If you're proactive, you focus on preparing your swing.
If you're reactive,
you end up focusing on repairing your swing.
Basics series: Visual Focal Point
In our last article, I chose our “muzzle hold point” (MHP) as the most important pre-shot, set-up Basic. I’ll stand by that position based on the necessity of being frugal with our time management on a target. We do, however, have one more step in our pre-shot set-up on the target…our Visual Focal Point (VFP). Where do we look before the call and what should we see when the trap fires?
Why do I ask that question? Because consistency and dependability in your swing will depend on your seeing the early, on-time, correct relationship between the bird and barrel. This target “intercept” sets up that required relationship.
For instance, on your VFP, take a moment from yesterday and visualize when you were standing in your favorite shooting box. As vividly as possible, use your memory and begin replaying your preparing for this next target. Shells in, the shotgun moves into the ready position. The exact moment before you call for the target, PAUSE, and freeze frame right there. Looking across the field, think about what you are seeing just before you say “PULL.” What is clearly in focus? This moment in time is yourVFP.
Here are 2 common VFP scenarios and a few pros and cons of each.
Here’s the first VFP scenario (#1). Basically, once the MHP is set, turn your eyes back towards the trap machine and wait for the target to appear. This method does work successfully for many, many shooters. However, this method also creates 2 problematic conditions. First, turning the eyes back to the trap too often leaves the muzzle unattended and outside of the shooter’s peripheral vision. So, there’s no “muzzle awareness” (MA) in the peripheral vision. With no MA – once the swing begins – setting up the intercept will now involve separately connecting the target to the muzzle. As said above, though this can work, it is a 2-step process.
The second scenario (#2) accomplishes what scenario # 1 does – ONLY IN 1 STEP – thus it’s more efficient, and it’s faster. Much better time management. Once the MHP is set, you look “though the muzzle,” or slightly to the target side of the muzzle, with your primary vision “soft focusing” downrange on the distant MHP. Soft focusing allows more peripheral vision and a wider field of view. MA is definitely in place as our shooter is NOT looking back toward the trap. With a soft focus out at the VFP, the peripheral vision WILL pick up the movement of the approaching bird. Please note that I said “pick up the movement of the bird” – NOT “hard focus on the bird.” Provided the MHP was set up correctly, “hard focus on the bird” is not necessary. Seeing the movement is 100% sufficient as the target is coming – on the line – directly into your MHP. A) the intercept is secure; B) the bird is now in view and C) the correct sight pictures quickly develop. A), B) & C) ARE going to happen – provided the shooter moves the gun gently and very deliberately on the target’s movement (in the peripheral vision) and does not wait to see the bird in focus before starting the move. A prompt intercept will be accomplished, consistently, and dependably.
Let’s pause for a moment. Both methods above correctly have the target in the primary vision. However, there are 2 schools of thought on what you are seeing as you look down that barrel with the target in the air. Some shooters intentionally see the target and ONLY the target (a hard focus on the target) – there is no MA in the peripheral vision – ONLY target rings, edges, etc. I believe this hard focus on the target is contradictory. A hard focus on the target steals indispensable (peripheral vision) information you must have to create essential bird/barrel “sight pictures.” Without those sight pictures – those bird/barrel “relationships” – you are literally shooting in the dark! In my experience, confirmed countless times, this is precisely why MA is essential to improvement and consistent shooting. It was maybe 5 or 6 years ago when I wrote 2 published articles on MA for Sporting Clays magazine, a national publication. The advantages of MA are also presented in my third book, Beyond The Target…”Trust Your MA,” page 60.
When the target appears…
you better have your pants pulled up.
Setting up your MHP and VFP correctly helps you achieve a punctual and accurate intercept. This will also decide if your swing is now on time and moving correctly with the bird, or is in “hurry up and fix it” mode before the trigger pull. Here it comes – or there it goes? Which is another shameless plug for having MA – and why I recommend scenario # 2 explained earlier. Like it did when I learned it, it may take a bit of time to adjust but its end value astronomically exceeds all the time and shells you invest. My students and Paragon Instructors all capitalize on the advantages of MA and depend on it with unconditional trust.
In all fairness and a perpetual intent to be honest, there are exceptions to having MA. These exceptions typically occur when the first bird of the report or true pair encourages a faster, more instinctive swing.
I think it’s fair to say, most of our worries in the shooting box come from a lack of preparation.
"There are 3 types of (shooters):
those who make it happen, those who watch it happen,
and those who wonder what happen(ed)".
~ paraphrasing Dodgers Hal of Famer Tommy Lasorda
Seeing the target early with MA – intercepting the target on time – is worthy of your time to prepare. A punctual target intercept is non-negotiable if you want consistency and dependability in your game. It is here where casual or “close enough” MHP’s and VFP’s quickly introduce random gun movement – the # 1 leading cause of missing regardless of clay target discipline.
May I suggest…to end well…start well by setting up 1) your Break Point, 2) Foot Position, 3) MHP and 4) VFP. This concludes our series on the pre-shot, set-up Basics. Thank you for joining us and I hope you’ve enjoyed the series.
And thank you Robert Roesch (Paragon Professional Instructor) for your insightful contributions to this article.
Dan Schindler is one of only 50 worldwide members of the Guild of Shooting Instructors (UK) and is one of the most highly respected Sporting Clays and Wingshooting Instructors in the US. Dan is an NSCA Level III Instructor (since 1995) and founded the Paragon School of Sporting with one goal in mind. Whether it be for the advanced competitor or providing the basics to the entry-level shooter, Paragon provides the simplest, most practical and most effective Instruction, Coaching and Mental Training for the Sporting Clays, Skeet, Trap & Wingshooting enthusiast. Dan Schindler helps shooters alleviate a lot of their frustration by taking the mystery out of breaking targets, calling their own misses, and make their own corrections. Lessons are fun, enlightening and our clients learn to shoot better in minutes! Dan teaches locally at River Bend Sportsmans Resort in Inman, SC.
Shooters from around the world read Dan's books 2, 3, 4, or more times and refer back to them often. These three EXCELLENT books - Take Your Best Shot, To The Target, and Beyond The Target take the MYSTERY out of missing targets so you can shoot more CONSISTENTLY! Order Books!
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