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Shotgun Tip: Staying In The Zone

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April 25, 2012

Shotgun Tip: Staying In The Zone

By Phil Bourjaily

Talk to good shotgun shooters, and they will tell you they get “in the Zone” where targets look as big as trashcan lids and birds seem to fly in slow motion. I get in the Zone sometimes, but the difference between ordinary pretty good shots like me and really good shooters is that the champions can find the Zone regularly and stay in it. For me, being in the Zone is a fragile state.

I had cause to reflect on this these last few days as we filmed Gun Nuts, Season III. Having two camera men depending on me to hit targets helps me focus. It’s just the right amount of pressure and it often puts me in the Zone. In the picture here (actually taken last season) I am breaking a trap target with a camera on my gun. I broke 103x105 trap targets that day, about half with a camera on my gun blocking my view of the target. I was In the Zone.

This season, when the Wolf Creek Production guys cranked the cameras us I got right back into the Zone. I missed exactly one target before lunch the first day and we set up some stuff like a  “grouse in the woods” shot that were pretty difficult. I crushed them all.

However, when I fall out of the Zone while we’re filming, I melt down completely. It happens two or three times each Gun Nuts season. That same afternoon we filmed a segment about sporting clays guns that required me to shoot a very easy double on a pair of looping targets. I broke enough of them for the segment – thankfully – but then I missed the closer, easier target, and that was it. My Zone evaporated. The target was 15 yards away and hanging in front of me. I missed it again and again. I would have had a better chance of hitting it if I threw shells at it. Shotgun shooting is a funny thing which is why I find it so interesting.

I am also grateful for the magic of editing. We will not be doing a “Gun Nuts Live” show if I have anything to say about it.

Comments (19)

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from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Grateful for the magic of editing?

“At no time is freedom of speech more precious than when a man hits his thumb with a hammer.”
-Marshall Lumsden (a bit of hyperbole, but the message is clear)

Magic of editing is good! LOL!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

"In Da Zone????"

With my delicate sense of rhythm and timing I’m out of the Zone most the time especially when I have only two targets scored after five-shots on Station #1.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckstopper wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I seem to be in the zone when you got a 1000 mallards in a tornado of feathers bills and web feet hovering over the flooded timber. Those times you don't shoot, just look in awe. i've seen that three times in my life, I could give you the dates, been trying to find that zone again. Other hunts I've been on could say I was in the zone when I limit out with no misses, usually with just one or two other hunters. Seems I get in the TWILIGHT ZONE when there are a dozen hunters in the same hole and can't hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michigan Gunner wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

What is happening when you get "In the Zone" is that your automomic nervious system is taking over. It will result in things like the slow motion effect, objects appearing to be larger, and also closer than they really are. This all happens because the speed at which your mind is processing information has increase by about a factor of three. The best way to make it happen is through repetitions and visualizations. As with most things, it works better for some people than others. Some of the greats in baseball say they can see the fast balls floating in, see them slowly spinning, see the stitching as they fly.
The same would apply to shooting a shotgun. Maybe I'll get there some day!

BTW, I used to teach this sort of thing.

MG

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

yep, repitition and visualization. I usually hit the zone on multi-day bird hunts with lots of shooting, but not until Day 2. Day 1 is typically spent blasting more holes in the sky than than birds. But that night, and every night after that for nearly a week, I dream of flying birds. Volume dove hunts evoke skies filled with wave after wave of targets getting easier and easier to see. Upland hunts produce rising coveys or singles, occasionally double roosters, all flying slower and slower. The next few days, my average goes from about 1 in 3, to 1 for 2, to just under that. It amazes me because I've never been more than an average shot at best, especially among the outstanding shooters I grew up with and/or have hunted with. I wish I had the time, patience, and $$$ to shoot that much at the range. Maybe then I could hit more than the embarrassing low scores I get.

