Controlling Your Vision
The most important fundamental in shooting or any hand-eye coordination sport, for that matter, is the focusing of the eyes on the object, in our case the target. Even though it is the most important, it is the least understood and perfected of all components of shooting.
Seeing the target is not necessarily focusing on the target. You can see something without having definitive focus of the object. In sports vision, having true focus on an object is called centering. A simple exercise can demonstrate. Find and look at any object that has lettering on it — a sign, a car’s license plate or even the page this article is written on. Now look at that object. As the eyes focus on that object, they scan it for interesting things to look at. Next, choose a single letter within the text in your object. If you are using this page, for example, you might choose the letter “t” in “centering”. Now, focus on that letter. In a matter of moments, you should see that character come forward against the background of all of the other characters and stand out. You will at the same time feel your eyes lock on that character and stop scanning, as that character comes into clear focus. This is centering.
Depending on what city you’re from, Jerry Rice is generally recognized as the greatest receiver in the history of the NFL. Jerry Rice said he could see the Commissioner’s stamped signature on the ball as he caught it. When a receiver in football drops the ball, he takes his eyes off the ball, usually to see who is about to knock him down. Most receivers just watch the ball. Jerry Rice was the best ever because he saw the Commissioner’s signature on the ball. He centered his vision.
How does this relate to shooting? Some instructors say to look at the leading edge of the target. I was taught to look at the rings on the dome of the clay and to watch it spin. It’s all just another way of saying look at the target. But don’t just look — focus…hard. From behind a shotgun, many shooters can see a lot of things. They see the background: the clouds, the trees, the birds and a little orange aspirin flying really fast through the scene. The top shooters see a big orange trash can lid flying really slow.
Ever have one of those days when everything felt just right? The targets were big and slow, and your scores showed it. Then there are the days when everything is off — the targets are fast, you are not smooth, and it’s one of those days Mom warned you about. Most shooters look at the differences between these days as some sort of “black box” occurrence, never to be controlled. The difference is simply vision. On the good days, you are seeing targets well, only because you are focused on them. The bad days, you are not.
Ask the average shooter where they locate their hold point or the starting point for the gun as the target is called for. Many can with impressive accuracy tell you. Ask the same shooter where they look for a particular target, and you may only get a puzzled look. Eye placement, or eye position, is really just an eye “hold point”. It is important the eyes be focused in an area that allows immediate recognition and the quickest focus possible. You cannot hit what you cannot see, and where and how you look for a target as it is called for, dictates this. In actuality, eye placement is more important than hold point because the best hold point in the world is useless if the target is not acquired immediately by the eyes and acted upon.
Everyone’s eyes are different, as are their reflexes. Eye placement can be as individual as any other element discussed so far. A number of shooters look directly in the window when calling for a target. I do not. This does not make me right and everybody else wrong. It’s just that people and eyes are different. But I do look in specific places — for specific reasons.
I do not look in the window on any shot except for the targets on Station 8. The reason is two-fold. First, I know the human eye cannot focus on a target as it leaves the window of the house. It is a blur. Since it is a blur at that point, I do not waste my primary focus looking in an area where I cannot see the target clearly. I know, however, by the time the target has traveled 10 to 15 feet from the house, I can begin to be able to focus on it, seeing the target in a clear, defined manner. So, depending on angle of target presentation and background, I look approximately 5 to 10 feet out away from the house in order to pick up the target in a way that allows me to focus on the target as quickly as possible.
During the actual execution of the shot, as the target emerges from the window, I see this in my peripheral vision. This is my cue to initiate gun movement. As the gun accelerates, the target moves into the area of my primary focus, 15 feet out from the window. Now that the gun is already in flight and simultaneously I have acquired hard visual focus on the target, I can generate a sustained lead shot, matching gun speed with target speed with little effort on my part.
No matter where you look when calling for the target, the above sequence of events is the desired outcome, and you must search for an area of eye focus so this situation occurs.
There is a second reason I prefer not to look in the window of the house for the target, and that is a matter of contrast. The human eye is drawn to high contrast. That is why road signs, speed limit signs and warning signs are lettered on backgrounds in the following fashion, black on white and black on yellow. Those combinations are of high contrast. Dark darks, bright brights. The eye is drawn to that contrast. It is easy to see. That is the way the human eye works.
On most skeet houses, there is a white square painted around the window, a white square painted around a black hole. This is done so the shooter can better see the target leave the window. White square, black hole, high contrast. Thanks a lot.
