready and without delay, you call for the target.
Phase 2: In the middle phase is where all of your focus is centered on the target. Even though we only have a few seconds from the time we first see the target to when we break it, we need to be patient and allow the process to unfold before us. Here are the key steps to this phase: 5) Following the call, the target will quickly appear out of the house, but be patient and allow it to clear your barrel. 6) Now, with your eyes locked on the leading edge, start tracking the target’s movement with your gun using a smooth and precise swing. 7) As your barrel meets-up with the tail-end of the target, move through it and establish the appropriate amount of lead required.
Phase 3: This phase becomes the most critical in the sequence of events! Now, all the focus is on the relationship between your barrel and the moving target. Here are the critical steps: 8) Once you’ve established the correct lead, then and only then do you take the shot. 9) With your eyes wide open and still locked on the target, you’ll see it break above your barrel. 10) As the target breaks apart, and while staying locked into the gun, continue your swing or follow-through as you chase the break. I can’t emphasize enough, that the critical point to all of this is that you never take your eyes off the target, not even for a millisecond, and that you never bail-out of the process (with your eyes or your gun) until the target chips start falling to the ground.
To make this whole process to work correctly, every shooter must be mindful of these basic and fundamental elements for breaking every target every time: 1) Throughout the shot, keep your head on the stock and stay locked in the gun. 2) Keep your eyes locked on the leading edge of the target at all times, and don’t come back to check your bead. 3) Maintain a smooth controlled swing from start to finish, with focused precision and accuracy throughout. 4) Always move through the target and apply the proper amount of lead required. 5) Don’t bail-out of the process at the critical moment, actually see the target break. 6) Be sure to finish the process by following-through, or chasing the break. 7) Quickly forget about a lost target, and immediately prepare yourself for the next. 8) Be patient, don’t over-think, and completely refocus before every shot. 9) Practice like you’ll compete, using the same gun, loads, and disciplined approach. 10) Always stay in complete control of the process from start to finish. The moment you relinquish control, success will simply become a matter of statistics and probabilities.
Once we accomplished the goal of reaching the 27 yard line, I think we may have eased-off a little and became slightly complacent. If we hope to regain the success that got us to the back-fence in the first place, we’ll need to reestablish that focused determination and disciplined approach required for breaking every target every time! Though I’ve said it often throughout this article, I truly believe that your handicap scores will improve if you can develop a smooth, controlled, and accurate swing to the target… and with discipline, strictly follow the target breaking process from start to finish. To quote a good friend, “There’s only three things to remember in breaking targets; concentration, concentration, concentration!” After years of competition, it may appear that some of us have lost our focus, skill, and confidence. This maybe true for some… but it’s my belief that if we can remain mentally and physically healthy; can still react well to the targets with focus and discipline; maintain good vision; practice often; and maintain a positive attitude… we’ll continue to be competitive for many years to come.
See you at the club... Frank