Phil, 103 out of 105 without being able to see the target? That is impressive, sir. I was one of those who urged you to use a gun mounted camera in these blogs, and I wondered at the time just how it might mess with your sight picture, balance, etc. I really appreciate you including that perspective in the show, and, more than ever, I really appreciate your skills. Looking forward to GN3!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

MG, Thanks for the clinical explanation of the zone. In laymen terms, the zone is a product of concentration, confidence and focus.
I suppose that everyone who has shot any clay target sport has had days when the targets loomed as large as trashcan lids and moved at the speed of a large rock rolling uphill. Then again, there were days when the targets looked like asprin tablets being fired from cannons at Mach IV.
It seemed like I always got the asprin tablets and my squadmates got the garbage can lids, go figure,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Harold wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I have the same problem. During an average bird season my shooting goes back and forth from pretty darn good to excreable. Actually, I've picked up some real good tips from Phil here on this blog. They've actually helped. I can't help wondering what type of wingshot I'd have been if I'd learned the right way when I was young.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tleichty1989 wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

The more I hit the target it seems "the hotter I get." But when I miss it seems it all goes down hill.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Oryx wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Michigan,

I'm not trying to be "that guy" but your terminology is a bit off. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for stuff we can't affect (yogis and shamen you can ignore) like heartbeat, gut motility, and recoiling in distaste to Rosie McDonnell.

What you are talking about is reflex and finely honed muscle control born of practice, practice, and in some cases, a bit of natural talent thrown in.

Actually, I think we are talking about the same things, it just that, well, I'm THAT guy that thinks they "knows it all."

Sorry.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Pig Pen wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I typically overthink the shot and that puts me out of the zone.

My best score came on a day when I was mad about stuff at work and didn't think much at all about the shot, just let instinct take over.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Longbeard --
On my best day I can't shoot 103x105 without a camera on my gun -- my mind wanders too much for me to be a good trap shooter. Knowing I had to break targets for the camera helped me focus.

That said, shooting without a camera is a lot easier.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Trapper Vic wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I love being in the zone, but have a heck of a time finding it. I think it has more to do with getting rid of tenion or stress and relaxing. I'm a lousy cold weather trap shooter but in the summer I can find the zone.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Phil - maybe you should always use a mounted camera, and travel with a film crew. oh, but then your name would be Kardashian...unacceptable!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RandyMI wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Do any of the ammunition manufacturers still produce shotshells with that little tracer element in them?
I remember them from 25-30 years ago but haven't seen any lately....

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Oryx,
I too was confused as to what the automomic nervious system did. I know very well what the autonomic nervous system is and does.

A good example of an autonomic reaction is that when I missed a skeet target, my face would become flushed and my BP would increase about 25 mmol/merc, both systolic and diastolic. My vocalization the word 'sh1t' was more of a trained reaction, but through repetition, had become automatic,,,

Since you're 'That Guy', it takes the pressure off me-LOL

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from dale freeman wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

THE ZONE ?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michigan Gunner wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Oryx said "I'm not trying to be "that guy" but your terminology is a bit off. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for stuff we can't affect (yogis and shamen you can ignore) like heartbeat, gut motility, and recoiling in distaste to Rosie McDonnell."

I stand by my original explanation. The Autonmic nervous is made up of two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Without getting into a long explaination, you can "program" your Autonmic as I noted.
Ask you doctor about it. I agree about Rosie!

MG

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from SuperDave wrote 1 year 50 weeks ago

I like when I'm in the zone and my son is not!!!! Tired of losing to the boy!!! LOL

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from WI Hunter 33 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

sweet..i need to shoot more!

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Michigan Gunner wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

What is happening when you get "In the Zone" is that your automomic nervious system is taking over. It will result in things like the slow motion effect, objects appearing to be larger, and also closer than they really are. This all happens because the speed at which your mind is processing information has increase by about a factor of three. The best way to make it happen is through repetitions and visualizations. As with most things, it works better for some people than others. Some of the greats in baseball say they can see the fast balls floating in, see them slowly spinning, see the stitching as they fly.
The same would apply to shooting a shotgun. Maybe I'll get there some day!

BTW, I used to teach this sort of thing.

MG

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Oryx wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Michigan,

I'm not trying to be "that guy" but your terminology is a bit off. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for stuff we can't affect (yogis and shamen you can ignore) like heartbeat, gut motility, and recoiling in distaste to Rosie McDonnell.

What you are talking about is reflex and finely honed muscle control born of practice, practice, and in some cases, a bit of natural talent thrown in.

Actually, I think we are talking about the same things, it just that, well, I'm THAT guy that thinks they "knows it all."

Sorry.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Longbeard --
On my best day I can't shoot 103x105 without a camera on my gun -- my mind wanders too much for me to be a good trap shooter. Knowing I had to break targets for the camera helped me focus.

That said, shooting without a camera is a lot easier.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Grateful for the magic of editing?

