Without your eyes in good working order, you'll not be breaking good scores. Shooters blame guns, shells, gun fit, chokes, pullers, and weather conditions. Maybe it's your vision that needs training.
Without the eyes, you have nothing. Stating the obvious? Of course, but sometimes that's necessary, especially when it concerns matters like good health and good eyesight. Many of us tend to take it for granted. Over the years I've coached shooters who had lost an arm, a hand, fingers or the use of their legs. All were able to overcome their handicaps, with varying degrees of success. Even shooters who had lost their master eye have been able to either switch shoulders or shoot a cross-eyed stock. But a person with severe visual problems is going to find it very difficult to shoot.
Our eyes control how, when and where we see the target, where it's going and how we compute that movement to get the gun moving in the right direction. Most shooters endlessly discuss different guns, barrel lengths, ribs, sights, chokes, trigger pulls, stock lengths, comb heights and all the endless permutations of reloading… but the most discussed problem is whether or not they could see the target and its color in relation to the varying backgrounds and/or weather conditions. However, on each day when everyone is having problems seeing targets, there will always be some shooters who post good scores. Obviously, "the weather cleared" or possibly the targets miraculously brightened up when they were shooting… in the same squad(s) as most of the other shooters who couldn't see the targets! However, if anyone genuinely has a problem seeing targets, it will be very difficult to break them consistently.
In every aspect of physical and mental characteristics, inequalities abound. People are taller, shorter, weaker, stronger, etc. than others. Some people run faster or further, others hear better… and some will see better. Consider these statements by optometrist Dr. Leon Revien, O.D., one of the world's leading authorities on visual skills applied to sports: 1) An individual performs only as well as he or she can see; 2) Seeing is a learned skill which can be developed and improved throughout most of your life; and 3) Almost every sports error can be attributed to faulty visual judgment.
Without your eyes in good working order, you'll not be breaking good scores.
Dr. Revien is president of the Athlete's Visual Skills Training Center, Visual Consultant and Skills Trainer for Ivan Lendl, world 's No.1 tennis player, the New York Yankees, Rangers and Islanders; U.S. and Israeli Air Force fighter pilots. Another expert, optometrist Dr. Wayne Martin, O.D., author of An Insight To Sports - Featuring Trapshooting And Golf makes a similar statement: "Most mistakes and missed targets are triggered through faulty visual movements." All-American trapshooter Daro Handy says: “One of the foundation links in learning how to break clay targets is the art of seeing, and vision is the final step that seems to separate the winners from the losers."
You can spend big bucks on guns and gadgets and hours practicing, but unless you're working with the right fundamental way to see your targets, you'll be wasting time and money. Fortunately, as Dr. Revien points out, visual skills can be developed and improved. Dr. Martin adds that the muscles that move and direct the eyes work the same way as all other muscle groups and so they can be strengthened, trained and taught to perform better.
Some months ago I wrote an article in Shotgun Sports about subliminal tapes for trap shooters. One of the points I made was how they appealed to the lazy element in many of us, inasmuch as all you had to do was turn on a tape recorder! A few years ago I bought from Bud Decot, Sportsvision, a book by Dr. Revien and Mark Gabor, in which Bud had marked those exercises particularly valuable to clay shooters. The thought of having to create and do the exercises didn't go down too well and, not surprisingly, I never got round to doing any of them! Then, Frank Kodl sent me a VHS video tape version of Dr. Revien's book, specially designed for shooters. Now this was far more appealing. It required virtually no extra effort, nor any additional time. I watch the tape while doing my daily rowing exercises. At the same time, I play the subliminal tapes and listen to some enjoyable music. I row for 20 minutes (approx. 300 reps), this being considered the optimum time for a cardiovascular workout. It also enables me to split the 40 minute Pro Vision Visual Skills for Trap and Skeet Shooting course into two segments, doing one half each day.
The course is the result of many hours of research, experimentation and successful application by professional athletes and fighter pilots, all of whom found a decided improvement in their visual skills, which in turn, created a similar improvement in their physical and mental performance. Here are the six "chapters" of the course. For those of you who don't feel like rowing, just sit comfortably in front of your TV. Passages in quotes are taken verbatim from the accompanying TV text or manual. Remember that every physical action we take is based on 1) visual judgment, 2) muscle sense, and 3) experience stored in the brain.
From left to right: Rotating Spiral, Line Pursuit, Rotation Exercise.
Chapter 1. Rotating Spiral
A rotating spiral gives the impression that it's moving away from you, and it's as if you're looking down a long tunnel which is getting deeper and deeper. Suddenly a target will appear on screen, looking large and as if it's coming towards you - the opposite effect of the tunnel going away from you. Benefits are: "Improves circulation, retinal stimulation and visual acuity. Creates a beneficial visualization stored in the brain and used when concentrating." It has the effect of making targets look larger and to be moving more slowly.
