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When Focus and Movement Converge

By March 8, 2015 No Comments

“When focus and movement converge.” By Don Currie

What is the most significant thing you can do to improve your ability to focus on clay targets? No, it’s not eye exercises, new shooting glasses, vitamins or even carrot juice. It is perfecting your mount mechanics. Let’s take two hypothetical AA Class shooters with identical visual acuity, identical natural ability and identical understanding of the intensity of focus required to kill a clay target. Both shooters are shooting Perazzi MX2000Ss fitted by Don Currie (OK, this is really hypothetical). These two shooters are identical in many ways but one tends to outperform the other. In observing both students as they engage targets, it becomes clear that the higher performing shooter differs from the other shooter in one area: efficiency of movement. The gun movement of the higher performing shooter seems silky smooth. He moves his gun at a comfortable pace. The muzzle and heel of the shotgun move in perfect unison to the target as the comb reaches the cheek and the shot is executed. But how could efficiency of movement mean the difference in one shooter’s performance versus another? The answer is visual connection versus visual distraction. The efficiency of a shooter’s mount mechanics either permits or inhibits visual connection with the target. There is nothing in between. When the muzzle of a shooter’s shotgun is bouncing up and down at the end of the shooter’s stroke, the eye has a difficult time breaking through the visual disruption or “noise” at the end of the muzzle. In fact, the eye is actually drawn to the noisy muzzle and away from the target because the muzzle is a distraction to the eye. A smooth stroke allows the shooter behind the gun to have a far superior connection to the target as compared to the shooter whose muzzle is bouncing around just prior to and through the breakpoint.

The efficiency of a shooter’s gun movement plays a far more critical role in consistency than most shooters know or understand. If you are an NSCA competitor and have reached a plateau in C, B or even A class, more than likely you need to invest some time and energy into perfecting your gun handling skills. I would go so far as to argue that the time you spend improving your gun handling skills has a more significant ROI (return on investment) than almost anything else you can do to improve your game. Improving your mount mechanics WILL improve your scores simply because the efficiency of your mechanics has a direct impact on your ability to apply sharp visual focus to a target through the target’s breakpoint…and quality of target focus is of paramount importance. Superior focus will feed the shooter’s brain with more detailed target information resulting in a more precise and true movement of the gun to the target.

In my Focus-Movement-Faith DVD, I defined movement as “the fluid, rhythmic and synchronized motion of the whole body, head, hands and gun as a single unit along the target line to the bird, culminating in the almost instantaneous discharging of the shotgun as sharp visual focus on the target is achieved and the gun mount to the cheek is completed”. I often find that when students recognize that they did not focus on the target as sharply as they would have liked, it is most often because their ability to focus on the target was inhibited by inefficient movement and not because they lacked visual effort.

Let’s first understand the most common flaws in Movement (what NOT to do) and then the keys to proper Movement (what you SHOULD do). Movement is one aspect of your game that you are not likely to fix on your own because you simply can’t see the flaws yourself. Having your shooting buddy take a few short video clips will help but your best option is to turn to a qualified coach who has a particular eye for mount mechanics and can observe, diagnose and treat whatever inherent inefficiencies you might have. Whenever I first describe to a student a particular flaw in his or her movement, I often get a look of disbelief (the first stage of grief is denial). When denial sets in, I whip out my iPhone and take a quick video of the student engaging a target and play it back. The “I don’t do that, do I?” quickly turns into “how do I fix that?” In the words of one of my advanced students, “I’ve read all the books and articles but I really didn’t get it until you showed me that video”.

The following are the five most common types of movement inefficiencies that prevent shooters from achieving the necessary intensity of visual focus on the target:

1) Moving the head during the stroke – Bringing the head to the gun, instead of bringing the gun to the head or rolling the head over the comb during delivery of the shot. When it comes to head movement, remember that when the camera moves, the picture is blurry. When the head moves during the stroke, the ability of the shooter to focus on the target is handicapped.

2) Barrel Wobble – Typically caused by allowing the trigger hand (back hand) to overpower the front hand during the upward movement of the gun. This is very typical for shooters that tend to mount to the shoulder first instead of the cheek first. Another cause of barrel wobble is orienting the gun barrel at an excessively high angle to the target line at the hold point. In either case, the barrel of the shotgun tends to “see-saw”, with the front of the gun dipping under the target line as the back hand lifts the gun to the shoulder and then moving over the target line as the front hand accelerates skyward to recover from the dip of the barrel. This often results in a miss over the top of the target.

3) Long occlusion interval – Instead of pulling the trigger decisively as the comb of the gunstock reaches the cheek, the shooter “rides” the target, occluding the target with the gun and reducing the quality of information captured by the eye and processed by the brain. This often causes a visual “check” of the barrel-target relationship.

4) Abrupt or Asynchronous movement – Occurs when a shooter acquires the target visually but then initiates movement that fails to synchronize with the line, speed or trajectory of the target. While there are countless reasons for asynchronous movement, a miss is most often the result of poor hold-point selection (too close to the trap) during pre-shot planning or abrupt gun mount.

5) Spoiling the line – The shooter traces the target line with the gun barrel, instead of intersecting the target line at a slight upward angle, causing the target to be partially obscured by the barrel just prior to and through the breakpoint.

With so many ways to miss, why mount the gun at all? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply pre-mount the gun? Well, in a few cases, yes: a quick, going-away trap shot emerging from a trap about 35 yards from the shooting stand might be one such example. The ability to break a target efficiently, with the gun off the shoulder and cheek, provides the shooter with a significant edge over his oponent that can’t shoot unless pre-mounted. For one, it provides the shooter with the opportunity to see the targets more clearly, with the gun out of the face. Just as there is really no such thing as a get-rich-quick investment, so too there is no substitute for the time and effort required to perfect your mount mechanics. The fact is, most shooters plateau because they don’t want to invest the time necessary to improve their gun mount and gun handling skills.

So what is an aspiring Master Class shooter to do?

Focus on the fundamentals of good gun movement:
As you are poised at the Ready Position (see “Defining the Ready Position”), you call for the target and the target is launched.
a. Keep the weight of the gun in the hands – Throughout the move and mount, the entire weight of the gun should remain in the hands.
b. Front hand leads – the front hand, actually the front index finger, should lead the gun to the target.
c. Keep head still (oriented on the target) – The gun should come to the head without the head lowering to the gun.
d. Move at a comfortable pace – the simultaneous mounting of the gun to the cheek ledge and movement of the gun to the target should approximate the speed of the target.
e. Finish the shot – As the body, head and gun move toward the breakpoint from the hold point, visual focus is heightened, the comb of the stock touches the cheek and the gun is discharged.

Focus and Movement are inextricably linked. While visual focus on the target is key, your ability to visually focus on a target is largely dependant upon the efficiency of your movement. Simultaneously mounting, moving and synchronizing your shotgun with the target while maintaining an intense visual connection with the target may sound simple, but it takes time to perfect, render consistent and relegate to the subconscious. The rewards of perfecting your mount however, are lasting.

For a some tips on how to use the skeet field to improve your mount for sporting clays, read Skeet for Practice.

© 2015 – Don Currie

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