September is quickly approaching, and with that comes what every dove hunter anticipates, beginning in July when they begin to see dove everywhere. You know you should get your shotgun out and go shoot some sporting clays to warm up for the season, but then the reality of August in Texas hits like standing in front of an open oven.
The most common misconception when thinking about improving your shot in wing shooting is that you should look down the barrel and aim three feet in front of the target. Hunters often cite that they have trouble stopping their swing, getting the lead right, or they are cross-dominant, so they have to shoot with one eye closed. Sound familiar?
If there was a pill that guaranteed the ability to shoot at least 60 to 70 percent on doves for a lifetime – or even just for this season – it would sell out in a week at any price. The reality of skill building is that you can’t buy it, because it takes dedicated time and work.
Skill begins as a conscious image or thought. You think your way through the act in your short-term memory, and, when done often enough, the brain chunks together the different parts of the act until all parts become one. It is at that point that the action becomes a dedicated circuit in your brain and is passed off to long-term memory. The more you fire the circuit, the better and more synchronous it becomes, and the better you get at that particular skill. Skill with a shotgun comes down to one thing: time on target with the gun. That has nothing to do with how well you understand what you are about to do (or trying to do). In fact, research shows the more you think about what you are doing when shooting a shotgun at a moving target, the worse you will do!
So, why does thinking while shooting at a moving target cause you to miss? If you are thinking, you are in your short-term memory, which operates one third of a second behind what you are doing. If the target were still, you could think your way through the aiming process and become relatively successful. However, when the target is moving, and you must see the target where it is and shoot where it will be, then the process overwhelms the short-term memory, which can only handle about 40 bits of data per second. This is why it is so essential for you to practice your gun mount and the actual sight pictures required to hit a moving target with a shotgun before you head out to the field.
Often, new shooters don’t put in the time it takes to learn to move and mount the gun. In fact, over 95 percent of the dove hunters out there couldn’t say what the sight picture looks like when shooting a left-to-right or right-to-left shot. This issue is compounded when the first shot that a typical beginner is introduced to is a straight going away clay target, which puts the gun and the target in the same place and creates eye-dominance problems.
It is going to take about 3,000 repetitions to begin the process of learning how to move and mount the gun, and begin to show the brain what the sight picture really looks like. While there is no app that represents a shortcut to proficiency and consistency, there are a few exercises you can do to help improve your skill.
Place two objects in a bookshelf about 15 inches apart, and back up about 12 to 15 feet away from them. With an unloaded gun, look at the left object and mount the gun on the right object, which is the sight picture on a left-to-right target (eyes to the left of the barrel for right handed shooters). Now look at the right object and mount on the left object, which would be the sight picture on a right-to-left target (eyes across the barrel for a right-handed shooter). Repeat until the confusion goes away. Your brain is having to combine two retinal images into one that are 32 inches in front of your nose while focusing on a distant object 30 yards away. This is very confusing in the beginning, but after practicing this drill 20 minutes a day for 21 days it will look clear and the eye problems will go away. There are so many things that will happen to your ability to hit a moving object with your shotgun after you do this one simple drill, but you must do the work to receive the reward.
Practicing the left-to-right and right-to-left sight picture is paramount to becoming a good wing-shooter. The thinking brain simply cannot respond or react fast enough to put the gun in the right place consistently. The unfortunate thing about building skill is that regardless of how well you understand what you must do to complete the skill, your ability to do so comes down to how many times you have done it successfully! You can get your 3,000 reps by doing the drill we have mentioned above, or you can go to the sporting clays range and actually shoot your gun so you begin to understand things like seeing the target behind the muzzle, moving the muzzle the same speed as the target, what recoil is like, where your feet need to be, follow through, and how to correct from a miss. Like it or not, these are things that must be done enough times for you to shoot without thinking.
You hear a lot about gun fit and follow through and, while they are important, the bottom line is this: if the sight picture is correct and the muzzle speed is the same as the targets speed and the gun mount is a little off, you have a better-than -average chance to hit the bird. Conversely, if the sight picture is wrong, no amount of perfection in the gun fit, gun mount, foot position, follow through, choke selection or ammo selection will hit the target!
The two things that are the most important to having success with a shotgun on a moving target are the sight picture being correct and adjusting the muzzle speed to the targets speed before you send the shot. When you combine a good practiced move and mount with a gun that reasonably fits the shooter with a clear practiced sight picture, good things happen in the field.
So, shooters, you have a choice to make: if you begin practicing the move mount and sight pictures a month or more before your first hunt of the season, you will definitely see some success. Start today!
BY GIL ASH – OSP SHOOTING SCHOOL