Look At The Bird
November 03, 2010
Muzzle movement distracts the shooter's eyes
"Look at the bird. Look at the bird," wingshooters are constantly commanded. If the phrase has been drummed into our heads long enough, we're even thinking as we're preparing to shoot, "Look at the bird. Look at the bird." So why is it difficult to constantly have to be reminded we should look at the bird?
Move your shotgun's muzzle to where you think the target is going to be when it's time to hit the trigger.
Eye specialists and sports psychologists can no doubt enumerate the reasons, but I'm going to toss out a reason that might be less obvious: Man is a predator of other animals, but man also has been preyed upon by other men and animals.
The ability to see motion helps predators and prey stay alive. Our eyes are drawn to motion like iron filings to a magnet, like my nose to the scent of chocolate. The trait has saved men's lives and helped him feed his family for thousands of years.When a target emerges -- a Canada goose, brant, greenhead, pintail or even a clay target -- our eyes go directly to the feathered or pitch motion.
But what comes into play next? Our shotgun's muzzle. And it is moving, too. Now our eyes have two separate motions to perceive. Do you think that confuses the old orbs and brain a bit? I bet it does. No wonder we have to be reminded so often by instructors, by shooting buddies, by ourselves to "Look at the bird. Look at the bird." The darn shotgun muzzles are offering distracting motion while we are trying to concentrate on the target.
One way we try to circumvent the problem is by training our brain by mentally forcing ourselves to look at the target -- only the target. In most shooting situations, we try to get the muzzle in proximity to the bird's path. Swing-through shooters get the muzzle just behind, and then swing through. The result is a lot of muzzle motion -- muzzle motion even faster than the bird is moving.
Sustained-lead shooters get the muzzle to a distance in front of the bird, and then track for a brief period before pulling the trigger. That's still a lot of muzzle movement. Then there's the pull-away technique: Get the muzzle to the bird's bill, track briefly and then pull away. Again, it creates a lot of muzzle movement, especially right at the end.
Does all of this muzzle movement attract our eyes to it? Of course.
Some hunters say, "If I have a lot of time and see the bird coming, there's a good chance I'll miss. But if all of a sudden, the bird is there and I pull up and shoot, I seem to hit most of those ducks."
Why do so many of us have similar experiences?
I've been studying "Focus and Fire," an instructional shooting DVD by Bill McGuire that suggests another shooting method -- one with a lot less muzzle movement.
McGuire starts students with a quartering-away bird. He would have us take a few shots at a target with the clay quartering away right to left, although not at a steep angle.
McGuire says shooter after shooter takes this bird with the muzzle starting well back toward the trap. The result is one heck of a lot of muzzle movement. It is not a particularly tough target, so we are probably going to break all or most of them, despite all of the distracting muzzle movement.
But then, McGuire shows us his way. Instead of starting with the muzzle back near the trap like you and I did -- he sticks the muzzle way out front -- almost to the area where he's going to break the bird. He pre-mounts the gun, but then moves the muzzle down slightly, the stock still on his shoulder. He then takes his eyes all the way back to the trap.
After a brief period to allow his eyes to focus sharply on that area, McGuire calls for the bird.
When the bird comes out, he locks his focus on the target's leading edge. While McGuire is focusing in the mini-seconds involved, he hasn't moved the gun's muzzle. So far, there's no muzzle movement to draw the eyes. As the bird approaches the gun, McGuire brings the stock to his face, and with very little muzzle movement, he hits the trigger and turns the target to dust. His eyes have not been distracted by a lot of muzzle movement.
Training your brain to look at only the target makes muzzle movement less noticeable.
He has been able to use his eyes to really zero in on the bird for a relatively long period of time.
How do we apply the technique to a waterfowl hunting situation? It shouldn't be difficult, although we might have to retrain all of our shooting education and experience learned over the past decades. I think we're all interested in becoming better shots. Otherwise, why would you be reading this drivel?
As a honker appears, don't take the muzzle to the bird. In most situations, you have a reasonable idea of where the bird is going to be when you hit the trigger. So get the muzzle almost to the area. Do it without thinking. What you want to think about seriously is zeroing in your stare on the bird, only the bird. Let the bird approach the muzzle that is already in a good position.
Admittedly, only mini-seconds are involved, but the mini-seconds of hard stare are super important. As the bird approaches the muzzle, finish your gun mount and hit the trigger with no delay. The action simulates the arrival of a bird unseen -- you have to simply react, a circumstance when most of us admit we do our best shooting. In the scenario described, you also have the advantage of a hard stare on the bird for a relatively long time.
You can practice the method on a sporting clays range or a skeet field. For starters, I'd suggest an incoming quartering target rather than the outgoing quartering bird McGuire uses in his DVD. You'll simply have more time with an incomer, plus the clay will be slowing more. Both factors make the shot a little easier. The incoming quartering bird can be simulated with a High House target and the shooter standing at Station 7.
Figure you are going to break the target halfway between the center stake and the Low House (the latter situated where you are standing). Place the muzzle just a little to the left of the imaginary break point. Mount the gun into its final position. Next, relax your shoulder on the gun, lift your face from the stock, but keep the butt sto
ck in your shoulder pocket. With your face off of the stock, you will have an excellent look at the bird. Take your eyes back to the High House window (on a sporting clays course, look at the target's first emergence point). Allow your eyes an extra second to hard focus on where the target is going to emerge. Call for the bird.
As it emerges, lock in your stare. There's no need to move the gun's muzzle yet. Simply concentrate your stare on the clay -- on its leading edge. As the bird nears the gun, finish your gun mount to your cheek, lock your head tight to the wood and hit the trigger.
I think you will be amazed at the results. In the duck blind or the goose pit, simply apply what you learn with this suggested clay target practice. And you can use the same philosophy on crossing targets, not only quartering targets.
Nick Sisley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Focus and Fire" is available from Sunrise Productions at www.sunrisevideo.com or (800) 862-6399.