A report by DANA FARRELL from Clay Shooting USA Magazine
National champion, Bill McGuire, suggests that the old phrase hand-eye coordination should be changed to eye-hand coordination when it relates to clay target sports. It's his way of saying that the eyes must first clearly 'see' what a target is doing and feed good information to the brain, before the hands can make move to the target.
The matter of how to reach hard visual focus on the target and its importance in shooting excellence is something best handled by a highly qualified instructor, but there are two new visual tools on the market that are worth looking at. One can help tune your visual perception when engaging a target; the other can help train your eyes to focus on a target faster and with better visual acuity.
Invented by David Stewart, the ShotKam is an ingeniously designed, user friendly video camera that mounts underneath a gun barrel. The inspiration for the ShotKam came when Stewart was introducing his then ten year old son to shooting, and was struggling to find a way to demonstrate the concept of forward allowance. Weighing 5.5 ounces, the ShotKam connects to your smart phone via WiFi, allowing reticle alignment, in-the-field video playback, and changing of playback speeds. Videos are recorded at 120 frames per second, allowing frame by frame playback that’s detailed and fast enough to even see shot clouds. Connecting to a computer is achieved using a USB connection, and the ShotKam’s software suite includes well produced video tutorials on using the unit and organizing the resulting video files. The Shotkam stores data on an onboard micro SD card, is rechargeable via a USB cord, and like a cell phone, can either be charged by connecting to a computer, or by using the optional wall plug /USB adapter.
A 12 gauge, rubber padded bracket is included with the unit, with 20, 28 and .410 and 12 gauge side by side brackets optionally available for $40 each. I found the unit simple to mount using the included hex wrench, then downloaded the free ShotKamPro smart phone app from the web and followed the instructions to link to my phone via WiFi. Once mated to the unit, the smart phone is used to position the reticle to your point of aim. When ready to use, a push of the button turns the unit on, and the ShotKam remains idle until the gun action is closed, at which point it begins a buffered recording session. When it senses the recoil of the gun the device automatically saves the video sequence from before, during and after the shot, compiling a short video file, then it returns to an idle state until the next shot is taken. Although the ShotKam is a very advanced piece of high tech hardware, it’s surprisingly simple enough to use – even for those of us who are technophobes. Critics might say the one drawback is the weight the unit adds to the gun barrel. It’s certainly not a cure-all for correcting all problems a shooter may be have, but one tool, that if used smartly, could result in more Xs on a scorecard. Instructor Mike McAlpine says he loves the unit because it confirms his calls of where a students’ misses are, and gives the students something they themselves can take home and view.
I mounted the camera to a friend’s gun for a trial run during a 5-Stand session at my local club. The subject is an experienced bird hunter, but is a less proficient clays shooter who struggles with technical targets. After viewing his videos, he was able to see he was often shooting over top of many targets. A light-bulb moment also occurred for him when he realized just how much more forward allowance must be given to a laser-fast, quartering incomer that he failed to hit after multiple attempts. Excited with the results of that first ShotKam session, he was very anxious to try it again. This is the inherent value of the ShotKam: showing a shooter’s Point-Of-Aim in relation to a moving target. During a recorded shooting lesson an instructor could conceivably break a troublesome target with the student’s gun, contrasting the video with one of the student attempting the same presentation. Beginning/lower level shooters would naturally benefit more than advanced shooters, although I could see higher level shooters using the ShotKam to work on a particular bogie target – possibly one that they’re having trouble with at a certain point in its flight path. Aside from the learning potential of using the ShotKam to improve one’s shooting, it’s just plain fun to watch the videos of clay targets being crushed, and bird hunters will appreciate the opportunity to video archive their hunts from the perspective of the gun barrel. Purchase price is $695 and includes a padded case, lens cleaner pen and an assortment of spare mounting parts. Free express shipping to anywhere in the US, and 30 day money back guarantee is standard. www.shotkam.com
Churchill called it forward allowance, the rest of the world calls it lead, call it what you will, every shot taken at anything but a stationary target requires the shooter to put some space (the lead) between his bead and the target. Until some genius comes up with a shotgun cartridge that is as fast as the speed of light we are going to have to deal with the sobering fact that lead shot takes time to travel from the muzzle to the target. That time is proportional to distance but it usually takes about 0.12 seconds for a cloud of shot to travel 40 yards. In that same time a clay target moving 50 mph across the shooter will travel nearly 3 feet. It is intuitive that the shooter would then have to aim 3 feet in front of the clay to hit it.
