Static target shooting (rifle and pistol) affords the opportunity for the competitor to see the result of the shot, analyse what went wrong and correct any fault. With a shotgun, when you miss a clay target you cannot see the tell tale signs of where the shot went - unless you have a coach at your shoulder to see where your barrels ended up pointing or observes another reason for the miss.
Personal self analysis of a missed target is difficult, but you must learn how to achieve it or you will never improve. As always there is no shortcut, no magic “gizmo” to buy, although there are some that think “tracer shells” could be an ideal aid to assisting self-analysis. Well I’m sorry to disappoint those that do but in my experience, use of such shells just encourages head lifting - to see where the shot went – causing even more problems. What is really needed is a ‘system’ to work out for yourself what caused the miss, just like we have a ‘system’ for every other aspect of our shooting - pick-up point, break point, gun mount, establishing lead and taking the shot.
The ‘system’ I use, as do many other coaches, is based on the saying “Most Targets are missed because the beginning is wrong”, the system is simple and is based on the “Three Rs” which are: 1st R - The miss is a RESULT, 2nd R – Establish the REASON for the miss, 3rd R - Apply a REMEDY. Most top shooters, when they miss a target, immediately analyse and reassess lead (too much, too little) or whether they were over or under the target - and then make a correction. For top shots this is sufficient to get back on track but the majority of mid-class shooters need to start their self-analysis at the beginning.
So where does the shot start? At the visual pick-up point? At the muzzle pick-up point? No. The shot starts at your feet! Let’s imagine that you have just missed a right to left crosser (1st R established - the RESULT was a miss). Now you have to find the second and third Rs (Reason and Remedy). There are many causes for a miss – and remember that it could be the result of more than one fault, so only change one thing at a time as you go through the sequence of analysis.
Start at the feet. Are you standing correctly and balanced with your front foot toe pointing at the break point? If not then this will cause a miss behind due to you running out of swing or a miss underneath due to rolling of shoulders off the line.
If your stance needs correction, do so and take another shot - if you break the target, job done. If you miss again, next thing to analyse is gun mount. Was your eye-rib alignment correct? Did you check it at the break point before winding back? Were you seeing too much rib as this would cause a miss over the top. Check your Gun mount to make sure you have correct eye-rib alignment, shoot another target - if it breaks, job done.
So now you can see where we are going with this ‘system’. It finds the cause of missing a target by checking and elimination. If you are still missing the same target, go through the rest of the sequence - is your visual pick-up point correct (did the target beat you - if so, adjust). Was your muzzle pick-up point OK (too far out from the pick-up point. Started too soon or were you too close to the pick-up point allowing the target to beat you?). Adjust until correct. Next, check your break point - did you try and break the target in the right place, the “Sweet Spot” that gets you in perfect position to pick up target number two. If not, were you trying to shoot it too quick or was it too late because you were “riding it, trying to make sure! So re-evaluate and change - but remember, changing the break point will also involve moving your feet to get the correct body line.
Finally, if you are still missing the target, then look at the method you used to achieve lead. Remember that the ‘fall back’ technique for achieving lead should always be The Pull Away Method (Keith’s Mystical 3P’s) , as this gives you positive contact with the target that allows the brain to correctly evaluate speed and direction - all you have to do is adjust the lead picture by plus or minus until you break the target.
So, to re-cap. When you miss, start from the beginning of the shot not the end (The Lead!), start from your feet, up through your body out along the gun via your eye-rib alignment, to the visual pick-up point and onto the muzzle pick up point and then onto the target itself. As soon as you find something wrong change it - but only change one thing at a time until you find the Remedy (3rd R).
Never be afraid to change something. It is better to miss a target in ten different places than ten times in the same place - at least you are trying and all the time that you are trying something different, you are learning. Providing you go through this sequence step by step, nine times out of ten you will find the cause.
Remember it’s not all about “The Lead” it’s about the technique you use to achieve it! Perfect technique will always create a Perfect Shot which always results in a Successful Shot and of course “It’s Only Perfect Practise That Makes Perfect!!
If you just can’t sort it out by yourself, try not to ask other shooters where you missed. To accurately evaluate your shot, they must be in the correct position, close to you, looking over your shoulder at where the gun is in relation to the target when you pull the trigger - not beside you or maybe two or three yards behind you. What other shooters (not in the correct position) see is a paradox, not what really happened. Fellow shooters tend to look at your targets, not what you are physically doing. They will only look at your set up when you have missed - and then see that the gun is behind the target because you have completed the shot and already stopped the gun. That’s why 99% of shooters always tell friends “you missed that behind”.
It takes many years to become a professional shotgun coach and to see the faults that occur in the three to five seconds it takes to execute a shot. So, if you really don’t have a clue as to what is causing misses (particularly on specific specialty targets such as rabbits, battues and chandelles) take time out to see a professional coach. They will correct the fault and teach you how to self-analyse.