Shortcuts to Better Shooting

This expert advice will help you improve your shooting before opening day

© Chris Jennings

By Brad Fitzpatrick

Gil and Vicki Ash, owners of OSP Shooting School, have discovered that skeet shooters can reduce misses by 40 percent after only one lesson with a professional instructor. Duck hunters can achieve similar results with the right coaching. Gil Ash kindly offered to share a few of his secrets to help waterfowlers hone their wingshooting skills during the off-season. 

Change Your Focus

“Where do your eyes go when you are shooting at a crossing bird?” Ash asks. The answer for many of us is directly down the barrel, which is a mistake. Why? Because your focus should be on the bird, and if you are looking at the target down the rib of the shotgun you will shoot behind it. You may even think you are leading the bird, but if your eyes are on the barrel and the bird at the same time, you will always be playing catch-up.

There’s a simple remedy for this, and it requires shooters to remain focused only on the target while maintaining control of the muzzle. To practice this skill, Ash recommends what he calls the “three-bullet drill.” Ash places three shotgun shells on a table or shelf in front of the shooter, who is holding an unloaded shotgun about five yards away. The cartridges should be placed approximately eight to 10 inches apart. With your gun unmounted, begin by focusing on the middle shell. Then, without moving your eyes from the middle shell, mount your gun and point it at the far right shell. You’ll immediately recognize that your face isn’t looking down the rib, and that’s an odd feeling for most shooters.

This simple drill, repeated 10 times a day for three or four weeks, will help you develop a new awareness of how the gun feels when you are properly focusing on a flying target. Reverse the drill and, keeping your eyes focused on the middle shell, mount the gun and point it at the cartridge on the far left. What you will immediately notice is that you are looking across the gun (for right-handers), which feels quite unnatural. But it feels unnatural only because you are used to staring down the barrel at the bird. This drill will remedy that. 

Refine Your Swing

Shotgun instructors have always preached about maintaining a smooth swing and keeping the barrel moving through the shot. There’s no doubt that a smooth follow-through is important, but if simply swinging the gun ahead of the target was the answer to hitting birds, duck hunters would have a much higher shooting average per box.

Ash says the key to developing a more efficient and effective swing is to understand how our nervous system works. According to medical researchers, it takes roughly 300 milliseconds to turn a mental command into a physical response. That means a third of a second passes between the time our brains tell us to fire and when we actually pull the trigger. It’s the same reason that hand-timed track-and-field events register faster than races timed electronically (by, you guessed it, about a third of a second on average).

What does this have to do with shooting? If you’re a duck hunter, it means you will have an even harder time getting ahead of the target if you use the traditional swing-through method. Based on the 300-millisecond rule, Ash teaches a different technique—matching gun speed to target speed. This method, which will come much more easily if you have practiced the three-bullet drill mentioned earlier, will eliminate many of the variables that can cause you to miss behind the target. Matching the target speed allows your brain to send the message to fire, and, after that third of a second has passed, your gun will still be keeping proper pace, with the muzzle ahead of the bird while your eyes remain firmly locked on target.

For more information about the shooting techniques mentioned in this article and other tips from Gil and Vicki Ash, visit the OSP Shooting School website at ospschool.com.

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