Shooting in the "Zone"


March 17, 2003, 11:01 PM
I don't know how to explain it, those of you who have experienced this know what I'm talking about, if I had heard somebody talking about this say five years ago I would have thought they were full of bunk.

But the Zone is real. And I think that always being in it is what seperates the great ones from the rest of us.

Ever reach that point where you can't lose? Shoot that stage where everything is absolutely perfect? You don't think. You only react. Time slows down. Ten seconds feel like thirty. You can't miss. Steel plates are as big as your car. IDPA paper targets are the size of a bus. All movement is absolute smoothness. Everything is perfectly calm.

Normally I would consider myself a techically proficient shooter. But every now and then (not nearly often enough) I will go into that perfectly calm mode. Then I can't hardly lose. It is the weirdest thing.

I honestly believe that the best of the best are always at this mental level. Every single stage.

I know that if I could harness the ability to get into that perfectly clear mental state on every single stage I would be a much better shooter. I think that the mental game is way more important than we often give it credit.

The first time I ever achieved that state was at a 3 gun match. I was having a horrible day. Misses, killing hostages, fumbling reloads, you name it I did it. I was frustrated, and then became even more angry when I discovered that somebody had kicked sand into the open action of my rifle as it sat on its case, right before the long range rifle stage.

So I said screw it, I forgot about shooting, shook the sand out of my rifle and shot. I didn't think about aiming, I didn't think about sights, trigger, anything like that. I just shot. Next thing I knew I had cleared the stage in 20 seconds, 0 points down. The 2nd place shooter did it in 35, average was in the mid 40s.

I was stunned. It was the first time in my life that I had actually won a stage in an honest to goodness match with really good shooters. :) It was a revelation.

Now I try to cultivate that state of mind. Thing is I can't actually cultivate it. Either I'm in that state or I'm not. If I think about getting into it, I can't.

My first national level match, I totally tanked it. I was so nervous. I put myself under too much mental pressure and blew it. I couldn't reach that zone, so I just shot like a technically competant shooter, nothing more. Came in 180th out of 220. :)

I had it happen to me a couple times at a 3 gun match last Saturday. 23 shots from my Vepr in 10.68 seconds. No problem. Dumped 15 shots into a mover that was visable for 5 seconds at twelve yards from the holster. No problem.

One stage later, not in the zone, shoot like a buffoon, drop a ton of points on a simple and easy rifle stage. :p Go figure.

How do you guys deal with the mental game? How do you get in the zone?

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Jon Coppenbarger
March 17, 2003, 11:45 PM
you have touched on the biggest part of the sport to overcome or control.

it comes to me this way, I break it up when the conscious, subconscious and self image are well balanced and working together, good perfomances are made easy.

#1 self image as you control what you feel and think about yourself and it should always be positive in every aspect of the shot, from the mental thinking of knowing its going to be a perfect shot to accepting nothing short of that goal.
if you have a off shot (we all do) the self image takes over on the next shot because every shot is a match unto its self.

#2 the conscious mind is the thing you are thinking about and control, like light and weather conditions and hearing range comands or as simple as focusing on the front sight blade.

you can only control so many things at once and that is your conscious mind.

#3 the subconscious mind is what you must learn to have the power over as it is what controls most everything you do. take breathing for a example you do not think about it you just do it.

now when you have trained after you get more profecent with the sport that proper position you now just seem to automatically get into it, your breathing corrects its self and you pull the trigger without having to think about it. it all just happens as the subconscious mind can control thousands of things at one time and the conscious mind just a few.

you talk about the zone and you know when you are there and the first time you get there you want to return to it.

when I worry or let something effect me the zone is gone.

I try to relax and not let anything effect me almost to the point of falling asleep before I shoot or between strings.

I stop myself alot more and just relax my body and mind and relax, close my eyes and control my breathing and when its time to shoot.
you have the self image to do it perfect and the conscious mind gets you ready to go and then the subconscious mind performs the act and you have a perfect shot.

let any of those three items escape on the shot and you have a poorer shot than you would of liked and you need to get the zone back.

when you reach it you know it!

thanks jon

March 18, 2003, 04:46 PM
I have recently had the opportunity (unwanted) to reread considerable amounts of writings on this subject -- "the zone".

