Don Mallicoat

The eyes have it


By Don Mallicoat –

It’s difficult to believe but hunting season is only about six weeks away. For all you early season dove and waterfowl hunters here is a question: Are you ready? I’m not talking about all the gear, decoys, and ammo. I’m talking about your shooting skills. One of the benefits of being a certified Sporting Clays instructor is that I get to absorb a whole lot of information about different shooting techniques. One of the most consistent themes from all of the leading instructors is that you must let your eyes guide the shotgun to the target.

If you are a dove hunter this has happened to you. You are sitting on the edge of a field and see a bird coming over the tree line on the opposite end of the field. You track the bird with your eyes, mount the gun, align your sights and barrel with the bird, unload three shells and the bird flies on. Five minutes later a bird sneaks in from your left and with little time to react you mount the gun, pull the trigger, and the bird drops. What is the difference?

Effectively shooting a shotgun, whether at sporting clays or winged game, requires a totally different set of skills than that of the rifle or pistol shooter. In fact, if you do shoot pistol and rifle, the sound of a toilet flushing should get you started on the right path. And of all the differences, how you use your eyes is the most important. Think about it. When you shoot a rifle what is the target doing? Well, it’s just sitting there. Stationary. When you shoot at a clay target or bird what is it doing? It’s moving of course!

So with a target we align the sights with the bullseye on the target and squeeze the trigger. If done correctly our focus is on the front sight and the bullseye. What happens when you focus on the sights of a shotgun at a moving target? You are going to miss, at least most of the time. Let’s use a sports analogy. When a baseball player is at the plate does he focus on the ball or his bat? Does the tennis player focus on the racket or the ball? The ball of course! You have to focus your attention on a moving target in order to hit it. The same holds true for shotgun shooting.

We have this amazing computer between our ears called a brain. It really knows how to process information. The baseball player doesn’t go through a thinking process where he thinks about swinging the bat. He simply does it based on the signals his hands receive from his eyes. The same should hold true for shotgun shooting if we are going to consistently hit targets.

So what is the best way to do this? Here is a great technique for shooting clay targets I learned while becoming an instructor. Assume your shooting position with gun mounted and pointed to where you want to break a target. Swing the gun back to that point where you want to get hard focus on the target path. This is the critical step. Lower the shoulder (not the gun) and turn your head to look at the target as it leaves the trap. When your eyes pick up a hard focus on the target, your gun will come to the shoulder, track the target and you will shoot. So why does this work? Because you have removed your focus from the barrel and sights to the target. Keep hard focus on the target and your eyes will guide your hands, thus the gun, to the point where you want to break the target. Trust me it works. In shotgun shooting, the eyes have it.

Speaking of dove hunting, although we have not received the 2013-2014 regulation digest, we did receive our permit hunt booklet. Anxious to get my name in for a permit for opening day at Sandy Mush I immediately turned to the permit dove hunt section and low and behold the opening day of dove season will not be on a Saturday. It will be Monday, September 2nd, Labor Day. I guess since that Saturday is August 31st and there is some esoteric requirement to not hunt in August we will not be able to chase those aerial bombs until Monday. That’s OK. It just leaves an extra day to practice my shooting skills!

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