There are many ways of creating lead, one of the most popular being a maintained lead, which is where the shooter catches up to the bird, overtakes it on its flight plane, establishes the correct distance in front of the bird, and lets fly, not stopping the gun. The second is a more instinctive form where the shooter catches up to the bird with his muzzle, accelerates his swing-through-the-bird, and pulls the trigger at the correct moment. Whichever way it is done, the essential element of the process is to let the shot fly in a direction towards where the shot cloud will meet the target in a point in space.
The next little problem is that shotguns don’t have sights in the conventional sense – usually the sighting system comprises a bead at the muzzle, perhaps a rib running down the length of the barrels, maybe another alignment bead halfway down the barrel. But in all cases there is no backsight. That is because the backsight is your eye. I don’t want to get into left and right eye domination in this article because it is a very vexing and complex issue. So for discussion purposes we will assume that your dominant eye is the one that is looking straight down the barrels of the shotgun, the one you use to (not) aim at the clay.
At this point the reader will ask “What about fit?” and a very valid question it is, because during the act of shooting we should not be conscious of the gun, only the target, and the bead. The eye and bead alignment has to be just right, so that every time the gun is mounted, the eye and the bead of the gun are aligned along the barrel. This can only be accomplished properly by the horrendously expensive process of fitting the gun to the shooter. For those who can afford it, it is well worth it, but for most of us, we just adapt to the gun we have bought. Having said that, many of the top guns fit 90% percent of shooters just fine, so adapting to a gun is a relatively painless process.
Lastly, there is the problem of interpreting lead. It is very difficult for one shooter to tell another what he sees the instant he pulls the trigger on a bird. He might say “Put 2 feet in front of it and slightly below” having successfully broken a target, but there is so much information missing from such a statement that it is barely helpful. Additional useful information might include “I’m seeing a lot of rib”, or “I used maintained lead”, but you rarely hear that.
Most of us have seen the videos on You Tube where an expert has attached a Go Pro camera to his shotgun looking down the rib attempting to replicate the view you would have while addressing, creating lead and shooting the clay. In all of them the camera sits too high, or off line from the rib, for the simple reason that any other way would block the shooter’s eye from seeing the correct sight picture. The result looks awkward and the resolution is poor.
This is where the ShotKam comes in. The ShotKam was developed by a Scottish engineer David Stewart who is an expert in weapons sighting systems. His idea stemmed from a teaching session on the range where his son was struggling to connect with the clay targets. He felt that a video representation of what a clay pigeon shooter tries to achieve would be useful because youngsters have great learning capabilities when using video games.
The next engineering problem was how to create a video camera that could withstand the recoil forces generated by a shotgun. Dipping into his military weapons experience, David created a solid-state video camera and point-of-aim system that was attached below the barrels and could withstand the 1,000G forces that each shot delivers. A working prototype was created in late 2011 and after 6 months of rigorous testing in the Florida marshes, the ShotKam went into production in May 2012. Continual product improvement has resulted in a state-of-the-art camera system that faithfully records your clay pigeon exploits.
After it has been activated, ShotKam’s HD video continuously records and buffers a video picture, but uses a sensitive digital accelerometer which senses when the shotgun is closed and when it is fired. It then writes the AVI video to a 32GB memory card comprising the two seconds before the shot is taken, the actual shot and one second afterwards. The settings are adjustable via the software that accompanies the camera, so you can change the settings for different situations, such as when bird hunting.
The ShotKam comes loaded with a couple of useful features (and one that is totally useless – the laser). The video picture has a reticle superimposed on it – this can be a cross, a dot or a “rib”. It has to be aligned with the shotgun’s actual aiming point to give the user the correct picture. Alignment is a very simple procedure. This is the central feature of the system; it shows exactly where the bead was pointing when the shot was taken.
The system is virtually fire-and-forget. You switch it on at the start of a round, and then forget it is there. The camera goes to sleep while you are waiting your turn, it “wakes up” when you close your gun after you have loaded it, and writes the video to the card when you have fired your shot, or shots in the case of a double. Then it goes back to sleep. You concentrate on your round of clays.
