Overcoming Visual Barriers

by Kate Ahnstrom

How often do you claim the reason for a “miss” is because of the sun being in your eyes? Maybe there was a glare or perhaps my favorite, “I just bought this gun so I’m still figuring it out.”

The shooting sports are a visual game. Quite bluntly, if you can’t see it, you can’t shoot it.

No matter what “it” may be and regardless of the firearm in your hands. This month we explore why there are so many visual barriers whether you are shooting clays or feathers.

Every new student begins their lesson with me going through a quick but very important shooter checklist. This checklist is used to collect information that will be instrumental in creating the shortest path to success behind the barrel.

I ask questions not only about their shooting history and future goals but also about their eyes. Do they wear prescription contacts or glasses, or do they have astigmatisms? When was the last time they went to the eye doctor? I also use this specific section of the checklist to mark down their eye dominance and if they have any interference from the off eye. The test used is far more accurate than the “triangle with your hand” sort of test.

Interesting sidenote, there are far more cross dominant individuals walking the planet now than there were just 20yrs ago. Why? I would love to pen the research paper on this very subject one day but, my best guess is that it’s Darwinism at its finest.

In the past 20 years, we have added a massive amount of technology and a greater requirement on the average individual to be able to successfully multi-task. Most see cross dominance as a negative when it’s truly a badge of honor. It literally means the synapses fire messages off faster between the two hemispheres of the brain therefore allowing the person to do three things at once.

You should take a moment to find your true eye-dominance and see if there is any interference from the off eye. Those tight angled left to right crossing birds may become way easier for you if you do! Same with the birds at distance, especially if they are falling softly. Also, find a professional, either an instructor or a gunsmith that can perform a gun fitting for you. If your eye is not centered and flat on the rib of your gun, you will struggle to shoot where you are looking.

One more note on cross dominance. For some reason, some instructors insist (wrongly) that you must shoot with your dominant hand regardless of the eye dominance and that you should still shoot with both eyes open. This is just about impossible unless the eye and hand dominance match up on the same side!

If you run into this, please pack up and find someone else to help you. This archaic practice is going against the genetic and physical makeup of your existence and your shooting will undoubtedly suffer greatly.

Other items to note regarding visual acuity of your target. Are you using shooting glasses, clear safety glasses or regular sunglasses when you go out? The technology is off the charts now with lenses. I love RE Ranger and, their new A.I. Riact line. Yes, it is pricey BUT it makes clay pigeons light up 10x better than the average shooting lens. It is amazing how much the clay pops out at you.

Are you wearing a hat? Do you really need that hat? Most of the time a cap or hat will cut off a large amount of the light coming into your eyes and will also cause tunnel vision. This makes it far more difficult to clearly and concisely see the bird. Very rarely will I shoot with a hat of any sort. Those high, overhead birds will go zipping past you unscathed if you choose to shoot with a hat. Just flip it around backwards or take it off altogether.

Finally, how is your hold point? Too often I see shooters trying to start with their gun pointed towards the trap to see the bird as soon as possible. There is no way in the world a shooter can pick that bird up off of the plate, it’s way too fast. There may also be shadows or physical obstructions in the way of clearly seeing the bird, particularly this time of year when the sun is riding lower in the sky.

Your hold point is 95% of your success. Pick a hold point where you can tell that you are seeing a bird not a streak and make sure you are starting in that bird’s way. Starting off from the flight path means that you will be starting your swing with a mistake and your muzzle will run out of control. The name of this game is consistency and in order to have that you have to first be able to see the bird.

The eyes have it! Take time to make sure you are seeing clearly and while you’re at it, take along a friend or family member to help. They just might see why this sport is so incredible and find a new hobby!

Kate Ahnstrom, owner of Virginia Shooting Sports is a certified, professional instructor of the Paragon School of Sporting, pro staff Syren/Caesar Guerini, resident pro Orapax Hunting Preserve, Artemis ambassador for Va, resident pro Preserve at Dundee and field staff member of the Sisterhood of the Outdoors. Her tireless dedication to her students’ success is obvious in each and every lesson.

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