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Shotgun Tip: Precise Focus on the Bird Solves Most Shooting Problems

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June 21, 2011

Shotgun Tip: Precise Focus on the Bird Solves Most Shooting Problems

By Phil Bourjaily

Take a look at this picture of Jon Michael McGrath, one of Team USA’s best international skeet shooters. Note the intensity on his face and the eyes wide open behind the lenses of his glasses.

When the target emerges Jon Michael will focus his eyesight not just on the clay, but on the front edge of it. Chances are extremely high his shot will reduce the target to very small pieces. Shooters like McGrath have great eye-hand coordination, but they also develop the mental ability to focus hard on every target.

Precise focus on the bird solves most shotgun shooting problems on the range and in the field.

I see this all the time with the kids who shoot on our high school trap team. A lot of them are pretty good shots when they start and ATA trap targets are slow and easy. They can break scores of 19 or 20 without focusing 100% on the target. They will shoot those scores forever and not get any better until they learn to be more precise and more intense in their focus on every single bird.

It’s easy to tell when someone isn’t looking hard at a trap target: they miss over the top. I usually tell our kids not to look at the whole target but to focus on the ring around the bottom. When they do, they start center-punching them. Then the challenge becomes bringing that level of focus to every shot.

If you’re having a hard time hitting, before you start changing leads or choke tubes or whatever, first try looking harder at the leading edge of the target. Think only about focus and let your eyes tell your hands where to point the gun. I remember reading an interview with trap champion Dan Bonillas.

His description of focus: “I keep my eyes in the expected target area. Once I see the target, I narrow my vision as if pulling a draw string on a duffle bag.” The tighter you pull the string, the harder the target will break.

Comments (15)

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from buckhunter wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Great advise. Aim small, miss small. I shoot much better when shooting with guys I do not know. Much less talking and more concentration.

However, I am still intimidated by station 8. I couldn't imagine focusing on the edge.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from bluegraytx wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Back in '69 I purchased a double 20 ga. of Spanish origin. It soon became my favorite. The bloody thing wouldn't let me miss. Quail went up; quail went down. Unfortunately, it was not amongst my belongings stacked on the front porch a few years later. While flight, focus, and fortune are factors in a successful hunt or score, that double 20 convinced me the "bond" between a hunter and his weapon trumps everything else.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from cTXn wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

I feel a big part of this is also related to keeping both eyes open. Much easier to focus and judge the depth with both eyes instead of having one closed.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Diehl wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Looking fwd to putting it in practice some more this fall!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Think I just discovered why my scores are so low...I can't see his eyes wide open behind the lenses of his glasses. I sure like to see that no mount. Now your shooting has a positive correlation to wing shooting. A critical stage is how your gun is mounted, and the timing of your trigger pull. Pre-mounting eliminates this critical stage.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Scott Alexander wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Very good article. This is a very useful tip for helping scouts working on the shotgun merit badge. Thanks for this article.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

This advice is similar to an old tip I heard years ago to always focus on the head of the bird in flight.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Anhinga wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Better advice: focus on the BEAK!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Focus is fine, but what many do wrong, and what causes the miss is in those last few fractions of a second before the trigger gets pulled, the eyes go to the barrel checking to see if they are right on target...and the barrel stops, and the beak keeps moving.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Dan Bonillas, what a great trap shot; his analogy was what I guess would now be refered to as 'Being in the zone': total focus and concentration. When your there your mind is in neutral, no garbage in, no negative thoughts, no fear of hard lefts on post 1 or hard rights on post 5.
Really great shots never see a lead or the barrel, all focus is on the target. When new shooters would come to the club and solicit my advice concerning leads my reply would always be just look at the target and shoot right at it. Not surprisingly they started hitting targets on the skeet field if they would employ this technique. Once you taught them how to shoot, you could begin working on how to break high scores. Problems arose when they would fall back into trying to measure targets and focus would drift back to the barrel.
Great tip and advice, Phillip.
@buckhunter,
Station 8 will become a gimme like low 7, just go in the hole with you gun barrel, and when the target appears, don't ride it, just shoot it. It's all about confidence.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