The internal battery can be re-charged via a USB cable and will last for a day’s clay shooting. The battery is not accessible and can only be replaced by the factory. Battery life is estimated to be 3 years. The package comes with both a USB mains and 12V cigarette charger. The data card has sufficient capacity to hold videos for 1,000 clay targets.
The ShotKam is very light, weighing only 150g. It is probably best to mount the camera as far back as you can so that the rhythm of your swing is not affected. Most shooters will not even notice it after a while.
Lastly the ShotKam features a Wi-Fi mode, in that the camera can stream live footage to an Android or Apple device that carries the ShotKam app. Battery life is considerably shortened but an instructor standing next to you can see what you are seeing as you address and shoot the target. So if you have a problem with a particular bird, the instructor can quickly analyze what you are doing wrong and give advice to get you on to that target.
The least useful feature is the laser mode. ShotKam has a built is red laser which can be switched on and projects a bright dot onto a wall, and which allows you to analyze the movement of your muzzles indoors – it is purely a training tool. The problem is that there is no way you can align it with your rib. The example I have projects a good three inches left and two inches low of my aiming point and is thoroughly off-putting. Not to mention that one might pick up the bad habit of unconsciously adjusting your head position to make the red dot align with the bead, with the result that the gun is not pointing where you are looking. I tried it once and immediately switched it off.
When you receive the ShotKam you get a very handy foam compartment plastic carry box which contains the ShotKam complete with lens cap, lens cleaning pen, data card, data card SD converter, a USB cable, a mains charger, 12V cigarette lighter charger, a mounting bracket with rubber pad, and a bag of spares (spare lens cap, screws, rubber pad and Allen keys).
Installing the ShotKam is easily accomplished and is fully illustrated in the instructions and in the video tutorials on their website. You might want to play around with the positioning of the camera on the bottom barrel to minimize the effect on your swing.
Aligning the ShotKam with the rib is also easily done but you will need a smart phone (Either Android or Apple iOS) to do it. The ShotKamPro app must be downloaded from the App store and installed. Turn on the ShotKam Wi-Fi feature and connect with it on your phone – a slightly delayed video picture from the camera appears on the phone. Looking down the rib using your usual sight picture, align the bead of your shotgun with a spot on the wall (a bright orange sticker is provided for just this purpose) with the gun mounted in a cradle and using the direction arrows on the screen move the reticle to align with the spot. Don’t be too hasty, the delay in picture transmission may cause you to overshoot, so make an adjustment, watch the delayed result then move again, if you have to. If you are happy, your ShotKam is now aligned and the camera is now centered on your sight picture.
- Peter Millan, South Africa - ShotKam Customer Review
For more great ShotKam tips, visit Gil Ash's OSP Shooting School site at https://ospschool.com/
An axiom is defined as a proposition that needs no proof and is considered to be self-evident. It is truth taken for granted, and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferring other truths. Axioms contrast sharply with opinions or conjecture. Axioms such as:
“You can’t be in two places at once,”
“Something either is, or it isn’t,”
“Every thing exists.”
are essential and inviolable truths. Is there an axiom we can reference when attempting to intercept a moving object? Whether catching an outfield fly with a baseball mitt, hitting a baseball with a bat, or intercepting a volleyed tennis ball with a racquet, there is indeed an axiom we can apply: “Keep your eye on the ball”. Few would disagree with this essential truth. Is it possible to catch a baseball while looking at the mitt, or hit a baseball while looking at the bat? Sure. And blind squirrels find nuts every now and then too. But when intercepting a moving object, the applicable “rule” is to maintain constant visual focus on the object we are trying to intercept, and not the object we are trying to intercept it with. This was the basis of Robert Churchill’s Theory of Allowance, one of the most important elements of what we now refer to as The Churchill Method, and his most important contribution to wing and clay shooting. While Churchill is often maligned and just as frequently misunderstood, he took the above axiom about intercepting moving objects and broadened its application to include the art and action of engaging moving targets with a shotgun. In his initial work “How to Shoot” (cir. 1925) and his later quintessential work “Game Shooting” (1955) he proclaimed, “the shooter should not be conscious of his muzzle, the rib or sight. His eye, or rather his attention, should be fully occupied with the bird, and, if he holds his gun properly, he will hit whatever he is looking at.” When shooting a “long gun” man’s natural tendency was, and continues to be, to consciously align the gun barrel or aim in order to apply forward allowance. Against this backdrop, Churchill’s axiom was groundbreaking. He further urged his students, “by correct mounting and body work, shoot naturally without constraint or effort [seemingly] straight at the bird; but subconsciously, overthrowing a little and so giving the necessary lead.” It sounds like voodoo, but it works. While others, like Churchill’s contemporary Percy Stanbury, later followed Churchill with well recognized written works, no one before or since Churchill has advanced a theory, or articulated a principle, that is more significant for the wing and clay shooter. Among sporting clays shooters however, a sizable school of thought persists that these principles don’t apply in our sport. We encourage our squad mates to tell us what lead or gap they see between the target and the barrel after they pull the trigger (even though it is virtually impossible for us to replicate the duality of focus that our squad-mates used to measure their three-foot lead). If you insist on measuring lead, magazine articles abound that reinforce the merits of measuring perceived lead. One can even purchase a big “honkin” green or orange front sight in order to see the barrel better, or purchase a DVD on how to calculate the lead applied to specific shots.
