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A Shotgun & Shooter Tune-up

The article you are about to read will help you improve your shooting ability, post better scores and generally have more fun at shotgunning. The intention of this writing is to give the serious novice shooter insight into three areas that are only touched on in most shotgun articles. The importance of eliminating the potential problem of cross firing, taking time to ”sight in” your shotgun and getting enough cast off on your shotgun stock will be explained. Remedies to these problems will be suggested from my own, limited personal experiences.

Shooting skeet and sporting clays began four years ago at the same time as my mid-life crisis. I wanted a girlfriend and a sports car( neither of which were obtained) but more than that I wanted to learn how to shoot a shotgun properly.

I went through the usual steps of buying and selling shotguns much to the delight of many gunshop owners. With each new gun I would hit some targets but miss most of the time, not understanding why. It must be my poor coordination. I did my best to keep the economy rolling, telling my wife that shotguns always appreciate and that you would never lose money when they are sold. YEH RIGHT!!!!!

I joined a Wednesday night skeet league the year of my fortieth birthday. They told me ”no problem” if you had never shot skeet before. The league was just for fun. On my first round of skeet only one bird broke…low seven. You can imagine how bad I felt that night. Nevertheless, I did not give up. More shotgun books were read and more videos were watched on the subject. Returning to the skeet range there was some minor improvement. After trying a couple more new shotguns a decision was made on a very popular semi-auto in a sporting clays model. This was to be my main gun.

After hanging around the gun club I met a person who really knew what was happening with shotgunning. We talked and came to an agreement. He was to help me with my shooting. One summer night after the skeet league he stood behind me on Station 4 and watched me shoot. He told me that I was inconsistent, but most of the time the shot string was behind my left to right by 4 feet and in front of my right to left targets.(My right eye is dominant and I shoot that way)

We went back to Station 1 and called for a low house bird. I missed, one foot in front of it. He said ”try another but shut your left eye.” This time the target was powdered. The diagnosis… Crossfiring. My left eye was taking over. One solution to the problem was to try a ”Magic Dot.” We positioned a dot on the left lens of my shooting glasses and tried again. The result was an increase in my score from eight’s and nine’s out of twenty?five to fourteen’s and fifteen’s out of twenty?five. Definitely an improvement, but still not good enough.

I have been shooting now for four years and have watched others shoot. Crossfiring happens to more people than you would believe. The target is missed and you haven’t got a clue why.

As an optometrist, a visual scientist, I know and understand binocular vision systems. It was hard to believe that I was crossfiring. Having read about it often in books, and studying it at optometry school, I still incorrectly dismissed it as a problem in my shooting. My vision is 20/20 in each eye with normal binocular vision. When taking the test for eye dominance, it always suggests strong right eye dominance. This is good for people like me that shoot right-handed. The eye dominance test was giving a false negative in my case, meaning my left eye was taking over. I suspect this happens for many other shooters as well.

Under field conditions your brain takes over and it says ”I like the view here.” You see the target better with your left eye, causing a switch in dominance. The problem is exacerbated by low light conditions, tiredness, poor contrast, or under the stress of a competition. This causes you to miss behind your left to rights, in front of your right to left and to the left of straight away targets. If you crossfire only occasionally it is worse, because your mental computer (i.e. your brain) gets confused and your learning curve goes down. You miss the bird, but the perceived sight picture is the same when your left eye takes over.

As mentioned earlier, a simple solution to this problem is to install a ”magic dot” to the left lens of your shooting glasses. These kits can be purchased from Decot and some specialty sporting goods stores. The kit comes with two translucent 19 mm dots and one black dot. It includes instructions. To set it up for a right-handed person, (you will proably need someone to help you with this) mount your gun, put your head down on the stock in your normal shooting position and occlude you right eye. Look down the barrel with your left eye and position the black dot on the front surface of the left lens so that it occludes the front 1/3rd of your shotgun barrel. The translucent dot is then positioned on the inside of the left lens in the same position as the black dot. 19mm is large for the dot so I cut mine down 5mm at a time. The dot on my current shooting glasses now measures 9 mm in diameter. I do not notice it when field hunting or at the gun club. In addition you retain peripheral binocular vision, which is important in picking up targets in the field and at the range. This little dot solved my crossfiring problem absolutely by occluding my view of the front 1/3 of the barrel with my left eye. With fine tuning and positioning you may cut the dot down to 7 mm.

So back to the skeet range I went. Something was still not right.

My instructor told me that my shot string was high and to the left. Okay, now what?

His suggestion was to custom fit the stock, increase the cast off and cut down the comb to change the point of impact. Not wanting to ruin the wood on my main gun stock I ordered a semi-finished stock from Fajen-Reinhart, installed it on my gun and started filing, increasing the cast off and cutting down the comb.

Back to the target field trap, still high and to the left. The stock was getting smaller and I was getting worried, but continued to file. The stock had now assumed the size of a child’s BB gun and frustration was setting in. The shot string was still high and to the left. What was going on here?

