The Paradox of Shooting a Shotgun……………..

(Or the Harder You Try the Worse it Gets)

The mental game of sporting clays is often a misunderstood aspect of shooting.  I have often stated that once an individual learns to move and mount the gun with relative ease and has learned to look at the bird the game is fairly simple.  Whether you are an adult or youth shooter, I feel this is true and relative to your progress as a participant in the sporting game.  Regardless of the method you employ [all having inherent risks] you must be able to deliver the gun into the shoot zone to a place in front of the target to be successful.  Regardless of your insertion point, you must be in front of the target at the point of pulling the trigger on the gun to make dust of the target.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  Most instructors do not like to talk about forward allowance and I am no exception!  Although there are not many absolutes in teaching sporting clays or other clay disciplines, I don’t use the “L” word very often. [lead]  not the metal…..but forward allowance. 

I find that when you talk about lead most students want to begin to measure or look at the gap or the gun barrel.  This is defeating because when you look off the bird in any manner or for any length of time, usually the gun will stop and guess what the target is doing.  That’s right!  The target is continuing its flight and that makes the shooter behind the target and chasing the target with the gun is like an outfielder playing a fly ball from behind…….usually the baseball hits and caroms off the wall and the clays usually hits the ground without being shot.  How do I know this is true?  I began my sporting journey looking at the lead or gap on most all targets until after a year of progressing [slowly] I began to understand more and look at the target with more focus.  Gradually I began to understand that the root cause of misses after you learn to move and mount the gun is target focus!  You must be able to move and mount the gun in an instinctive manner.  This means that you don’t have to think about the gun coming to your face as you move laterally toward the target. [laterally unless it’s a trap type target or teal]  Again, regardless of your method for shooting you must have good focus on the target at the point of the shot.  If you are not focusing hard enough on the target you will check the gun or the gap and the target will most likely be lost.  And guess what happens when you lose a target or two.   This is when a positive mental game in important!   Most shooters will begin to look more at the lead or barrel to try to “engineer” or force the shot.  The conscious brain that controls our lives attempts to take over and steer you to a better performance.  With every miss the anxiety increases and the conscious brain begins to talk to you [you know that little voice in your head that says negative things to you] and the downward spiral continues and the misses begin to pile up  on your scorecard.

And here comes the great irony or paradox.  When your conscious brain is trying to engineer the shot the subconscious brain is no longer effective.  And make no mistake ALL your innate skill resides in your subconscious data base in your brain.  So the harder you try the less efficient your skillset!  The only way to get back on track is to trust your subconscious and allow it to dominate your actions and let the shot happen.  When you stop interfering consciously and trying to make the shot happen and begin to let it happen you will get better.  Everyone remembers that dove that crossed the field toward you and missed him consciously trying to engineer the lead and when he is almost gone you throw up the gun and put him down………..That’s your subconscious system taking over and letting the shot happen.   Anyone who has ever watched the kids at the youth tournaments shoot the flurry machine has seen that when kids are up there in the shooting box without consciously trying to engineer every shot, great scores can be had.  They don’t have time to think about lead or do anything other than see it shoot it!  It is inspiring to see what levels they can perform when they are shooting this way!

So to bring all this to conclusion, the next time you are going in reverse or into a downward spiral and that voice is in your head and you are tempted to allow the conscious to override the shooting in a station, remember that you can’t make it happen, you can only let it happen.   If you want your subconscious to fix things, you must begin to trust your innate skill to come to the forefront and believe me it’s hard to let go!  But if you want to shoot a better score you must look harder at the target and develop a system [a pre-shot routine or rehearsal] that allows you to forget about conscious input and allow subconscious control of the output.  You will be amazed at what you can do when adapting this into your shooting routine!

Dan Paxton

Level Two Instructor

Vice President, SC Sporting Clays Association