For those of you who are shooting trap, skeet and sporting clays in the ninety percent range this article is not for you. If, however, you are a new shooter and your shooting is inconsistent; you may want to give this a read.
The three areas of shotgunning that I believe give most shooters problems are:
- Eye dominance problems which lead to cross firing.
- Not sighting in your shotgun to confirm your point of impact matches your aiming point.
- Failing to get your shotgun fitted properly, with emphasis on cast and drop at the comb.
This happened to me and here is my story.
Skeet and sporting clays attracted me at age 40 which coincided with my midlife crisis. I thought I needed a new hunting dog,new shotgun and a fancier SUV; 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 gun shop owners. With each new gun I would hit some targets but miss most of the time, not understanding why. This was a mystery to me. I blamed it on poor coordination but did my best to keep the economy rolling, telling my wife, shotguns always appreciate and you never lose money on one.
I eventually joined a Wednesday night skeet league. I had never shot skeet before and they welcomed me. On my first round of skeet, only one bird broke, the low seven. I had failed before in life with other ventures and would not give up easily. I must have to read more books and watch more videos. That would surely help. It did not!
I finally met a shooting coach at the gun club who was willing to help me out. He stood behind me at station four and watched me shoot. He told me I was inconsistent. He did say, for the most part, I was behind my left to right targets by four feet and in front of my right to left targets. Hmmm.
We went back to station one and he called for a low-house bird. I missed one foot in front of it. (I am right eye dominant and shoot right handed). He told me to close my left eye and call for another bird. This time the target was powdered. The diagnosis? CROSS FIRING.
As an optometrist I know and have studied binocular vision systems. I could not believe I was CROSS FIRING. How could this happen to me? I had often read about CROSS FIRING but had incorrectly dismissed it as a problem for my poor shooting. The standard tests for eye dominance are highly sensitive but false positives do occur. This means my left eye was taking over and the eye looking down the barrel was no longer in charge. I now know this is a significant problem for many shooters. So why does this happen?
Under certain field conditions your brain can take over and say “I like the view here better.” The left eye can take over and cause a switch in dominance. The problem is exacerbated by low light conditions, tiredness, poor contrast and under the stress of competition. This causes a right-handed shooter to shoot behind left to right targets, in front of right to left targets, and to the left of straight away and incoming targets. It is just the opposite for left hand shooters. If you cross fire intermittently, it is worse because your mental computer (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. This is an example of a mystery miss and you have no idea why.
We solve this problem with a Magic Dot kit. The kit comes with two oval shaped translucent occluders and one blue opaque dot. First, occlude your aiming eye with a tissue, on the inside of your shooting glasses. With your shooting glasses on and your gun mounted, place the blue dot on the front surface of the non-aiming lens to block out the front half of your barrel (you will require help to do this properly). After you are happy with the placement of the blue dot, remove your shooting glasses with the blue dot affixed to the front surface of your lens. Now remove the backing on the translucent oval dot. Line it up with the blue dot but on the inside lens surface. Remove the blue dot and retain for future use. Put the shooting glasses back on. Mount your gun and close your aiming eye. The front half of your barrel will be occluded. The translucent dots that come with the kits are quite large so with consistent gun mount and face pressure you will be able to decrease the size of the dot down to 10 to 12 mm.
When the dot is placed correctly you will not be aware of it while hunting or at the range. This enables retention of peripheral binocular vision and dot only comes into play when you mount your gun and are acquiring a target. Magic Dots eliminate CROSS FIRING!
Back to the skeet range and my scores had improved. I was shooting fifteens and sixteens; much better but still not great. Something was not right. One night we set the trap to throw straight aways only, as my instructor watched. The shot string was consistently high and to the left. This would suggest the stock was too high and needed cast off. Okay, now what?
His suggestion was a custom fit the stock, i.e. increase the cast off to bring the shot string to the right and cut down the comb to lower the point of impact of the shot string. I did not want to ruin the wood on my shotgun so I ordered a semi-finished stock from the states, installed it on my gun and started filing increasing the cast off and cutting down the comb.
Back to the trap, I was still high and to the left. I kept on filing and the stock was cut down to the size of a child’s BB gun. Frustration was setting in. What was going on here?
My friend’s wife, a clinical psychologist, had just started shooting skeet and was watching me one night at the range with my trusty file. Of course, she wanted to know what I was doing. I put my file down and explained my problem. She pondered the situation for a few minutes and offered a suggestion, “Barry, have you thought about plastic surgery to remove part of your face to make that gun fit?”
Back to my instructor, he thought for a moment and then asked if I had ever checked the point in impact from a solid bench rest. Ahhh…no. His suggestion was to sit down and sight in my shotgun from a rest; like you would do with a rifle. Under his guidance, on a calm night, I screwed in my full choke. Sighting down the barrel I touched off a few shots. I found out that night my very high end, Italian semi auto- sporting clays shotgun was shooting ten inches high and ten inches to the left from my point of aim at 20 yards. It did not matter how much I filed the comb. This was a gun barrel problem. For skeet shooting this barrel gave me a built in lead, high and to the left. No wonder stations five and six low house were my easiest targets. I returned the barrel to the gun shop and they replaced it.
Back to the bench rest; the new barrel was absolutely perfect! The point of impact was dead on the point of aim. Happiness was setting in and my shooting improved again.
If you watch a right-handed shotgunner (assuming right eye dominant and an accurate point of aim and impact) shoot straight aways, usually they tend to chip targets more on the left side. This indicates not enough cast off is built into the stock. The stock needs to be bent more to the right to align the aiming eye in line with the rib. The right eye is the rear sight of the shotgun. If it is off to the left, the gun will shoot to the left of straight aways, behind left to rights and in front of right to left targets.
Over the counter shotguns have no cast-off (neutral cast) and are stocked too high (not enough drop at the comb in my opinion). I assume this is related to accommodating the left-handed shooter? In Gene Hill’s book, SHOTGUNNER’S NOTEBOOK, he states, ”if you are a right-handed shot, give the bird heading right twice as much lead as you do if it crosses to the left.” I believe this statement is related to the neutral cast issue. There are whole books written on shotgun fitting. Michael Yardley’s book entitled POSITIVE SHOOTING is a great read.
Drop is more complicated than cast and the ideal drop depends on which discipline you are shooting. In trap, you need higher stock therefore less drop. For skeet and sporting clays, you want a flatter shooting gun, therefore more drop. To really determine the proper cast and drop you should hire a shooting coach/stock fitter. If you are looking for a shooting coach or stock fitter, I can provide you with their names and contact information.
Stocks that are adjustable for cast and drop are available from most gun makers. You can also have your current gunstock retrofitted. I have had this done and it has worked out great for me.
So that is my story. If you are serious about shotgunning make sure your dominant eye is in charge and eliminate any possibility of CROSSFIRING with the Magic Dot.
If you buy a new shotgun, take it immediately to the range and bench test it to ensure it is shooting where you are looking. This is extremely important with over and under and side by sides. Very high end guns can be off significantly. Make sure both barrels have the same point of impact.
If you are still having problems hire a shooting coach/stock fitter and follow their advice. They know of what they speak!
Remember the skeet league I joined? Well I won a prize in it: “The Bird Saver Award” It is a nice carving of a drake wood duck and it sits on my fireplace mantle. People often ask if I won that duck in a competition and I say “Yes.” I never tell them I came in last!
If you have any questions regarding sports vision, shooting tints, crossfiring or color defectives you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at contact us here -
Dr. Barry C. Nolt
We thank Terri Ross for taking the pictures.