Shotgunning: The Eye Shift
November 03, 2010
Saving ground on the second bird in a flock.
A skeet field is a good place to practice eye shift.
After reading the title of this article you're probably thinking, "Eye shift -- what in the world does that have to do with shotgunning?"
If you're going to be shooting one duck or one goose at a time, the eye shift does not come into play. But if you try to shoot two ducks or two geese from the same flock, the "eye shift" could be a factor. After killing one bird, you then shift your eyes to a second.
But many times there's not much of an eye shift required. For example, some suggest making a double on doves, ducks or geese in the following manner. If there are two birds to shoot at, with one bird flying a few feet behind the other, try taking the trailing bird first, and then just keep swinging forward to take the lead bird. This is a good way to shoot doubles because your shotgun's muzzle does not have to change direction. Further, the gun just keeps on moving, keeping with the minimal muzzle movement philosophy that shotgun instructors teach. As the eyes move to the second bird there is little if any eye shift involved in the above scenario.
When the two birds you are going to shoot are farther apart, of course, a major eye shift does occur. But before continuing on about using the eye shift, particularly in a waterfowl blind, let me explain how I learned about the eye shift. Todd Bender, one of the best skeet shooters the world has ever seen, is also one of the most sought after shotgun instructors. Bender is scientific in analyzing targets and the how-to of breaking these birds.
Todd has done several instructional shooting videos and DVDs, two of them on the how-to of shooting "Skeet Doubles." Many of you know that skeet doubles involves breaking a High and Low House target -- from Stations Three, Four and Five -- and because these stations are in the middle of a skeet field, all the birds are hard-crossing shots. Also, one bird is going hard right to left, and the other clay is crossing hard left to right.
The basic error many doubles shooters make comes after breaking or missing the first target. The natural tendency is to go with your eyes to the second target -- and take the gun's muzzle right along with the eyes. In actual practice -- when you take the gun with your eyes -- you get the muzzle behind that fast-moving, hard-crossing second target.
To get a better idea of what I mean by eye shift, refer to the accompanying diagram of a skeet field. Let's say the shooter is on Station Three. He has to break the High House target first, then the Low House bird. Ideally, the shooter will break the first target at 15-10 feet, before it gets to the center stake. When that bird breaks, the Low House target is 15-10 feet on the opposite side of the stake. After breaking the first bird, as I said in my last paragraph, the natural tendency is to move the eyes to the Low House bird -- and take the gun along for the ride. Now, once you see that Low House target, you have to turn the gun around and "chase" that Low bird. You can break that second bird by using that technique, but it's more difficult -- and requires a lot more muzzle movement than necessary. You'll make a smoother move, and one with more economy of movement, if you instead make a proper eye shift. Of course, the same strategy will apply when you're trying to kill the second duck or goose in a flock of birds, especially if that second bird is separated from the first by several yards.
The key to Todd Bender's proper eye shift is to not take the gun with the eyes as you look for the second bird. In other words, you break that first target, then immediately go with the eyes to the second bird, and never allow the muzzle to reach the center stake. This isn't easy to do because all of us have the natural inclination to let the gun follow our eyes. But you can practice the eye shift on a skeet field, and I'll get to that shortly.
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Because you have stopped your gun before it has reached the center stake (after breaking the first target), and your eyes have picked up the second target, even before it has reached the center stake (coming from the opposite direction), you are (1) already in a perfect lead position to break bird number two, (2) you have much less muzzle movement, (3) the result is a much smoother move -- going both ways and (4) you will be able to break that second target much sooner than you would had you not made Bender's proper eye shift.
Let's look at a typical duck-shooting scenario. Imagine you have fooled two birds with your stool and your calling. When their big orange feet come down, up you come. Your first shot is easy, but the second bird takes the wind, and climbs at a 45-degree angle to the left from your blind. If you take the gun with your eyes to this bird, you're probably going to take the gun too far past the target, so the muzzle will end up going left, then up. Obviously, you can make this shot. But wouldn't it be easier, smoother, to first go to the second bird with your eyes, then let the muzzle make an easier straight-line move to this duck?
Or let's say you have two overhead geese at 45 yards, flying about 15 yards apart. So you take the lead honker first. If you take the gun with your eyes it's almost guaranteed you are going to take the muzzle behind that second goose. At least you won't be in front of the bird. But if you go with Bender's proper eye shift, your eyes go to that second bird, your muzzle stays where it was, more or less, but now the gun is in almost a perfect position to kill that second honker. The economy of movement has been achieved. The shot is easier. It's such a smooth way to move the gun's muzzle.
Practicing Eye Shift
How do you practice the eye shift? We've talked already about a skeet field and shooting doubles targets from Stations Three, Four and Five. You can practice the eye shift at those stations, but things happen pretty fast there if you're not experienced with skeet. A better way to start this practice would be to shoot doubles from Station 7. Again, note the accompanying skeet field diagram. Here you break the Low House bird first. Try and break it quick -- like 15 feet before it gets to the center stake. Now make the eye shift, because the High House bird will be 15 feet on the opposite side of the center stake. Don't move the gun after breaking that first target. Keep it right over the center stake. Almost immediately you will see the second target, but the gun, since you didn't move it, will be in a near perfect lead position to shatter that second bird.
Shoot Station 7 doubles over and over to get your brain accustomed to making this eye shift -- without muzzle movement after breaking the Low bird. You don't have to shift your eyes very far on this station. Once you feel comfortable making the proper eye shift on Station 7, move to Station 6. Same thing. Try to break the Low House clay 15-10 feet before it gets to the center stake. Don't let the muzzle swing past the center stake. With no delay after breaking the Low House bird shift your eyes well left -- to pick up the High House target. Almost immediately you will see that your gun is in a near perfect position (i.e. the lead is right) to break that second bird. You will have to shift your eyes farther on Station 6 than you did on Station 7, assuming you don't wait too long, and break the first bird too late.
The reason I suggest you practice the eye shift on skeet doubles targets is to make it easier to incorporate the proper eye shift on your second shots at ducks or geese. Without a lot of practice you're going to do what comes natural, let the gun come along with your eyes. I'm convinced you'll find killing that second bird a lot easier if you incorporate the proper eye shift.
If you're interested in checking out more on Todd Bender's eye shift, get his latest DVD, Bender Under the Lights'¦Shooting Skeet Doubles, available from Sunrise Productions, www.sunriseproductions.us.
Nick Sisley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.