The measuring, and drifting your eyes back to the barrel is a biggie. That is why I like the no pre mount. Then the swing of the barrel as you mount, and the speed of the swing is important because of two factors. If your mount has the barrel near the kill zone then just a slight movement of the barrel is necessary an touch off the shot. The speed of the barrel is important because you can stay in that kill zone for a fraction longer, and your mind can make the calculation easier. It becomes as if the target has slowed down, and bang. But the fast moving barrel guy, has less time for the mind to make the calculation because the barrel is in the kill zone for such a very short period of time that consistent kills are difficult. It is my feeling that a number of guys see themselves as better than others because they can move the barrel faster, and kill the target in a shorter period of time..an ego thing. When the speed is right, it is like passing someone on the hwy that is going 70 mph and you are going 75..slightly faster, and as if the other car isn't moving much at all.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

I might add after reading my own post, that it is critical the mount is competed with the barrel close to the target, and not ahead of the target, then the barrel isn't in line with your eye for but a very short period of time. The longer the barrel is in line with your eye, the greater tendency for the eyes to go to the barrel. That is why the premount shooters see it critical that they place the gun barrel in the proper spot before the target is called for. If the extreme angle occurs as RES1956 stated they still don't have to move the barrel much to intercept the target. If the barrel becomes mounted far behind the target, and the need then to chase the target, the barrel is in line with the eyes for too long a time, and the likelihood of the eyes going to the barrel greatly increases. This is why the bird hunter is amazed they dumped a bird, a duck maybe they didn't see coming into range. They just swung, mounted, and fired, and then they describe it as luck. And the bird they can see coming into range from some distance off, they miss, and see that as amazing they missed. The gun gets mounted for far too long with the barrel in line with the eye rear sight trying to be too precise.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Quiet Loner wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

As a Hunter Ed. coordinator for half our state for several years I helped hundreds if not thousands of kids shoot machine-thrown claybirds with 20 ga. Rem. 1100's. Some were so small they really couldn't hold the gun up properly or track the target. I found I could hold the receiver with one hand and help them track the bird. I would tell them "NOW" at the right time and usually the bird would shatter. These were all going away birds of course, usually thrown by a regulation trap mounted on a trailer but there was no way for me to see the barrel. It was a great thrill for the shooter. The only problem I encountered was the bolt operating handle usually managed to remove a patch of hide from the back of my thumb if I did it much.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Same goes for rifles or archery and still game. Don't aim for the animal or even the vitals. Pick a hair and shoot it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from paul janzen wrote 2 years 42 weeks ago

i think is good advice once you get a feel for your gun. The first thing i do before even shooting my gun is shoulder it at the target and then check to see if my aim was good. Then i load up and start shooting.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from buckhunter wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Great advise. Aim small, miss small. I shoot much better when shooting with guys I do not know. Much less talking and more concentration.

However, I am still intimidated by station 8. I couldn't imagine focusing on the edge.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from bluegraytx wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Back in '69 I purchased a double 20 ga. of Spanish origin. It soon became my favorite. The bloody thing wouldn't let me miss. Quail went up; quail went down. Unfortunately, it was not amongst my belongings stacked on the front porch a few years later. While flight, focus, and fortune are factors in a successful hunt or score, that double 20 convinced me the "bond" between a hunter and his weapon trumps everything else.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Diehl wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Looking fwd to putting it in practice some more this fall!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

This advice is similar to an old tip I heard years ago to always focus on the head of the bird in flight.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from cTXn wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