A friend of mine’s wife, a psychologist, who had just started shooting skeet herself, was watching me at the trap range one night with my trusty file. Of course she wanted to know what was happening. I explained my problem to her. This lady is smart. She pondered the situation and offered a suggestion. ”Barry, why don’t you try plastic surgery, remove part of your face to make that gun fit.” Well I wanted it right and it was a unique thought. The decision was to leave that idea as a last desperate solution to my problem.

Back to my instructor with another explanation. He thought for a minute and asked if my shotgun had ever been ”sighted in.” ”Ah…no.” His suggestion was to sight in my shotgun as you would a high-powered rifle from a rock solid bench rest. Under his guidance I screwed in my tightest choke, picked a calm night and a large shot size. (eg. No.4’s) He explained the larger shot size would be affected less by any wind drift.

I found out that night that my excellent quality, single barreled, semi-auto sporting clays model shotgun was shooting 8” high and 8” to the left. It did not matter how much the comb was filed. The problem was, the barrel was out. The way it was in skeet, that gun barrel gave me a built in lead, high and to the left. No wonder Stations 5 & 6 low were my easiest stations with that gun barrel. This gun was set up perfect for those stations. After 18 months of shooting I finally checked my gun to ensure it was shooting to where it was pointed. The barrel was returned to the gunshop where it was purchased and they replaced it, no problem. (They kinda know me there.)

Back to the bench rest. The new barrel was absolutely perfect. The point of impact was dead on the sight picture. The gun was finally shooting to where I pointed it. Happiness set in and my shooting improved again.

After this experience I now believe that when you purchase a shotgun you should take it directly to the patterning board and sight it in from a rock solid bench rest. Make sure the gun is shooting to where you point it. Sight it in the same way you would a new high-powered or .22 rifle. This exercise is very important to me now. Experience shows that if this can happen in a single barrel gun, then the probability of it happening in an o/u or s/s is much greater. With double shotguns this exercise will also tell you whether the top and bottom or left and right barrels on a s/s are shooting to the same point of impact. Try it and you might be surprised by the results. Keep in mind that there is some tolerance in s/s and o/u by virtue of their design and manufacture. If one barrel is out significantly from the other, any serious shotgunner will want the problem remedied. Don’t wait 18 months to sight in your shotgun like I did

This article is about making your shotgun shoot to where you point it. The truth is that any shotgun can be built to fit you, be it a pump, semi-auto, o/u, s/s or single shot. I feel that most off the rack, over the counter shotguns do not have enough cast off on the stock for the average North American body build.

If you watch a right?handed shotgunner (assume right eye dominant and an accurate point of impact) shoot straight aways, usually when they chip the target it is to the left side. This indicates not enough cast off. Here again we have a shotgun that is shooting to the left for a right?handed shooter.

The right eye is the rear sight of the shotgun. Because it is off to the left (ie. not enough cast off) the gun will shoot to the left of straight aways, behind left to right and in front of right to left targets.

In Gene Hill’s book ”Shotgunner’s Notebook” he says that you should use more lead (twice) on left to rights and less on right to left, but he does not say why. I truly believe that the reason is that there is not enough cast off on most over the counter shotgun stocks. Solutions to this problem are:

1) Adjustable comb stocks are available from some manufacturers. You can order one to replace your current stock with an adjustable cast off and vertical adjustment mechanism.

2) Send your shotgun stock to one of the companies that advertise in this magazine and they can add the adjustable comb feature to your current stock.

3) If you are handy with a file and ”bondo”(body filler) then order a semi-finished stock from Fajen-Reinhart. You can install it on your shotgun and fit it yourself. This is not that hard to do. If you make a mistake you can always refill it with the ”bondo” and try again. Adjust it so that the cast is perfect and set the vertical height (ie. drop at the comb) to match your shooting discipline. There are a few good people out there who can help you with this. Ask at your local gun club. Befriend one of these people and get them to help you with this project.

The stock on my semi-auto is custom fitted via file and bondo. I replaced the stock on my o/u with a factory adjustable comb. Both accomplish the same thing for me, which is getting enough cast off my shotgun stock. This lines up my right eye, which is the rear sight of the shotgun with the center of the rib.

If you are having problems with your shotgun shooting or you are consistently inconsistent, and you do not know why, consider the ideas expressed in this article. We spend thousands of dollars on new shotguns, chokes, porting, forcing cones, back-boring and barrel polishing. If:

i) you are crossfiring even occasionally

ii) your shotgun does not shoot to where you point it

iii) you do not have enough cast off on the stock (for a right?handed person)

you will never realize your full shooting potential.

By the way, remember that skeet league I joined, well I won a prize ”The Bird Saver Award.” It is a nice carving of a male wood duck and it sits on my fireplace mantel. People often ask me if I won that duck in a competition and I say ”yes I did.” I never tell them I came in last….

If you have any technical questions regarding sports vision, shooting tints, crossfiring, or color defectives you can email me at:

Good shooting Barry Nolt O.D.

Published: 4/1/1999
Source: Sporting Clays Magazine