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Going to Vision: Why Shooters Miss Behind the Bird

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November 27, 2012

Going to Vision: Why Shooters Miss Behind the Bird

By Phil Bourjaily

All misses with a shotgun are frustrating, but shooting behind a bird when you think (you know!) your barrel was in front of it may be the most frustrating of all.

The problem is not insufficient lead. The problem is that you looked back at your barrel to measure the lead. When you did that, the gun stopped* and you shot behind even though last time you looked, your gun was ahead of the bird.

I saw a perfect example in the goose field last week. I was hunting with a friend who is normally a very good shot. A single goose came in on his side, offering a 25-yard crosser. He missed behind it with all three shots. I saw clearly over his shoulder that his gun was pointing behind the bird’s tailfeathers every time he pulled the trigger. After his gun was empty and the bird was gone he asked me, “Was I too far ahead of it?”

I did the same thing myself earlier in the week, trying to be too certain of a shot on a rooster pheasant that my dog and I had put a lot of effort into cornering. I put the gun in front of the bird, thought to myself “make this perfect” (I didn’t want to miss or make a crippling shot) and of course in being too careful, I looked at the gun and missed behind. Fortunately my next thought was “Oh no! I missed! Get it!”  It was a vague and positive enough command that my eyes and hands were freed from mental micromanagment. Allowed to do their job they put the second shot right where it had to be.

“Going to vision” is the new phrase I learned to describe this old problem when I interviewed USA Shooting’s Josh Richmond this spring before he competed in the London games. Richmond said “Even at the Olympic level of shooting, people get anxious. They get too cautious and conscious in their shooting and they go to vision. It’s the cause of most misses even in world-class competition.”

I don’t know if it is encouraging or depressing to know I can miss exactly the same way the best in the world do, but I can, and so can you if you don’t keep your eye on the target and let your eye-hand coordination work its magic.
 
*When you look at a gun it stops moving. I don’t understand the physiological/vision science reason behind it, but it is true. That is why the commonly heard “Don’t stop your swing!” is terrible advice.  It addresses the symptom, not the cause.  It is like telling someone to stop bleeding instead of telling them not to run with scissors. The useful advice is “look at the target.”

Comments (21)

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from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

And doessn't it seem like when you miss it is the easiet shot of the day? I see clay birds shooters do it all the time when they are having a good round going and bear down all the more and think to much and miss the next shot. What you said holds true when shooting at any moving target. Stop your swing and you will miss

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

"The swings the thing." The barrel has to be moving when the trigger is pulled. What I find, and I just finished talking about it to a MASTER CLASS Sporting Clays shooter about 2hrs. ago, is...it is easier to swing on a clay target that someone does all the time, then a big goose, or in my bad shooting case lately, a big rooster. In my case I told my friend that I was killing roosters on my 3rd shot everytime! The first two shots were easy shots, and I totally missed. He knew exactly my problem saying the 3rd shot was a desperation shot after missing the first two shots, and the only shot that I swung the barrel, and got out ahead! He travels to Mexico every year, and shoots thousands of rounds at fast flying doves. He says the first box of shells he shoots he shoots terrible, and has to remind himself to swing the gun, swing the gun..not just point at the dove. Phil has it exactly right the way he describes it...that check of the barrel to see you are on target.

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from blevenson wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

So that's why I shoot like crap at crossers.....

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

A key word you need to think about is TRUST. If the gun stays on your cheek, and is mounted properly, and you've practiced focusing on the target, and swing the barrel, and dust the clay target you TRUST where the barrel is at the time you pull the trigger. When you don't TRUST, you look down the barrel, and check where you are.

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from PbHead wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

See the bird, hit the bird.

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from FSU70 wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

clinchknots friend that goes to Mexico I can identify with. I primarily hunt doves and when the birds first start flying I have to get into a rhythm before I start hitting. That rhythm is swinging through and "not" looking at the gun. Invariably when I find myself missing I know I'm pointing and not swinging threw. TRUST is the key word..... look at the bird, follow it with your eyes and swing threw. Dead bird.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Chewylouie wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Could the same ting happen if you aren't thinking about it? I missed a squirrel 4 times today!