I feel if I look at the window, I will, as the target emerges, continue to focus on the window as the target speeds across the field. This is unlikely, but I may lose precious milliseconds as I take my focus from the house, which my eyes are naturally drawn to, and refocus on a target accelerating away from my eyes. I feel much more comfortable looking in an area away from the house, without specific focus on any one object, then letting the target approach, through peripheral vision, into my area of primary focus, thus allowing for quicker visual acquisition.
When it comes to eye positioning, where you look for the target is not significant. It is how you see the target that is significant. There is no right or wrong. What is important is you see the target clearly and immediately, and once you have found wherever that may be, it is important your application of that look point be consistent. If you routinely look into the window to see your targets, chances are in experimenting with where I look, you may find it uncomfortable or that it just does not work for you. This is to be expected. We are creatures of habit. Also, the old saying, “if it ain’t broke…” applies completely to eye placement. If you feel you are seeing the target in an acute and timely manner, then be satisfied. However, if targets get ahead of you or you never really seem to have clear, detailed focus on the target, seeing the rings or maybe even seeing it spin, then you need to search for alternative areas in which to focus for the targets.
Again, differences between individuals can be great, so competently addressing specific look points here would not be possible. However, the average shooter does generally fall into range. For specific look points on particular shots on a skeet field, go to the website toddbendintl.com.
Once you find the right place to look on each particular shot, be consistent in your setup and use of that focal point. Continually changing where one looks for a target from shot to shot will make each and every shot a brand new and different adventure.
One of the visual mistakes in shotgunning is “Leaving Early”. This is the antithesis of correct visual target acquisition. Leaving Early is sometimes quite obvious to the outside observer and, on the other hand, sometimes notoriously well-hidden. Obvious or not, it is the act of moving the gun before the target emerges from the window or before it is released from the trap. Most shooters do it. Some are aware of it, some aren’t. Some of the nation’s top shooters rely on doing it. However, they have tremendous control of their eyes, so they get away with it. Some “instructors” actually teach this, although unless you have tremendous ability and a lot of time and money to practice this “timing” of your shots, look elsewhere.
Leaving Early can cause us problems and make shots much more difficult when shooting singles, but when moving to doubles, it is all but impossible. One of the keys to proper doubles shooting is precise placement of the first shot. Yet, this is impossible when leaving on your call, because now you must break your first shot whenever you find it and become aligned with it, which will never be in a consistent spot. Throw in variances on the pulls, and you cannot have any consistency on your first or your second shots in doubles. How many times have you seen a shooter, or been the shooter, who dropped out of a shoot-off because of a slower pull on your first shot, which threw off the timing on the second?
So what’s wrong with “cheating” a little anyway? Leaving Early should let you get a “jump” on certain targets, like a High Two or Low Six, so they will not “beat” you. Looks good on paper but, unfortunately, does not play out favorably in reality. To better define this, we must first understand exactly what happens when one Leaves Early.
The gun moving before the target emerges is actually the end result of another action and not the central problem itself. It is the eyes that move in anticipation of target movement, which in turn causes barrel movement. Let’s examine a shot step-by-step to illustrate.
Once we have established a hold point, our next step is to position our eyes. This eye positioning, or where you look, is strictly individual and varies from shooter to shooter. Nevertheless, this positioning can be of more importance than the hold point, and if incorrect, can cause the very problem we are concerned with. We will discuss this later. But let’s assume we are looking for the target in an acceptable area. Now that eye and gun position are established, we are prepared to call for the target.
As the target is called for, the eyes can sometimes jump from their initial starting point to where the brain “thinks” it will see or find the target. As the eyes move to this point, the barrel of the gun follows the eyes to this corresponding location. All seems well so far, except for the fact the target is still sitting on the trap arm. Obviously, now the gun has accelerated well in front of the target, so once it does emerge, the gun will have to decelerate to allow for target acquisition and a proper sight picture. However, this acquisition of the target is now further impeded because the eyes are looking over the barrel. With the eyes focused on or over the barrel, it is very difficult or near impossible to refocus and find the target. So, when we Leave Early, things begin to snowball on us. This is because first we jump out in front of the target, but we jumped in front of the target because the eyes went to the barrel, and the barrel went to where we thought we could find the target. Yet now, we cannot find the target because we are looking at the barrel and have no focus on the target itself.