Build with correct basics; grip, sight alignment, trigger control. After about 60,000,000 shots fired the "zone" is easier to reach.

I don't get that far; maybe once (9x21 Witness, two shots in one hole, I still think I was ripped off :scrutiny: )

After you find "the zone", do it on demand. :banghead:

March 18, 2003, 10:15 PM
I have been to The Zone back when I was practicing a lot and shooting bowling pins at the old Second Chance Pin Shoot every June. I found it hard to establishe residency there, however.

Now I am out of practice due to a bitter winter and I don't know if I can even remember The Zone's zip code.

March 19, 2003, 09:01 AM
Good post and definitely a worthy subject. I have only caught fleeting glances of the zone in my own shooting, but it's definitely a place I wish I could spend more time at.

I think we need to stress for any newbies reading this that this isn't something you can just do from the start. Without tons of PROPER practice of the basics, not thinking and "just shooting" will result in misses at best, and somebody getting hurt at the worst.

The way I see it, practicing the basics (sight alignment and trigger control are the two biggies - add presentation, use of cover, moving while shooting, reloading, etc.) PROPERLY and repetitively is the best way to get to this place. Program your body and mind to act in a certain way, then just clear your head and let it happen.

You can't skip that first step, though.

Steve Smith
March 19, 2003, 09:34 AM
Jon has been reading Lanny Basham's "With Winning in Mind" again! :D Actually, you should all read it. I am reading it now.

The "zone" is exactly what Lanny it talking about in his book. You program your subconscious with a long term base of data all with the proper info , you focus your conscious mind on the general tasks at hand and only concentrate on positive thoughts, and you allow your self image to reflect what your subconscious can really do.

The mind is like a submarine. The conscious is the periscope, the subconscious is the engine, and the self image is the throttle. The engine room is always asking what the periscope sees. Allow it only to see success. The throttle determines how fast and how far the engine will go.

March 19, 2003, 09:35 AM
Good points all around.

I should have stressed that. You can't get to that point of not thinking until you have shot a ton. :)

Well I must be doing something right. I just got my results from Saturday. I came in second, 2 seconds behind a master class shooter. And that was with tanking 1 stage. :D

March 19, 2003, 01:31 PM
Well done!

Are you doing all of this and still shooting the FAL, or did you give in to the mousegun?

March 19, 2003, 02:08 PM
Kotengu, even worse. A 7.62x39 Vepr K. :D (I was running low on .308 but had plenty of Barnaul sitting around.)

Steve, that book sounds interesting. I'm going to have to pick up a copy.

Enos goes into focus quite a bit in his book. Very good reading.

March 20, 2003, 01:38 PM
The martial arts world (at least the various Japanese styles I've been studying for the last few decades) calls it "no mind."

Conscious of your surroundings and everything going on around you, yet not paying attention to any specific thing.

When I manage, though the grace of a loving and merciful god, to make those sweet 95% major-match stage scores (pretty hot for a sandbagging B-class type), it feels like I'm running on autopilot. "Oh, look, a target. My, that A-zone is big. I'll just squeeze a couple of rounds into it past that huge array of no-shoots while at a dead isn't that that a duck or a goose up there in the sky...oh look, another A-zone..."


March 20, 2003, 03:56 PM
I've had this experience exactly ONCE, and it was while I was shooting a bowling-pin match; when the timer beeped, I brought the pistol up and absolutely CLEANED the stage (just over 3 seconds for 5 pins) and while it was happening, it seemed like I could think clearer, see clearer, and not even put my whole mind into what I was doing. The weirdest part was that it seemed like slow motion, because I could distinctly see the slide coming back in recoil, the brass flipping out, and the pistol rising in recoil. After my run, everyone was looking at me like "What the hell did YOU do?", and it turned out that I had had the fastest run of the match. Yes, the zone does exist, I just need to find it again.

March 21, 2003, 09:48 AM
I found the zone exactly once during 4 years of intercollegiate pistol competition and shot 10 pts. above my average. Fortunately, the timing was right and it helped my team (The University of Virginia) win the national championship in precision air pistol. The experience was unbelievable: the entire match (which IIRC took well over an hour) seemed to last only 10 minutes and it seemed like I couldn't miss. Shots that I thought were really bad were still catching the 9 ring. I didn't fully believe in the zone until that experience.

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