When I first started shooting sporting clays, I read a bit about The Churchill Method. At first glance, and for a number of years thereafter, I couldn’t understand the concept of trusting the subconscious to apply lead or how a shooter could consistently hit clay targets without consciously and visually steering the gun to engage the target. From the age of 8, when I first started competing in NRA small bore, through my tenure in the US Army as both an instructor and an operator, I had employed, taught and nicely perfected the technique of lining up the sights of a firearm to meet the center of a target. So, like many other neophytes to the world of sporting clays that stumbled across Churchill, I summarily dismissed his method as impractical and illogical. It wasn’t until years later, that I experienced my epiphany under the watchful eye of an instructor. I came to understand that sporting clays targets, as with game birds, must be engaged in a wholly different fashion than a stationary target. We point a shotgun. We do not aim it. We intercept or engage a clay target much like we do a baseball, with the target being the sole object of our visual focus. Any awareness of, or focus on, the mitt or the gun barrel diminishes our focus on the object being intercepted thus reducing the quality of the data reaching our eye, optic nerve and cerebral computer.
Since my conversion, I have tried to understand why Churchill’s Theory of Allowance and his method are not more in the forefront of current thought. A quick on-line search of “Churchill Method” will turn up a number of “experts” that summarily dismiss the Churchill Method because of what I would classify as misperception about the man and his method. The two distinct elements of The Churchill Method are 1) his Theory of Allowance, and 2) his method of mounting and moving to the bird. While it is not possible to mount a comprehensive defense of The Churchill Method here, it is critical to differentiate his personal style of shooting from The Method. I will concede that Robert Churchill employed a stance and foot position that was quite open with weight evenly distributed over both feet. While his stance was indeed unconventional, it compensated for his stout build and enabled him to swing to a target better than almost all of his contemporaries. In “Game Shooting”, Churchill himself acknowledges that stance should be adjusted or customized to the shooter. While I am a strong advocate of a consistent “ready position” or starting position, I will further concede that Churchill’s recommended “ready position”, with “gun stock pressed tight under the right arm…and barrels on a line with the right shoulder, and at a right angle to the torso” might not be appropriate for many modern target presentations. It was however, and still remains, the gold standard for engaging flushing birds, which was Churchill’s primary orientation. Most who reject The Churchill Method do so because they have not delved deeply enough into his work. To discard his method on the grounds of his style is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. His “Theory of Allowance” and detailed instruction on mount and movement are his greatest gifts to posterity. I employ and teach my students a stance that is more oblique to the target line than Churchill’s, with the lead foot pointed just off the anticipated break point, more akin to the style of Percy Stanbury, a Churchill contemporary. This seems to work better for most shooters although, an mentioned earlier, stance should be individualized to a degree.
With the wide variety of target trajectories we encounter in modern sporting clays and the fact that their flight paths are more predictable than game birds, the shotgun barrel on a given target presentation should be consciously oriented on the hold point and target line just prior to calling for the target. Once the target is launched, the gun barrel(s) should remain oriented on the target line while the shooter moves with the target and simultaneously mounts the gun to the cheek and shoulder. The target line, or trajectory of the target, should dictate the shooter’s hold point and barrel orientation. Past that, having read everything available by or on Churchill, The Churchill Method is as much “essential truth” today, as it was 60 years ago. So, before traveling down one of the many rabbit holes available to shooters in search of the newest target engagement method, understand that the world will always be round, the planets will continue to revolve around the sun, and in order to engage a moving target we need to apply sharp visual focus to it, without any visual awareness of the gun barrel. These are timeless truths.