If you ever see a shooter get way out ahead of a target, then stop and take the target way out past the middle of the field, it is a safe guess you have just witnessed Leaving Early or premature eye movement. First, there is the initial jump, which is the eye movement coupled with the gun movement. Then, the gun stops as the eyes search for something to shoot at. Then, the target is acquired, and an attempt is made at breaking the target well past where it should be taken. Sometimes there is no adjustment of the gun speed prior to firing because the eyes never leave the barrel. This results in a miss in front, and the shooter having no idea where the shot went, even though he may have been 12 feet in front. The lack of knowledge on shot placement is due to the fact the eyes were focused on or over the barrel, and the location of the target relative to the barrel was an unknown. It all sounds like too much trouble to me.
The example just given is certainly an extreme. Many shooters, because of their ability, mask this movement much better but still are vulnerable to its pitfalls. Because an experienced shooter is more in tune to the timing of the game and understands better where and how to look for targets, they can still Leave Early and get away with it, most of the time.
So what’s the fix? It’s what I call “Discipline of the Eyes.” It’s my whole game. “Discipline of the Eyes” says: As the target emerges from the window, not on my call, I initiate gun movement, the gears start to turn, but the eyes stay set.
Understand that in the first 15 feet of target flight, the target is a blur. It takes the human eye a couple of milliseconds to focus on the target as it leaves the window, and after it is 18, 19, 20 feet out of the window, the eye has had a chance to focus on the target. In this “blur” stage the targets look fast, so the eyes have a tendency to jump out to where the shot will be taken. The brain knows that target will end up there and knows it’s easier to see out there, so the eyes jump. Leaving Early.
I must discipline the eyes and watch the “blur” turn into a defined object. If I can watch the “blur” during the first 15 feet of target flight turn into a defined object, and I watch that happen, by the time the target is 20 feet out of the window, guess where my gun will be — it will be matching gun speed with target speed and with the correct lead. It’s hand-eye coordination.
If there is a secret to vision and seeing targets well, it’s letting the eyes settle, what’s referred to as “Eye Set”. This “Eye Set” is crucial to proper target acquisition on a consistent basis. As we age, our eyes do not refocus to distance as quickly as they used to because the elasticity of the lens in our eyes changes. So it is necessary to let the eyes settle, once, to where I call a “directional look point”, is achieved. Once I have mounted the gun to the hold point and shifted my eyes to the directional look point off the window, I then let the eyes settle for two seconds. It takes the human eye a good second to fully settle and focus at a particular spot. My “two-second rule” assures my eyes are focused and ready to respond to a target leaving the window at 50 mph. This is important to all shooters but increasingly critical in advanced years.
In this article, I will avoid addressing changes in visual acuity and/or changes in eye dominance. These factors certainly affect vision on targets but are too broad a subject to be covered in this discussion and have already been covered in past writings. Not only can visual acuity change over the years, but be aware that over time, eye dominance can change with age, or at least conditions can occur, where an eye that has been dominant for years starts to lose its dominancy. Gradual loss of sight pictures or decline in scores over time can be indicative of this problem.
The focus of this article is about what one should see when shooting skeet at the most critical "beginning of the shot." What has not been discussed, although I alluded to with “Eye Set”, is what should the eyes be doing in the even more critical seconds and milliseconds before the target is called for, to ensure the target is seen to your greatest potential. This “Holy Grail” of all clay target shooting will be discussed in the next article in Shotgun Sports in the October “On The Grounds” issue at the 2017 NSSA World Championships in San Antonio, Texas. SS
Todd Bender has been performing at the highest levels of the skeet game for nearly 40 years. Here are a few of his achievements: Highest HOA in the history of the sport .9972; 24 Open NSSA World Championships; NSSA World Championships (2007, 2008, 2009) shot perfect scores of 550x550. In 1987 Todd was the first shooter ever to shoot three consecutive 400x400s and the only shooter to do it twice- 400x400, 400x400, 550x550 (1991) and the NSSA Men’s All-American First Team 35 consecutive times. Todd maintains a hectic travel schedule around the world with his shooting clinics and tournament schedule. He has been writing for Shotgun Sports since 2005. Todd’s instructional DVDs are available on page 63 in this issue. For information about Todd Bender Performance Systems International and for Todd’s 2017 Clinic Schedule, go to the Clinic Schedule Page at toddbenderintl.com or contact Todd Bender at firstname.lastname@example.org.