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from ITHACASXS wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I'm nobodys expert on anything, but I've had the privilege to help some young folks, including my own son.I do know that too much info can clutter a mind, so I just tell them to look at the bird and get him,(this is, of course, after all safety measures are taken). Along with keeping your head down, this simple approach seems to be having a modest bit of success, though I'm sure a lot more would be needed for a competitive shooting game. One day I would really like to work with a shooting pro in some sort of clinic/class just to see if I'm not beyond repair. Thanks again Mr. Phil.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

The problem with see bird, shoot bird and not deploying sound smoothbore techniques shooting at moving targets IS....no doubt the young person, or anyone just starting out more than likely grew up shooting a BB-GUN, or a .22 at stationary targets, and AIMING the gun with a fixed barrel on the target. That technique will have you shooting BEHIND the moving target everytime! FSU70 is right on the money just as I said. You have to maintain your eye on the target, and swing the barrel through the target, and pull the trigger with the barrel moving. There is another technique called "Maintained lead" where the gunner moves the barrel out front of the moving target the distance, the lead they think they will need, and then move the barrel along with the bird in flight for a short period of time. My friend says most of the folks that use that technique STOP the barrel when they shoot. He says there is no better technique to cure all ills than the swing through technique that I talked about, and FSU70 talked about. And he said the difference in success in Mexico shooting doves between some members in the group is dramatic. Someone will reach 500 doves shot at a point in time, and someone else will have killed 7 or 8 !!! Then he has to coach that person who asks him what am I doing wrong?!....and he gets them swinging the barrel through the bird.

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from TAMU82 wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

The "stop" everyone is talking about can also occur when the amount of lead required for the shot becomes uncomfortable for the shooter. You have to build what some shooting instructors call "peripheral acceptance" for long lead birds or you'll instinctively stop your gun because you think you've "given it too much," when actually you haven't. Most shooters are only comfortable with 6 or less inches of lead at the barrel and anything beyond that requires a conscious "push" of the gun" until you've built extended acceptance. I know I've noticed this with myself on high, passing and driven birds and on many occasions on the sporting clays field. Also, I would disagree that there is only one fool-proof or best shooting method. One should be proficient in all methods - pass-through, MMS, pull-away, maintained lead, intercept, etc, - to be a consistently good shot. At the core of all of these is - as everyone has said - target focus and movement, but certain types of shots are best executed using certain methods. I don't think it's wise to confine yourself to just one method. One may be your go-to for most shots, but you should practice and become proficient in all methods. I know from my experience with high-volume shooting (1-3K birds a day) in Argentina, a shooter will employ virtually every method of shooting out of necessity. You might start a shooting sequence with pull-away (my go-to) on first shot, then use pass-through on a second bird ahead, and then use intercept on a third bird on a line above that one. (Those who have shot in Argentina know that triples are not an uncommon occurrence given the volume of birds and shooting.)

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

TAMU What the good gunner said was...the best cure for a lot of ills is the swing through methog. I would contend that the guy you talk about that is good at all 3 methods, is the rare exception that shoots a lot of shells in a season. My friend shot over 100,000 rounds in one season. He shot over 5,000 rounds at doves in Mexico alone. The way I perceive the problem with a very large percent of gunners that stop the barrel, is to learn the swing through, and then when I am shooting well, I tell myself to swing through FASTER on longer crossing shots. The swing through may not be a one way solves all, but it is the best way for a whole lot of gunners to use, and not combine it with sustain lead, etc. That is my opinion anyway. The Englishman that waxes our USA sporting clays shooters in the big meets, Dingwald? shoots swing through on all shots. I think that is a true statement. But I do recognize your points you've made, and are well taken...good post.

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

TAMU..and when it comes to shooting doubles, and even triples your point is well taken. It is a matter of where is your barrel after the first shot?..may be far better to pull away on the next bird. But most the the shooters on this thread don't shoot more than a few boxes a shells in a year's time. They would hope to just down that first bird. You sound like you've done a lot of hunting/shooting, and visited some great places to do it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from TAMU82 wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Cinch...thanks, all good comments on this thread. Fun stuff!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Now I have to get back to knowing how to shoot like I've done in the past. I go through streaks of bad shooting, and it frustrates me. My dogs work too hard at what they do to have someone that can't back them up with decent shooting.

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from outdoorsman170 wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

I have done this so much, and it is so frustrating. Thank you so much for the great advice.

