Conscious Awareness of the Gun

After teaching 1,500 people each year for the past eight years, we find that the one main problem all shotgunners face is conscious awareness of the gun, or looking at the gun. This problem manifests itself in many different ways and causes a multitude of problems. The one main problem is checking the size of the lead. We see this at all levels – beginners, intermediate and advanced.

The beginner has to learn to be 100% focused on the target and let the gun enter their peripheral circle without looking at it. It is a real struggle because your peripheral circle's job is to direct conscious focus to movement. The closer the movement to the face is, the more your conscious focus wants to go to it. The more erratic and quick the movement of the gun is, the more your eyes will go to the gun. 

As the beginner has no trained flow to his gun mount and move to the target. Because they have not trained their conscious vision to stay on the target and accept the gun in the peripheral circle, 80 to 90% of their missed targets are because their focus comes off the bird and they focus on the gun. The gun stops and the bird is missed! 

The quickest and easiest way to overcome the problem and train both your primary and peripheral circles to do their job correctly is to focus on a small part of the target. We call this the front edge. The more intently a shooter is focused on the front of the clay, the less aware they are of anything else during the shot. The more targets they will break. We find this especially effective with women and people with cross-dominance. You can get by with 5 to 7% awareness of the gun. Any more and conscious awareness of the gun increases and you will check the lead.

The intermediate shooter has the same problem but at a higher level. They shoot 60-75 targets out of 100. They have begun to develop consistency in their move and their mount. Their conscious vision has begun to be trained to stay focused on the target and to accept the gun in the peripheral circle with varying degrees of awareness of it. 

At this stage in their development, a visit to the Black Hole typically takes place. What is the Black Hole? It is the place where all the monkey-sees and monkey-dos with degrees in self-diagnostic science gather and attempt to improve their own game. They try things like changing their gun fit by installing a moveable butt plate and cheekpiece. Then they promptly get so far out of adjustment that it is absolutely impossible to mount or shoot without injury, much less hitting anything. They install a florescent bead sight to make the gun more visible to them when they are shooting. They begin to try faster shells in an attempt to see less lead. They try different chokes in order to manipulate the size of the shot cloud to unknown widths and lengths in order to break a target when they didn’t put the gun where it needed to be to break it in the first place.

Typically, after a thousand or so dollars they finally stop listening to themselves or to their friends and get to an experienced teacher or coach. Then they find out the real reason they have been missing targets. They recognize that the targets they miss are more due to a lack of target focus than anything else and for only two reasons: either they never had it, or they lost it due to a poor move or they checked the lead and saw the bead. 

The solution to the problem is to learn to focus harder on the leading edge of the target and begin to develop trust in your subconscious computer to put the gun in the right spot to kill the bird. The thing that separates the intermediate shooter from the advanced shooter is a lack of understanding and trust in the subconscious. This one thing keeps most people from ever reaching their potential. 


On an average sporting clays course, 60 to 70% of the targets are delivered in a manner where they can be somewhat successfully shot by aiming consciously in front of the bird. Strike a blow for the forgiveness of the shotgun and its ever-expanding pattern. 

However, on this same average course, 30 to 40% of the birds, due to their presentation, don’t give the shooter the time needed to consciously aim the gun ahead of the bird. As a result of this, the person who is consciously shooting lead on all those targets will only break six to eight of these remaining 30 to 40% targets. That is why, on a good day, the most they will ever shoot is 75 to 78 out of 100. On an easier or corporate course, they might shoot in the low 80s, and on a hard competitive course, they might even shoot mid-50s to mid-60s.

A person who shoots conscious lead doesn’t realize it, but the difficulty of the targets affects their score more than someone who understands subconscious trust. Again, that is the difference between the intermediate and the advanced shooters.

The advanced shooter sees this same problem in yet a different form. Their journey is concerned more with mental focus, conscious doubt, and change. They have a style and a move that is consistent. They have the correct goals and a commitment to achieve these goals. They have made the commitment to change their attitude and begun to think like a winner: always positive, always upbeat, and they are always as gracious in winning as they are in losing. They have realized that success and failure are more a matter of attitude than anything else.

Their journey begins with learning to stay in the present and control the only thing they can, which is what they are doing right now. They realize that they must be mentally strong and focused in order to reach their goal and their potential. They realize that at this level that the real reason their eyes come off the target and they check the lead is conscious doubt. It is the conscious mind wanting to control the situation. They have realized that in order to perform at the level they desire, they must trust all shots and grow accustomed to doing it that way. 

They understand even more that if they shoot 70% of the targets mechanically and then try to trust the other 30% you don’t have time to shoot mechanically, they will not be doing the same thing on all targets. This approach is inconsistent. Therefore their results will be inevitably inconsistent.

At this point, they accept the fact that the reason their eyes come off the target is conscious doubt (or excessive gun movement on a rare occasion). They religiously practice mechanical fundamentals to achieve their goal of mechanical excellence. They realize that the only way to control conscious doubt is to give the conscious mind something to do: focus on the target! 

It is at this level that subconscious trust and feel begin to overcome and control conscious doubt and performance begins to excel. It is at this level that change becomes welcomed and understood even more. Acceptance of the fact that no improvement comes without change is a necessity.

No improvement occurs without change.
For every change, there is a price.
The value is in the commitment.

The commitment to change, and the acceptance that all successes are born and die in failure, leads to the final plateau. Once it is understood that it is not the magnitude of the failure that is important; it is the understanding of why it occurred that is important. This leads to a change. When change is committed to, this leads to improvement, which ultimately leads to success.

So as you can see, conscious awareness of the gun affects shooters of all levels in many different ways, both mechanically and mentally. We believe that anything you can do to become less aware of the gun and 100% aware of the target, the better you will shoot and the more consistent your improvement will be

This is a simple game. Focus on the target, put the gun where the target is going and pull the trigger. 

Remember, the more exact your lead picture, the more you are aware of the gun. The more you are aware of the gun, the less you know about where the target is. The most perfect lead picture in the world, if not applied at where the target is when the trigger is pulled, is wrong!  Anything you do that increases conscious awareness of the gun (i.e. excessive movement during the mount, moving before seeing the target, being aware of the gun, starting pre-mounted, installing florescent sights to help you know where the gun is, etc.) will pull your critical focus off the target and will result in a miss. Period. Dot.