“At no time is freedom of speech more precious than when a man hits his thumb with a hammer.”
-Marshall Lumsden (a bit of hyperbole, but the message is clear)

Magic of editing is good! LOL!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

"In Da Zone????"

With my delicate sense of rhythm and timing I’m out of the Zone most the time especially when I have only two targets scored after five-shots on Station #1.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckstopper wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I seem to be in the zone when you got a 1000 mallards in a tornado of feathers bills and web feet hovering over the flooded timber. Those times you don't shoot, just look in awe. i've seen that three times in my life, I could give you the dates, been trying to find that zone again. Other hunts I've been on could say I was in the zone when I limit out with no misses, usually with just one or two other hunters. Seems I get in the TWILIGHT ZONE when there are a dozen hunters in the same hole and can't hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

yep, repitition and visualization. I usually hit the zone on multi-day bird hunts with lots of shooting, but not until Day 2. Day 1 is typically spent blasting more holes in the sky than than birds. But that night, and every night after that for nearly a week, I dream of flying birds. Volume dove hunts evoke skies filled with wave after wave of targets getting easier and easier to see. Upland hunts produce rising coveys or singles, occasionally double roosters, all flying slower and slower. The next few days, my average goes from about 1 in 3, to 1 for 2, to just under that. It amazes me because I've never been more than an average shot at best, especially among the outstanding shooters I grew up with and/or have hunted with. I wish I had the time, patience, and $$$ to shoot that much at the range. Maybe then I could hit more than the embarrassing low scores I get.

Phil, 103 out of 105 without being able to see the target? That is impressive, sir. I was one of those who urged you to use a gun mounted camera in these blogs, and I wondered at the time just how it might mess with your sight picture, balance, etc. I really appreciate you including that perspective in the show, and, more than ever, I really appreciate your skills. Looking forward to GN3!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

MG, Thanks for the clinical explanation of the zone. In laymen terms, the zone is a product of concentration, confidence and focus.
I suppose that everyone who has shot any clay target sport has had days when the targets loomed as large as trashcan lids and moved at the speed of a large rock rolling uphill. Then again, there were days when the targets looked like asprin tablets being fired from cannons at Mach IV.
It seemed like I always got the asprin tablets and my squadmates got the garbage can lids, go figure,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Harold wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I have the same problem. During an average bird season my shooting goes back and forth from pretty darn good to excreable. Actually, I've picked up some real good tips from Phil here on this blog. They've actually helped. I can't help wondering what type of wingshot I'd have been if I'd learned the right way when I was young.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tleichty1989 wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

The more I hit the target it seems "the hotter I get." But when I miss it seems it all goes down hill.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Pig Pen wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I typically overthink the shot and that puts me out of the zone.

My best score came on a day when I was mad about stuff at work and didn't think much at all about the shot, just let instinct take over.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Trapper Vic wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I love being in the zone, but have a heck of a time finding it. I think it has more to do with getting rid of tenion or stress and relaxing. I'm a lousy cold weather trap shooter but in the summer I can find the zone.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Phil - maybe you should always use a mounted camera, and travel with a film crew. oh, but then your name would be Kardashian...unacceptable!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RandyMI wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Do any of the ammunition manufacturers still produce shotshells with that little tracer element in them?
I remember them from 25-30 years ago but haven't seen any lately....

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Oryx,
I too was confused as to what the automomic nervious system did. I know very well what the autonomic nervous system is and does.

A good example of an autonomic reaction is that when I missed a skeet target, my face would become flushed and my BP would increase about 25 mmol/merc, both systolic and diastolic. My vocalization the word 'sh1t' was more of a trained reaction, but through repetition, had become automatic,,,

Since you're 'That Guy', it takes the pressure off me-LOL

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from dale freeman wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

THE ZONE ?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michigan Gunner wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Oryx said "I'm not trying to be "that guy" but your terminology is a bit off. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for stuff we can't affect (yogis and shamen you can ignore) like heartbeat, gut motility, and recoiling in distaste to Rosie McDonnell."

I stand by my original explanation. The Autonmic nervous is made up of two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Without getting into a long explaination, you can "program" your Autonmic as I noted.
Ask you doctor about it. I agree about Rosie!

MG

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from SuperDave wrote 1 year 50 weeks ago

I like when I'm in the zone and my son is not!!!! Tired of losing to the boy!!! LOL

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from WI Hunter 33 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

sweet..i need to shoot more!

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment