Pre-Shot Routine for Wing Shooting

Vicki and Gil,

I read your columns with interest every month. Question: You recommend a pre-shot routine in any form when you are wing shooting. I know I miss a lot of first shots on ducks, doves, quail, and pheasants that I should not miss because I get in too big of a rush. How do you recommend that I deal with this problem?



Perhaps we should talk about the pre-shot routine in sports and its importance and purpose. We think that you would find that all coaches, especially in individual sports, would agree that the foundation for consistency is a simple pre-shot routine. Something that is done before each shot and is the same every time prior to doing whatever it is that the athlete is about to do.  It is not so much what it is that's critical, as much as that it's the same every time: the same actions, the same rhythm, the same amount of time from start to finish. The bottom line is, that it allows the athlete to take control of his or her thought process and get ready to take action mentally and physically.

The pre-shot routine is the thing that allows you to go from a conscious planning state of mind to a subconscious athletic state of mind. In the game of basketball, when the player shoots a free throw, play is stopped and the athlete is allowed to shoot a basket without any interference from the other players. The player no longer has to react to what the other players are doing in order to get a clear shot at the basket. The player thinks about what they are about to do and then goes into their pre-shot routine and takes the shot.  It’s the pre-shot routine that allows the player to consciously think about what they are about to do and then turn off the conscious thought process and release the subconscious actions that they have trained. It’s the routine that allows them to “not think” when they are performing. The more subconscious your reactions are when you do anything, the better you will do it.

The game of sporting clays, in our experience, is one of the most difficult games to master because of the great number of variables it has. As you go through a round you must consciously analyze each presentation at each stand.  You must decide where to break the first target to set yourself up so the second target is as easy as possible to see and break. You must use the conscious thought process to make your plan, but you can’t be thinking while you are shooting the pair. The reason for this is that it takes two to three-tenths of a second for the conscious mind to analyze and create the actions it deems necessary to break the target.

In other words, if you're thinking, your actions will be based on information that is two to three-tenths of a second behind real time. You will, in essence, be shooting in the past tense.  Ever wonder why you always feel rushed and you miss behind?

The subconscious mind reacts to visual input in five milliseconds, which is a whole lot faster than you can think. Subconscious actions are natural and almost always correct. When you catch a sneeze, you don’t think. When you chew your food, you don’t think about what your tongue is doing. When you walk, you don’t think about your feet and when you shoot, you shouldn’t be thinking about what you're doing with the gun. You should be focused on the target. You will be focused on what you are thinking about.

One of the things that makes sporting so difficult is that you must go from conscious planning to subconscious shooting. That is where the pre-shot routine comes in. It is a quiet time in your mental thought process that allows you to turn off conscious thoughts about what you're going to do after you call "pull," and just focus on the target and let the subconscious take over and shoot the targets.

Although it is less important what you do in your routine, how you do it is of great importance. It needs to be the same each and every time. The routine must be subconscious, take the same length of time, and have the same rhythm each and every time you do it.

Perhaps the most important part of your routine is what we call in our system “the trigger.” It's a physical action that you do (such as closing the gun) that signals to your brain that it's time to stop thinking and get ready to take action. Once that trigger occurs, you are on autopilot. All that's left to do is call for the targets, focus, and then move to break the targets.

If you have focused on the targets one at a time before you move the gun, and have made the correct plan, your odds of breaking both targets are great. If, however, you begin to think while you're trying to shoot, you will not hit the targets and if you do, it was their day to die because you didn't have anything to do with it. The pre-shot routine allows you to shift your focus from planning or correcting your shot to actually focus on the target and breaking it subconsciously.

How can you use this in wing shooting? Don’t even think about moving the gun prior to focusing on the bird.

Think about it. Your eyes must focus on and read the target before the subconscious knows where to insert the muzzles, right?  If you begin to move the gun before you have focused on the bird, do you think you will know where to put it? I think not! Any movement given the gun prior to focus on the target is wasted and increases risk by the cube! 

Remember, you will focus on what you're thinking about. And if it ain’t the bird, you ain't going to be happy or successful.