Our seminars were a huge hit at Convention this year thanks to the huge crowds who came and asked questions and got involved in the real causes for their good and not so good performances in the field. It seems that no matter how many times we talk about sight picture and practicing gun mount until it is consistent without even thinking about it, people are still amazed when we talk about where your eyes are when shooting a shotgun. This is the most misunderstood part of wingshooting and, due to that misunderstanding, few practice sight picture because they don’t know what or how to practice.
The absolute most important element to becoming a good consistent wingshooter can be practiced at home and at the clays range before you go hunting. Vicki has been quoted worldwide as saying, “You will never shoot better than the quality of your basic move and mount,” and because she is always right, I must agree with her. You must be able to move and mount the gun without thinking about what you are doing. Your move and mount must be consistent enough that your gun comes to the same place on your shoulder and cheek each and every time without you having to check it!
Move and mount has got to become like brushing your teeth! In the beginning, you could not even find your mouth, while now you can stick your foot in it without even trying! Once you could hit your mouth, you had to learn to keep the toothbrush in your mouth and then you had to learn the different brushing sequences on all of your teeth. Now you do all that without thinking, and in fact can carry on a conversation as you brush. Eventually, you get old enough to take your teeth out and brush them and put them up for the night!
Remember this one thing, if you are thinking while shooting a moving object with a shotgun, you are already behind. Every bit of focus you direct to what you are doing with the gun is focus taken away from the target, which in the end will cause you to miss.
When we shoot a rifle, we are always looking down the barrel and at the target at the same time. We align the sights with the target and squeeze the trigger and it is the quality and consistency of the trigger squeeze that determines how consistent the shooter performs. Though you can shoot a rifle pretty well while consciously thinking about what you are doing, the target is still. When the target is moving, things change dramatically and you must move from consciously thinking about what you are doing to letting it happen.
When shooting a moving target with a shotgun you must look at where the target is, point the gun ahead of the target, and shoot where the target will be. On the surface, that sounds simple, but in reality it is one of the most visually confusing things you will try to accomplish until you understand a few things.
We began our seminars at Convention with a simple question, “What does it look like when you shoot a right-to-left crosser?” We get a deer in the headlights look from almost the whole crowd. The exceptions were those few who have taken lessons from us or have seen the thousands of video lessons in our Knowledge Vault or on YouTube. After some encouragement from Vicki and Gil, folks in the crowd began to answer that their eyes were on the bird, to which Vicki asks, “What does that look like?” and we’re met with silence again.
It seems that most of our friends in our seminars are not really clear on what it looks like when shooting a moving target with a shotgun. As a result, they’re very inconsistent and cannot self-correct, which leads to frustration when trying to practice. Based on our 25 years’ experience as professional shooting instructors, we find this is the biggest problem for wing and clay shooters worldwide.
Many shotgun shooters fall into a huge group who mount the gun fast and, while looking down the barrel, chase the bird from behind and trying to fix the shot at the end by getting the lead right. The biggest problem with this approach is that it requires thinking while trying to get the gun ahead of the bird. On the surface, that makes logical sense, but the problem is that you have to look down the barrel and try to aim the gun like a rifle! If you are looking down the barrel trying to aim the gun ahead of the bird, then what, pray tell, are you aiming at?
The reaction is dramatic when we begin showing our animations and explaining what it really looks like when completing a shot on a moving target and where everything in the picture is supposed to be. It makes logical sense once understood. When we combine this new information with our ShotKam video of clays and game birds, you can feel the tension leave the room and the smiles return.
So how do you practice these illusive sight pictures? First, you must understand what a sight picture really is. On a left-to-right target, the right-handed shooter will be looking at the target to the left of the barrel with both eyes, while on a right-to-left target, the right-handed shooter will be looking at the target across the barrel.
Perhaps now would be a good time for you to get your unloaded gun and practice these sight pictures by doing the three-bullet drill.
The three-bullet drill is the most important home practice you will ever do and makes logical sense once you do it several times. After doing the drill for three or four times for 10 minutes each, you will begin seeing the sight pictures and that is what creates the miracle everyone is looking for — CONSISTENCY!
To do the three-bullet drill, place three objects on a bookshelf across the room about 10 inches apart. With your empty shotgun, focus on the middle object and mount the gun on the right object. This simulates the “sight picture” for a left-to-right target for right-handed shooters — with both eyes looking at the target to the left of the barrel. Next, while looking at the middle object, mount the gun on the left object, which would simulate the sight picture for a right-to-left target. This side is confusing at first because you are actually looking at the target across the barrel. Eventually it will look normal after about four to six 10-minute sessions.
We continue to be amazed and in fact disappointed with the number of shooters who actually practice their gun mount at home to become better in the field and on the range. Please do yourself a favor and do the drills and develop a consistent gun mount, and understand the sight pictures so they happen consistently without having to think about what you are doing.--Gil & Vicki Ash
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Safari Magazine