Tips to Break Bad Shooting Habits

Lapses in proper shooting form usually lead to missed shots
By Aaron Fraser Pass

My last column dealt with what might be called the psychology of shooting—specifically, how subconscious mental laziness and loss of focus can lead to shooting slumps. In this column, we are going to get down to the nitty-gritty and discuss specific bad shooting habits that are all too easy to acquire but often difficult to lose.

Lifting your head as you fire is one of the most common bad habits. Since your eye is essentially the "rear sight" of your shotgun, raising the eye raises your point of impact and causes you to shoot high.

Perhaps the main reason shooters lift their head is to see the effect of the shot on the target. Unfortunately, lifting your head often results in the shot having no effect on the target. Also, hunters trying for a double lift their head when they want to verify a solid hit with their first shot, but of course missing the first shot is not the easiest way to get a double.

My solution is to use shotguns with a slightly high point of impact. I prefer a 60-40 pattern—60 percent above and 40 percent below the point of aim. This provides me with a good, clear view of the target above my sighting plane. Except for very steeply rising targets or very fast incomers, I don't have to cover the target with the gun muzzle.

Another common bad habit is slowing or stopping the swing as the shot is fired. One reason for this is the shooter tries to recheck his sight picture one last time to make sure he's dead on. This invariably slows the swing and usually wrecks the shot. The other reasons are simple laziness or fatigue.

There is no cute technical trick to cure the slowed or stopped swing. The cure is relentless discipline. "Push the gun, pass the bird, pull the trigger, push the gun some more." Make it a mantra.

The flinch is one of the most distressing shooting problems around. It usually develops slowly and is suddenly just there—a full-blown miss machine. Nobody wants it, and once acquired, it is devilishly difficult to get over. The prevailing theory is that a flinch is the body's subconscious reaction to painful stimuli, be it stiff recoil, fierce muzzle blast—or both. The body wants to shrink away from pain.
Americans have an unholy fascination with powerful ammo. Whether for rifles, shotguns, or pistols, "biggest is best" is the American way. And sadly, we seldom ask ourselves if we can handle that kicking, bellowing round. Even sadder, many shooters refuse to admit they can't, and shoot their way into a perhaps incurable flinch.

I once saw a fellow show up for an expensive plantation turkey hunt with a brand-new magnum shotgun and the biggest, baddest turkey loads on the market. To check the guns, the target was set at 30 yards. 

That shooter flinched so badly that his shot load plowed (literally) into the ground 30 feet in front of his firing position—five consecutive times! He went back to the lodge loudly protesting that he had been sold a bum gun. After he was gone, one of the guides banged the target dead on with it.

To cure a flinch, back off the big stuff. Frequent but brief practice sessions with the lightest loads in heavy guns are the ticket. Remove the pain from the shooting equation. You have to convince your subconscious that you won't hurt yourself anymore. When you resume hunting, use the lightest loads that will get the job done.

Fowl Fact
HEAVY HITTERS Many modern magnum shotgun loads produce recoil comparable to that of the ammo used in African big game rifles.