Why We Miss(101)....


Dave McCracken
November 2, 2003, 09:08 AM
There's myriads of reasons why we miss. Any shotgunner can come up with a handful at a moment's notice. And, few of them have to do with the equipment.

The equipment related ones are....

Bad fit.

Heavy, muddy triggers.

Inappropriate load and choke for the shot.

All of these can be rectified fairly easily. That's mandatory if one wants to shoot well.

The rest is us. While all faults fall under the headings of technique and form,here's the most common...

Stopping the swing. Usually there's stance glitches at work as well. Sometimes there's also a anticipated reaction to kick, a wierd kind of flinch. Practice and focusing on this is a cure.

Head lifting. Sometimes this relates to flinching, more often it's trying to see the target get hit. Both this and stopping the swing can be cured by working on the follow through.

Aiming instead of pointing. This takes the focus off the target, and leads to stopping the swing.

Improper stance. Leaning backwards to counter the weight of the shotgun, leaning so far forwards it inhibits the swing, and of course, setting up pointed in the wrong direction are common faults.

Inconsistent mounts. It's funny how good folks will spend thousands on a shotguns, clothing, ammo, range fees, club memberships and lessons, but still not take ten minutes a few times a week off range and groove in the mount. 30 minutes a week practicing GOOD stance, mount and swing will do a new shotgunner more good than the same amount of time on the range with its distractions and stress. Stress? Yup. We do not want to do badly in front of other folks, or show we are less than perfect. Practicing stance, mount and swing in the privacy of our homes sidesteps all that.AND, you might be surprised how many top shooters at ANY of the clay sports or top wingshooters do exactly this, even when the mantel can hold no more trophies nor the freezer more birds.

Misreading the speed, distance and/or angle. A flushed quail flying towards a rising landscape can appear to be descending when actually climbing or flying level.SC course designers are setting up lots of targets these days that have elements designed to cause a misread. Practice is the best way to get better at these. Work on really seeing what is happening.

Misjudging the best break point. Repeating a shot over and over will fix this.

Trigger control. We talk sbout slapping triggers, but the best shotgunners use a high speed press KNOWING when the shot should be taken. We less than best tend to YANK our triggers, oft with a convulsive clenching of the whole hand. The bennies of a clean and light trigger combined with good trigger control cannot be imagined by those handicapped by bad technique and bad triggers.

Physical conditioning.Shotgunning involves lifting a 6 to 9 lb weight shoulder high numerous times and can be wearing. A few sessions a week at home conditions the muscles,another bennie. Use of light barbells is good also. And of course, the more fit we are overall, the better we perform. Good Upland hunters tend to be legged like marathon runners. Top pro shooters and Hall of Famers tend to be as in shape as other pro athletes.

Here's a biggie. Lack of concentration. If my focus is not 100% in placing the center of the pattern on the leading molecule of the target, my probability of a hit diminishes.

And another,overintellectualization. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just SHOOT the darn thing. If you've made that kind of shot many times before, your well honed reflexes will do the job.

There's others, but these will do for starters.

Questions, comments?

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November 2, 2003, 10:09 AM
For me, Dave, the last two are the biggies. I find that if I start thinking too much about what I want to do, I start to aim. Bad mojo.

If I'm not concentrating 100% on the target, then I miss. Last weekend, we warmed up by shooting a little skeet. It's the clay game I don't play, and I think that was only the third or fourth time I've ever shot a full round. Somewhere in the back of my brain, I was thinking "Good skeet shooters use sustained leads". BUT, I always use a swing-through technique.

About 3/4 of the way through the round, I realized that I was trying to use a sustained lead, and was therefore concentrating on my front sight. I kept missing below and behind.

All I had to do to fix it was WATCH THE BIRD and shoot like normal, and the clays broke almost every time.

When hunting, the biggest problem I see a lot of people make is following a bad shot with another one right away. Folks will shoot and miss, and then just pull the trigger again. If you missed with the first one, you need to do something to restart your swing and make it a totally new shot. I'll typically drop the butt-stock a few inches out of my shoulder pocket, forcing a new (but quicker) mount.

