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Rely on Instincts for Better Shooting


It was the confirmation I had been looking for after years of hunting game birds and occasionally shooting clay targets. It seems I always shot better when I reacted instead of factoring lead, speed of the target and all that other stuff that gets jumbled inside your head before you pull the trigger.

“Have you ever noticed when you’re in the dove field and somebody yells, ‘David, over you,’” said Gil Ash, who teams with wife, Vicki, to form one of the top shotgun shooting coaching teams in the nation. “You whirl, mount your gun and BOOM. The dove falls like a brick. Then you sit there and watch a dove fly 200 yards across a field and you put the gun where it ‘feels right’ and pull the trigger. The bird keeps flying after you’ve emptied your gun. That’s because you’re thinking too much.

“Your subconscious mind has the ability to know, to realize, where that target is going to be before it gets there.”

The good thing about the Ashes, who run the OSP (Optimum Shotgun Performance) Shooting School, is they back up their statements with fact. Gil said neurological studies indicate the subconscious tracks a target much better than anyone realizes.

“There is science behind what we teach,” said Ash, who was recently with Vicki at Selwood Farm near Talladega for a sporting clays clinic. “What we’re doing is bringing science to the art. The reason you never look down the barrel of a shotgun is the time it takes for your brain to process what’s going on. If you rely on your subconscious, that information is updated every five milliseconds. It takes your conscious brain somewhere between 200 and 300 milliseconds to process the information. When you’re shooting, that makes the information old and different each time. If you’re thinking about it, most of the time you’re going to miss.”

Instead of “thinking” about leads, barrel position and other aspects of shotgunning, the Ashes teach that the only thing a shooter should focus on is the target. Leave everything else to the subconscious.

“To even come anywhere close to achieving your potential with a shotgun, you must learn to shoot instinctively,” Gil said. “You must let it go and let your subconscious control the gun and be aware of only one thing in the conscious mind – the target.

“The muzzle is not your friend. If you’re looking at what I call the ‘missing’ bead, you’re not going to break the target or drop the bird. The gun is in your peripheral vision. You know it's there. But you shouldn't be looking at it.”

The Ashes, who offer a series of books and instructional videos, use car keys as illustration. When you get into a car you’re not familiar with, such as a rental, you have to consciously look for the ignition switch and insert the key. In the car you’ve driven for years, you automatically insert the key without thinking about. It’s the same way with a keyboard. If you’re just learning to type, you’re always looking at the keyboard. With as many stories as I’ve written through the years, my fingers subconsciously type the letters of the word that pops into my head.

“The conscious mind is really a one-track mind,” Gil said with the fervor of a preacher during a summer revival. “The subconscious mind, on the other hand, can coordinate and be aware of many things at once. There is also that inconsistent 200- to 300-millisecond delay in conscious reaction. That basically means that if you are conscious of the barrel, you are shooting in the past tense. Perception is a lie, no matter how real it looked. On the other hand, the subconscious is reacting instinctively in the present. The more you are consciously aware of the gun or the lead the more likely you will miss the target.

“As long as it is focused on the target you have a chance to hit the target. The instant you become aware of exact lead, you have to take conscious focus off the target and onto the gun or the lead. When this happens, the gun stops and the target is missed.”

Overcoming the inclination to think about how much lead to apply or barrel position to a certain shooting situation is not easy, which is why the Ashes are in so much demand around the nation. Gil says there’s a misconception about instinctive shooting.

“Some people think instinctive shooting means that a person walks on to a shooting stand, loads the gun without any plan or routine, calls pull and shoots the targets,” he said. “That’s not what I’m talking about. You have to have the mechanics in place to give you the confidence to let the subconscious work for you. You have to practice the fundamental mechanics of mounting the shotgun and swing techniques until they become instinctive.”

The second aspect has to do with the focus of your conscious mind. The Ashes know the mind has a tendency to wander, so maintaining focus on the target is crucial.

After a missed shot on the range, Vicki asked me where I was looking.

“At the target,” I mumbled sheepishly.

“Don’t just focus on the target,” she replied. “Focus on the front of the target and make a smooth gun mount.”

Soon I was breaking targets right and left under her tutelage. The dreaded rabbit target became a piece of cake. Of course, I’ve got to make sure that instruction will hold over until the middle of September when dove season opens.

Instead of leaving the gun in the case, the Ashes suggest a simple exercise that can be done inside, not out in the sweltering heat of August.

First and foremost, make sure the shotgun is unloaded. Then take a small flashlight (a Mini-Mag works perfectly) and wrap tape around it to keep from scarring the muzzle. Place the flashlight in the barrel (top barrel for over-and-unders) and find a quiet, somewhat dark room.

To practice the gun mount, focus the light at an upper corner of the room with a lowered gun and then smoothly mount the gun, keeping the beam of light in the corner.

When Vicki had me try that the first time, my gun mount was so jerky it really wasn’t funny. I jabbed the gun into my shoulder at the last second and the light beam jumped like crazy. With her instruction, my gun mount soon smoothed out and the light barely wiggled.

To practice for the crossing shots, first determine where you want to break the target. Then start with the aforementioned drill and swing your gun along the joint formed by the ceiling and the wall. When it’s done correctly, the gun mount and swing will finish exactly at the predetermined firing point.

“It takes a lot of practice for it to become instinctive,” Gil said. “But when it’s done right, it’s a beautiful thing.”


Top - A spent shell flies out of the action as Gil Ash gives a shooting demonstration at Selwood Farm as wife, Vicki, watches.

Middle - Gil Ash explains why looking at what he calls the "missing" bead on your shotgun will cause the shooter to miss the target.

Bottom - Vicki Ash is quite amused by the explanation provided by Birmingham's Jim Shepherd as to why he missed the target.                                                                                  ###


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