The basic advice “Head on the stock, eye on the rock” covers the two most essential rules of hitting a flying target with a shotgun.

Moving the gun in time with the target is the often overlooked third essential.

Moving the gun too fast when shooting a shotgun is a mysterious and frustrating cause of misses. Slowing your hands down can be a magical cure.

I was reminded again of the importance of matching the speed of your hands to the speed of the target the other day. We started high school trap practice for the season and one of the kids who showed up had never fired a gun before.

Since he had no bad habits I was able to start him with a good stance, holding the gun the right way on the side of his dominant eye. The kid was an athlete, so he understood the importance of looking at the target, not the gun (I often ask kids, “Did you ever play baseball? What would happen if you looked at the bat instead of the ball?”), but he kept missing. The gun would lurch to the target, then stop and he would miss behind.

Then I said “Try moving your hands half as fast.”

He centered the next target and every one after that.

If you move the gun a lot faster than the bird, your eye goes to the gun. (I don’t know why, but it’s something eyes do) As soon as your eye goes to it, the gun stops moving (again, I don’t know why, but it stops). You miss behind. Usually you then try to compensate by moving the gun even faster to get ahead of the bird, when you should try slowing down.

Move the gun at the speed of the target and it’s easier to keep your eye on the bird. I could have said to the kid “move the gun in time with the target” but he had just picked up a shotgun for the first time. I figured “move the gun at half that speed” would be easier for him to do. It was.

Shooting a shotgun is really very simple.