November 2, 2003, 10:10 AM
Dave, another great post. I think you covered it well.

Except for one "small" thing.
I seem to keep finding that batch of shells I loaded up without shot. Darndest thing, they continue to show up, even disguised as new shells, even hear of shooter's getting some of that batch in other parts of the country...weird.

That's my story and I'm stickin' with it. :D

November 2, 2003, 12:48 PM
I 'm backin' 73 up on this one, I have some shotshells that have a bunch of heavy air in them instead of shot too. They even smell like regular shells.........

November 2, 2003, 01:49 PM
I don't know about you guys , but I never miss.

:neener: :rolleyes:

November 2, 2003, 04:20 PM
Very good write up,

Others include "sun was in my eyes", "my belt was too tight" and my all time favorite, " I woulduv hit it if I had the right choke". ;)

November 2, 2003, 05:06 PM
Excellent review.

So to summarize, if you are in good condition with a gun with good triggers that fits and use the right choke and shell you will break the target every time providing you read the target correctly, mount the gun correctly, have the right stance, maintain a consistent swing, keep your head on the stock, focus on the target, never let your eyes leave the bird and don't let yourself get distracted.

It sounds maddeningly simple. The challenge is being able to put that package together 100 times in a row, shoot after shoot, year after year.


Dave McCracken
November 2, 2003, 08:41 PM
Thanks, folks.

TR, I do better on swing through than sustained lead. More skeet might change that. Wasted second shots are universal.

73 and H, please come and pick out your shells.

Kudu, yeah, RRiiight....

45, my kids are Trekkies, they came up with " A Sub Space anonmaly warped gravity in the vicinity of the target vector"...

Paul, right. When one hears of 500 straights, the most admirable things about it are the level of expertise AND concentration demonstrated.

November 2, 2003, 10:24 PM
One of the funny things I've noticed while shooting trap with my wife is how other shooters will offer up excuses for her shooting. For example, if she walks off the line a little POed because she missed a couple more than normal, one of the guys will typically say something like "Yeah, did you see the way the wind was catching those clays? They just aren't flying normal tonight." or "I don't think the angle on the machine is set right."

Funny how they'll say that to a cute woman, but we men-folk are left to make our own excuses.:rolleyes:

November 2, 2003, 10:46 PM
HSMITH and I still have plenty it seems.:D [they end it up in the oddest places, right H ?]
Dunno how you ended up with some, H and I wouldn't do that. Lessee, IIRC Mike Irwin found some too...
The votes are cast and we think kudu needs some of these. ;)

Hey, even without with these "shells" , I can still goof up . "Five things one must do to hit with shotgun" so its said...hey I've been known to do all 5 wrong and find 2 more. Yep can get 7 out of 5 things wrong...now folks, that takes dedication and talent.:D

TrapperReady, you are exempt from these shells for a bit longer...just a little bit mind you.
please forward future quail to the address below...:p

Mike Irwin
November 3, 2003, 02:03 AM
And here I thought it was for one simple reason...

We miss because we suck.


November 3, 2003, 04:19 AM
You are better educated than I. You use the English language better than I, have a wealth of history better than I...but sir, In all due respect...nope its those darn shells I loaded up.

Fresh pot of coffee, just a cranking away, filling up 5 gal buckets, had them everywhere...you know how it is when you get in a rhythm reloading.
I've used these "shells" all over the country...I apologize, these things must breed or something...:D

Oh, deceiving little fella's too...false positive on a pattern board :p

November 3, 2003, 04:46 AM
In defense of myself, I never miss,

the ones I hit.

Dave McCracken
November 3, 2003, 05:31 AM
TR, men treat women differently. Some of that is instinctual, we've been evolving as social predators for millenia, and have a drive to provide for and take care of women and children.

73, what 5 things?

Mike, you did the short version.

Kudu, your best bet is to plead Nolo Contendere...