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from GAsqhntr wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

That is why I always shoot dismounted skeet! First, your gun has to shoot where you look! Most guns come with too much down pitch. I install a recoil pad with either 0 or 1" down pitch. Then I look at the bird and swing as I mount and fire when the butt hits my shoulder. This works at all ranges because you automatically swing faster at longer range targets. The only thing left to add is look at the birds head!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

outdoorsman...good subject on shotgun shooting, and has been discussed before on this thread. Here is another thing that can be the root cause of stopping the barrel...how you mount the gun! Many, many gunners that don't take the time to learn good shotgun shooting fundementals quickly mount the gun then they CHASE the barrel after the flying target. The longer you have the barrel in front of your eye, and you are chasing the target the more you are inclinded to STOP the barrel when you reach the target. The gun should be mounted not rushing to mount, but swinging/piviting in the direction the target is flying. When the gun stock hits your cheek, and your eye is on the target so should your barrel be pointing at the target...the barrel moves as your eye moves with the target. Now it is much easier to swing through the target without stopping the barrel. The mount is critical.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Thank you, Phil. That explains a lot. Who'd have thought it?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from NorCal Cazadora wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

I like this! Puts a lot more definition to the notion of overthinking. Pretty sure this and lifting my head off the gun explain the vast majority of my misses.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

NorCal...I'm bettin it could be because you mount the gun to your shoulder, and not your cheek. Head needs to be ducked when that happens, and often it never happens.

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from New Age Bubba wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Printing out, pasting on mirror to read every day....

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Post a Comment

from GAsqhntr wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

That is why I always shoot dismounted skeet! First, your gun has to shoot where you look! Most guns come with too much down pitch. I install a recoil pad with either 0 or 1" down pitch. Then I look at the bird and swing as I mount and fire when the butt hits my shoulder. This works at all ranges because you automatically swing faster at longer range targets. The only thing left to add is look at the birds head!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

outdoorsman...good subject on shotgun shooting, and has been discussed before on this thread. Here is another thing that can be the root cause of stopping the barrel...how you mount the gun! Many, many gunners that don't take the time to learn good shotgun shooting fundementals quickly mount the gun then they CHASE the barrel after the flying target. The longer you have the barrel in front of your eye, and you are chasing the target the more you are inclinded to STOP the barrel when you reach the target. The gun should be mounted not rushing to mount, but swinging/piviting in the direction the target is flying. When the gun stock hits your cheek, and your eye is on the target so should your barrel be pointing at the target...the barrel moves as your eye moves with the target. Now it is much easier to swing through the target without stopping the barrel. The mount is critical.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

And doessn't it seem like when you miss it is the easiet shot of the day? I see clay birds shooters do it all the time when they are having a good round going and bear down all the more and think to much and miss the next shot. What you said holds true when shooting at any moving target. Stop your swing and you will miss

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

"The swings the thing." The barrel has to be moving when the trigger is pulled. What I find, and I just finished talking about it to a MASTER CLASS Sporting Clays shooter about 2hrs. ago, is...it is easier to swing on a clay target that someone does all the time, then a big goose, or in my bad shooting case lately, a big rooster. In my case I told my friend that I was killing roosters on my 3rd shot everytime! The first two shots were easy shots, and I totally missed. He knew exactly my problem saying the 3rd shot was a desperation shot after missing the first two shots, and the only shot that I swung the barrel, and got out ahead! He travels to Mexico every year, and shoots thousands of rounds at fast flying doves. He says the first box of shells he shoots he shoots terrible, and has to remind himself to swing the gun, swing the gun..not just point at the dove. Phil has it exactly right the way he describes it...that check of the barrel to see you are on target.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from blevenson wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

So that's why I shoot like crap at crossers.....

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

A key word you need to think about is TRUST. If the gun stays on your cheek, and is mounted properly, and you've practiced focusing on the target, and swing the barrel, and dust the clay target you TRUST where the barrel is at the time you pull the trigger. When you don't TRUST, you look down the barrel, and check where you are.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from PbHead wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

See the bird, hit the bird.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from FSU70 wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

clinchknots friend that goes to Mexico I can identify with. I primarily hunt doves and when the birds first start flying I have to get into a rhythm before I start hitting. That rhythm is swinging through and "not" looking at the gun. Invariably when I find myself missing I know I'm pointing and not swinging threw. TRUST is the key word..... look at the bird, follow it with your eyes and swing threw. Dead bird.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Chewylouie wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Could the same ting happen if you aren't thinking about it? I missed a squirrel 4 times today!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ITHACASXS wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I'm nobodys expert on anything, but I've had the privilege to help some young folks, including my own son.I do know that too much info can clutter a mind, so I just tell them to look at the bird and get him,(this is, of course, after all safety measures are taken). Along with keeping your head down, this simple approach seems to be having a modest bit of success, though I'm sure a lot more would be needed for a competitive shooting game. One day I would really like to work with a shooting pro in some sort of clinic/class just to see if I'm not beyond repair. Thanks again Mr. Phil.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

The problem with see bird, shoot bird and not deploying sound smoothbore techniques shooting at moving targets IS....no doubt the young person, or anyone just starting out more than likely grew up shooting a BB-GUN, or a .22 at stationary targets, and AIMING the gun with a fixed barrel on the target. That technique will have you shooting BEHIND the moving target everytime! FSU70 is right on the money just as I said. You have to maintain your eye on the target, and swing the barrel through the target, and pull the trigger with the barrel moving. There is another technique called "Maintained lead" where the gunner moves the barrel out front of the moving target the distance, the lead they think they will need, and then move the barrel along with the bird in flight for a short period of time. My friend says most of the folks that use that technique STOP the barrel when they shoot. He says there is no better technique to cure all ills than the swing through technique that I talked about, and FSU70 talked about. And he said the difference in success in Mexico shooting doves between some members in the group is dramatic. Someone will reach 500 doves shot at a point in time, and someone else will have killed 7 or 8 !!! Then he has to coach that person who asks him what am I doing wrong?!....and he gets them swinging the barrel through the bird.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from TAMU82 wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

The "stop" everyone is talking about can also occur when the amount of lead required for the shot becomes uncomfortable for the shooter. You have to build what some shooting instructors call "peripheral acceptance" for long lead birds or you'll instinctively stop your gun because you think you've "given it too much," when actually you haven't. Most shooters are only comfortable with 6 or less inches of lead at the barrel and anything beyond that requires a conscious "push" of the gun" until you've built extended acceptance. I know I've noticed this with myself on high, passing and driven birds and on many occasions on the sporting clays field. Also, I would disagree that there is only one fool-proof or best shooting method. One should be proficient in all methods - pass-through, MMS, pull-away, maintained lead, intercept, etc, - to be a consistently good shot. At the core of all of these is - as everyone has said - target focus and movement, but certain types of shots are best executed using certain methods. I don't think it's wise to confine yourself to just one method. One may be your go-to for most shots, but you should practice and become proficient in all methods. I know from my experience with high-volume shooting (1-3K birds a day) in Argentina, a shooter will employ virtually every method of shooting out of necessity. You might start a shooting sequence with pull-away (my go-to) on first shot, then use pass-through on a second bird ahead, and then use intercept on a third bird on a line above that one. (Those who have shot in Argentina know that triples are not an uncommon occurrence given the volume of birds and shooting.)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

TAMU What the good gunner said was...the best cure for a lot of ills is the swing through methog. I would contend that the guy you talk about that is good at all 3 methods, is the rare exception that shoots a lot of shells in a season. My friend shot over 100,000 rounds in one season. He shot over 5,000 rounds at doves in Mexico alone. The way I perceive the problem with a very large percent of gunners that stop the barrel, is to learn the swing through, and then when I am shooting well, I tell myself to swing through FASTER on longer crossing shots. The swing through may not be a one way solves all, but it is the best way for a whole lot of gunners to use, and not combine it with sustain lead, etc. That is my opinion anyway. The Englishman that waxes our USA sporting clays shooters in the big meets, Dingwald? shoots swing through on all shots. I think that is a true statement. But I do recognize your points you've made, and are well taken...good post.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

TAMU..and when it comes to shooting doubles, and even triples your point is well taken. It is a matter of where is your barrel after the first shot?..may be far better to pull away on the next bird. But most the the shooters on this thread don't shoot more than a few boxes a shells in a year's time. They would hope to just down that first bird. You sound like you've done a lot of hunting/shooting, and visited some great places to do it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from TAMU82 wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Cinch...thanks, all good comments on this thread. Fun stuff!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Now I have to get back to knowing how to shoot like I've done in the past. I go through streaks of bad shooting, and it frustrates me. My dogs work too hard at what they do to have someone that can't back them up with decent shooting.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from outdoorsman170 wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

I have done this so much, and it is so frustrating. Thank you so much for the great advice.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Thank you, Phil. That explains a lot. Who'd have thought it?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from NorCal Cazadora wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

I like this! Puts a lot more definition to the notion of overthinking. Pretty sure this and lifting my head off the gun explain the vast majority of my misses.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

NorCal...I'm bettin it could be because you mount the gun to your shoulder, and not your cheek. Head needs to be ducked when that happens, and often it never happens.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from New Age Bubba wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Printing out, pasting on mirror to read every day....

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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