I have written before on the importance of focusing on a target, which doesn’t mean looking in the general direction of the target, nor at the whole target, but bearing down on just one part of it. This could be the beak or eye of the bird, or the ring on a clay target.

But, there’s a catch: you can only maintain a hard focus on an object for about half to three-quarters of a second. Test that for yourself by trying to keep your eyes locked tightly on part of an incoming or crossing clay target or a passing bird. You will feel your eyes come off the object if you try to focus tightly on it for too long. What that means is, when you lock onto the beak of the dove or duck making its way to you from a distance, you might lose your focus on it just when you’re ready to shoot, resulting in one of those baffling mystery misses.

The trick, then, is to watch the incoming target with a softer focus. Look at the whole bird, then, as you’re about to shoot, bear down on it with your eyes and narrow your focus onto one specific part of the target. I learned this from Instructor Steve Brown, with whom I had the pleasure of spending a day last month during the OSP School I attended in Texas.

Brown also taught me a great trick for keeping people’s eyes focused on the target at the last instant as they pull the trigger. Before the shot he asks the student to tell him how many pieces the target breaks into and which way the biggest piece goes. The effect is magical. All of sudden targets that were flying away unscathed start breaking into tiny pieces. I have stolen this trick from Brown and used it at during our high school trap practices this spring. You can play this trick on yourself, too, and it works almost as well. Focus is a powerful tool if you use it at the right time.