Now, anyone ever note how a miss can lead to others? Imagine a trap squad of veteran shotgunners perking along nicely. The birds break with lots of itty bitty pieces, then one shooter misses. So does the next, and the next, until one gets it together and breaks one. Then, everyone perks along nicely again.

"What's up with that"?...

November 3, 2003, 07:58 AM
Now, anyone ever note how a miss can lead to others?
I sure have. It's a mental error and more often happens when the guy who missed is a top shooter. The other shooters think, "He missed the target, he's better than me, if he can miss I can miss" and the target is lost as a result. It's why when shooting trap and skeet I keep my eyes focused somewhere else when others are shooting. Not watching the other guys birds helps me keep focused. Detractors of this practice say you will miss any wind movements on the bird but if you are focused they shouldn't matter that much.

However, shooting sporting clays I want to watch several targets to develop my plan of attack and I want to watch them from a couple of different angles. I did very well on a tough station because I'd noted from a side angle that the target that seemed like a straight away from the box was in fact curling slightly inward and I focused on the right side of the target when shooting.

But my vulnerability in sporting is concentration and focus. What often happens on a tricky station is I will crush the first two or three pairs, my brain will say "eureka I have this one figured out," and then start missing. Those are concentration errors.


Dave McCracken
November 3, 2003, 05:21 PM
Amen, Paul,it's like missing Low 7 at skeet. BTDT.

I do watch the others shoot. By and large,I can talk myself through if the guy before whiffs it at trap. Skeet, I'm too far down the learning curve yet.

Concentration and focus are the hardest parts. Short of going on Ritalin, there's not much I can do except work on extending my stay in the Zone.

November 3, 2003, 06:37 PM
When I'm shooting in a smooth-running squad, and someone finally misses, I automatically think "Sweet! I've got him beat. Now, WATCH THE BIRD!"

Actually, I force myself to think those exact words. It's a little routine I developed that helps me maintain focus. I used to notice the effect Dave and PJR described... and was an unwilling participant all too often. The little saying I use (taking care not to actually say it out loud ;)) seems to keep me from focusing on the other person's miss.

November 3, 2003, 09:04 PM
Amen, Paul,it's like missing Low 7 at skeet. BTDT.
Oh Dave that brings back bad memories.

I was shooting a mixed clay target competition last spring in company where I was in way, way over my head.

It was pouring rain and cold, our last series was 50 skeet targets. I was neck and neck against a former Olympic shooter. I ran the first 25 and so did he. I was running them straight until low 7 and missed. On the repeat I inkballed it. I finished with 49 and in second place. The Olympic shooter looked relieved that some no name didn't force him to a shoot off. Meanwhile, I couldn't stop laughing. It was great fun.


November 4, 2003, 05:40 AM
"Concentration is mentally keyed up-physically relaxed" - Missledine.

Dave, You mentioned these five things in your original post. Yes there are subcatagories within, as we all know. You just reminded me of them that's all.


1) Positioning ( stance, foot position in relation to target)
2) Hold point
3) Focus
4) Proper gun mount
5) Follow through.

These ( as Dave mentioned with other notables in original post) are often just thought of for clay games. As Dave has also posted before, these also apply to hunting or self defence.

Honestly, I apply these to handgun and rifle too. Be it range, hunting, self defence.

Swing through shooter myself.
...bird, belly, beak, boom...

Dave McCracken
November 4, 2003, 06:31 AM
Paul, second place is no small victory. One guy beat you, how many did YOU beat to take second?

73, got you now. We're on the same page.

A side note. Ever notice how really good clay and wingshooters look graceful when they shoot? One of the guys I skeet with has NO wasted motion, smoothness mates with accuracy every time he asks for a bird. Kinda like Ballet, kinda like Tai Chi.

November 4, 2003, 06:41 AM
"What's up with that"?...
I've heard the long psycho-babble version...gets deep quick and kinda loses one...

Short Version: :D
Eyes-> Brain -> signal rec'd...spectator duplicates.