I feel a big part of this is also related to keeping both eyes open. Much easier to focus and judge the depth with both eyes instead of having one closed.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Think I just discovered why my scores are so low...I can't see his eyes wide open behind the lenses of his glasses. I sure like to see that no mount. Now your shooting has a positive correlation to wing shooting. A critical stage is how your gun is mounted, and the timing of your trigger pull. Pre-mounting eliminates this critical stage.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Anhinga wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Better advice: focus on the BEAK!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Scott Alexander wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Very good article. This is a very useful tip for helping scouts working on the shotgun merit badge. Thanks for this article.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Focus is fine, but what many do wrong, and what causes the miss is in those last few fractions of a second before the trigger gets pulled, the eyes go to the barrel checking to see if they are right on target...and the barrel stops, and the beak keeps moving.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Dan Bonillas, what a great trap shot; his analogy was what I guess would now be refered to as 'Being in the zone': total focus and concentration. When your there your mind is in neutral, no garbage in, no negative thoughts, no fear of hard lefts on post 1 or hard rights on post 5.
Really great shots never see a lead or the barrel, all focus is on the target. When new shooters would come to the club and solicit my advice concerning leads my reply would always be just look at the target and shoot right at it. Not surprisingly they started hitting targets on the skeet field if they would employ this technique. Once you taught them how to shoot, you could begin working on how to break high scores. Problems arose when they would fall back into trying to measure targets and focus would drift back to the barrel.
Great tip and advice, Phillip.
@buckhunter,
Station 8 will become a gimme like low 7, just go in the hole with you gun barrel, and when the target appears, don't ride it, just shoot it. It's all about confidence.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

The measuring, and drifting your eyes back to the barrel is a biggie. That is why I like the no pre mount. Then the swing of the barrel as you mount, and the speed of the swing is important because of two factors. If your mount has the barrel near the kill zone then just a slight movement of the barrel is necessary an touch off the shot. The speed of the barrel is important because you can stay in that kill zone for a fraction longer, and your mind can make the calculation easier. It becomes as if the target has slowed down, and bang. But the fast moving barrel guy, has less time for the mind to make the calculation because the barrel is in the kill zone for such a very short period of time that consistent kills are difficult. It is my feeling that a number of guys see themselves as better than others because they can move the barrel faster, and kill the target in a shorter period of time..an ego thing. When the speed is right, it is like passing someone on the hwy that is going 70 mph and you are going 75..slightly faster, and as if the other car isn't moving much at all.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

I might add after reading my own post, that it is critical the mount is competed with the barrel close to the target, and not ahead of the target, then the barrel isn't in line with your eye for but a very short period of time. The longer the barrel is in line with your eye, the greater tendency for the eyes to go to the barrel. That is why the premount shooters see it critical that they place the gun barrel in the proper spot before the target is called for. If the extreme angle occurs as RES1956 stated they still don't have to move the barrel much to intercept the target. If the barrel becomes mounted far behind the target, and the need then to chase the target, the barrel is in line with the eyes for too long a time, and the likelihood of the eyes going to the barrel greatly increases. This is why the bird hunter is amazed they dumped a bird, a duck maybe they didn't see coming into range. They just swung, mounted, and fired, and then they describe it as luck. And the bird they can see coming into range from some distance off, they miss, and see that as amazing they missed. The gun gets mounted for far too long with the barrel in line with the eye rear sight trying to be too precise.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Quiet Loner wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

As a Hunter Ed. coordinator for half our state for several years I helped hundreds if not thousands of kids shoot machine-thrown claybirds with 20 ga. Rem. 1100's. Some were so small they really couldn't hold the gun up properly or track the target. I found I could hold the receiver with one hand and help them track the bird. I would tell them "NOW" at the right time and usually the bird would shatter. These were all going away birds of course, usually thrown by a regulation trap mounted on a trailer but there was no way for me to see the barrel. It was a great thrill for the shooter. The only problem I encountered was the bolt operating handle usually managed to remove a patch of hide from the back of my thumb if I did it much.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Same goes for rifles or archery and still game. Don't aim for the animal or even the vitals. Pick a hair and shoot it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from paul janzen wrote 2 years 42 weeks ago

i think is good advice once you get a feel for your gun. The first thing i do before even shooting my gun is shoulder it at the target and then check to see if my aim was good. Then i load up and start shooting.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment