Bird Hunting photo

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›

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.”