[ big long words about chemicals, what part of brain, how even if one uses will-power, it don't work,and actually the harder one tries to "fix" the worse these processes work against you...and no mention of Freud...I mean at least with Freud one can/could blame Id/Ego/Super Ego...like maybe an argument b/t the 3] :D

Unless I'm pulling, I don't really watch. I watch flight of bird for any changes , I will not watch a shooter having a bad day during competition.

OF Interest, when in a really bad slump once and a really big tourney (stress) advice given to me " Don't take yourself or this sport so serious".
Seriously I quit being serious, my scores went up. I still stay loose. 16 practice rounds in one day is crazy...Not even Freud can analyze that. That's the week I went " non serious", seriously.

I usually shot with the same bunch, we shot very quick, but even though we didn't say much, our attitude was "fun, upbeat, not serious" a few jokes smiles, laughter helped our whole squad. If in a shoot off against one of our own I'd quip..."hey they given style points on how we miss?" Fellow squad member "Gosh I hope so...gotta win something... missus gonna make me sleep on the couch if I come home empty handed " :D

That got to squiggling around in the other guys greay matter we were up against...;)

November 4, 2003, 11:20 AM
On a recent blue quail hunt the fellow I was paired with offered the excuse before a shot was even fired. He said "If I miss, it's because I'm trying out a new gun."

I countered: "If I miss it's becuase I'm shooting new shells" :p :neener: :p

He out shot me by the way :(

Smoke (or should that be: Smoked?)

November 5, 2003, 03:34 AM
Smoke , that's why its bad mojo to shoot a new gun with new shells. :D
That's why all the old farts shooting reloads win. Them and the poor folks that can't afford new guns/shells..".beware the man with one gun..." Darn right he knows it, all he has and he had to feed himselt with it most likely.

Re: NO wasted motion and graceful.

Yes Sir I agree. In anything one is good at there is that common denominator. "Effortless".

I didn't understand why I was taught to practice mounting Shotguns,and dry firing. I was taught the same stuff with handguns and rifles. I wanted to make noise, burn powder...see stuff get hit.

I understand now, I hated the stuff at first, now when I do 100 mounts with a shotgun in my dwelling, even if I don't dryfire...well you know.

For the new fellas : I had the "stations" chalked in my garage. I had the front edge only of "targets taped and in angles of flight of various stations. I would mount and "shoot a round" without firing a live rd. usually 100 -125 rds at a time to get used to the stamina. I also would would follow the lines of a shelf, the line where wall and ceiling meet...

At the range a few of us would follow the power lines jsut to swing the gun. Yeah the wife knew I wasn't totally nuts...I had her do dryfire with her handgun. ( the other garage wall for that ) When the next time at live fire...she better understood my idea of practice. She had improved w/o firing a shot.

Dave McCracken
November 5, 2003, 06:14 AM
Smoke, I try to get my alibi straight in advance. Saves time later...

73, psycho-dreck aside, I sometimes shoot better if I'm out to have fun.

Back when I was first trying out one hand pistol target shooting, my coach told me to practice at home by ensuring my handgun was empty, pointing it at a blank, light colored wall and pressing the trigger only when the sights were aligned properly. I never was an Olympic grade handgunner, but my scores went up and I hit more stuff in the field.

As for the "Beware of the man with one gun" canard,it helped me decide to go so 870 dense in my personal battery. Practice with one is nigh practice with all.

Also, I don't do 100 mounts a day, but I try to lift and handle a shotgun each and every day. I pick it up, ensure that it's empty and safe, close it up and mount a few times. I look at different places on the wall as I bring the shotgun to my face. Sometimes I step and mount, sometimes I just mount, sometimes I trace a line,etc. Besides getting muscles used to the weight and balance of the shotgun, it's good for focussing.

Maybe I ought to grave this onto a Tablet of Stone....


Since so much of our success depends on what we do before the trigger's pressed, handling, mounting, dry firing,etc, at home are EXCELLENT ways to improve one's shotgunning.

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