- Don Currie, Chief NSCA Instructor
For more Don Currie articles, visit http://doncurrie.com/
“Rabbits are my most challenging target, and I basically feel like I’m guessing when I shoot at them. Help! What is the best way to approach rabbits?”
Crossing rabbits, and especially quartering ones, always look as if they are moving faster than they really are due to their proximity to the ground. Most misses are in front, even though squad members will tell you that you are missing behind. Many shooters have a tendency to start their move with a hold point too far back toward the trap, which generates excessive gun speed.
For the rabbit, your muzzle should start just below the line of the target. Start moving your gun as the target emerges from the trap and quickly match the speed of the rabbit. Matching gun speed with target speed is critical. Insert your gun on the target line at about the level of the rabbit’s “feet” or bottom edge while applying hard focus to the front “foot” of the rabbit — about 4:30 on the clock for a left-to-right and 7:30 for a right-to-left target. For quartering or crossing rabbits inside 35 yards, pull the trigger as soon as you FEEL the muzzle touching the “tail” or trailing edge of the target, while maintaining sharp visual focus on the front foot.
It may feel as though you are going to miss behind, but the momentum of your swing and your natural eye-hand coordination will apply the necessary forward allowance. You are more likely to miss if your hold point is too far back, you fail to match gun speed to target speed, you apply soft focus, or you try to measure your lead.
Keep your eye on the front foot and match gun speed to target speed, and you will crush them every time!
- Don Currie, Chief NSCA Instructor
The "Shooting Rabbits" article can also be found at: http://doncurrie.com/shooting-rabbits/
If you are having trouble breaking chandelle targets, or arcing targets, it is likely because of the unique characteristics of the chandelle that differentiate it from other targets: 1) it is showing either all belly or all face which tricks our brain into believing that it is moving slower than it really is, 2) it is arcing and thus changing trajectory throughout its flight path, and 3) it is in transition, changing speed throughout its entire flight path. Since most shooters choose to break a chandelle at the apex or, more often, at some point after the apex, the target is almost always in transition at the breakpoint. To increase your chances of crushing these sometimes-tricky targets, follow these simple steps:
**** Select and commit to a breakpoint. In other words, pick your breakpoint and execute the shot where you planned to break it.
**** Select the focal point on the target (“leading edge” of the target at the breakpoint) and make sure you are focusing on the focal point through the breakpoint. Don’t focus on the whole target! Focus small!
**** Achieve good flow with the target. Matching gun speed with target speed on this target will actually help you achieve better target focus.
**** Approach the breakpoint at an upward angle so that you don’t get the gun between your eye and the target. For chandelles, and any other type of target that is descending at the breakpoint, it’s easy to miss a target over the top and behind by moving your gun into the target line and interrupting the connection between your eye and the target just before you execute the shot. Whatever you do, don’t follow the line of the target with your shotgun. This is a recipe for frustration with any transitioning target.
So, you step onto a sporting clays station and come face to face with a trap shot followed by a fast left-to-right chandelle at about 35 yards. You determine that you’ll break the chandelle about 5 feet below and to the right of the apex of the arc, so the leading edge of the target will be at about 4 o’clock at the breakpoint. Because the target is descending, it will be critical for you to move the gun barrel at an upward angle to the breakpoint…. in this case along a line that’s about 8 o’clock to 2 o’clock (lower left to upper right direction). This will help you to avoid any interruption of visual focus on the leading edge of the target through the breakpoint. This also means that your hold point will be a bit lower and farther away from the visual pick-up point and closer to the breakpoint than for a crossing target…lets say half way to the breakpoint. For a quartering chandelle, your hold point will be even closer to the breakpoint to avoid excessive gun speed when you execute the shot.
You establish your ready position, call for the pair and break the first target with ease. The chandelle launches, you match gun speed with target speed, move the gun up to the breakpoint while maintaining sharp visual focus on a dime-size piece of the target at the 4 o’clock position…Dead bird.
- Don Currie - Chief Instructor, NSCA
For more related article, please visit Clay Shooting USA at https://clayshootingusa.com/