Chapter 2. Line Pursuit
A running white dot will cross the screen first from left to right, then reverse, next from top to bottom, and reverse. Background colors continually change between green, red, blue and their merging combinations. Its speed will increase to where you have the impression there are two dots dashing across the screen, but there's still only one. "This exercise will improve your ability to fixate an object and pursue it in a quick, smooth, accurate, well-coordinated movement, using both eyes simultaneously."
Chapter 3. Rotation Exercise
A white ball performs a constant speed arc around the screen, left to right and reverse, through the same color-changing background. Then multi-colored psychedelic interference is introduced, comprising shimmering lines, dots, squares, rectangles, and circles - like so much video confetti; squiggly lines, zig-zags, collapsing diagonals; other objects fly across, around and seemingly into and out of the screen, in a re-creation of Star Wars and video games special effects. This is to make you keep your eye on the target (Dr. Revien prefers both eyes), disregarding any dis- tractions which could cause you to look away for a vital instant. The interference accurately simulates a clay passing through combinations of backgrounds: grass, earth, scrub, bushes, trees, sky and clouds in all their varying combinations of color, shade, light and dark. "It will build and improve concentration, distance perception, eye coordination and peripheral awareness, as well as binocular control and pursuit reflexes, blood circulation and muscle tone in those muscles controlling eye movement."
From left to right: Speed & Span of Recognition, Barber Pole, Grid Tracing.
Chapter 4. Speed & Span of Recognition
This can be a frustrating, yet fascinating test of visual skills, but one in which you can see improvement as you go along. Against the same varied-colored backgrounds, series of numbers are flashed on the screen for about 1/30th of a second. The number of digits ranges from 4 to 12! The numbers are always white, but vary in size, so that small numbers against a weak background color are much harder to pick out than large numbers against a strong color. As they flash on screen, try to recognize as many as possible, repeating them mentally. They'll go across the screen, up-and-down, diagonally, at extreme top or bottom, or at extreme edges; they can be tightly clustered, widely spaced out or in regularly or irregularly spaced groups. Naturally I find it harder to read the up-and-down ones than the across numbers, as I'm conditioned to read across a page. Conversely, someone from Japan would do better on the vertical numbers and not so well on the horizontal ones! You can't expect to recognize a 12-digit sequence for awhile! On the longer sequences, either go for the numbers at each end, or just pick out the 7s, or as you get better, increase to 2 or 3 numbers from each end or perhaps try for the first 5, 6 or 7 digits. As you become more at ease in recognizing the easier 4 and 5-digit sequences, try reading them from right to left, as a variation.
Next, in the same chapter, the screen is covered with an even pattern of small circles, filled with varying and decidedly uneven patterns and varying colors… it's distraction time again. In between the circles, 3 to 5 digits will randomly appear, dotted all around the screen. Then there are pairs of numbers. As before, just try to recognize as many as you can, as your eyes dart frantically around the screen! A minor criticism of the course in this segment is that the figures 6, 8 and 9 are so shaped that they look too much alike… especially at 1/30th of a second. A better numerical design would have made proper recognition more accurate. ”This exercise will develop an increased awareness in the peripheral area and will increase your speed and span of recognition. It will aid in developing a technique of binocular speed seeing that will give you an effective, accurate and immediate interpretation of visual impulses to the brain."
Chapter 5. Barber Pole
A “barber pole,” set in a sort of conical target, rotates around the screen at varying speeds, from left to right and reverse. Focus alternately on the tip and the base of the rotating pole. At times the conical target will appear to be convex; at others, concave . "This exercise will increase your appreciation and awareness of objects in space (which seems to me to be an excellent description of our little flying saucers!). It will improve your mental judgment of spatial relationships of speed and position, as well as your binocular coordination."
Chapter 6. Grid Tracing
In this, a sort of berserk little Pac Man, in the form of a white dot, hurtles around the screen at varying speeds, always following a, grid system, up, down, sideways, tracing various patterns, disappearing and popping up allover the place! Once again, the color backgrounds go through the green, red and blue cycles, providing "peripheral distraction.” "This exercise will improve your ability to quickly recognize an object, focus on it and follow its movements in any direction." That's optometrist Dr. Revien's Pro Vision course, which I consider excellent and which has definitely improved my visual skills. Other than the poorly discernible shape of the 6, 8 and 9, my only other criticism is the accompanying music, which is boring and maddeningly repetitive. Dr. Revien assured me it had no significance, so the solution is simple: mute your TV sound and play whatever music pleases you on your hi-fi or radio. ”As an added difficulty in accomplishing visual tasks, use a strobe light (set on top of the TV) for chapters 2, 3, 4 and 6. This increases neurological and visual noise (interference/distractions) and helps develop better concentration." Or; like me, use a rowing machine, as the body and head movements, different focal lengths and the degree of concentration on the rowing itself, all provide added difficulties and distractions.
There's one exercise they couldn't put on video tape. That's one to enable you to rapidly change focus from one distance to another. For that, a cord-ball kit is included. Tie one end of the cord to a door knob, space out the three colored balls, hold the other end of the cord to your nose and focus on one ball, then another and so on. This exercise will also "increase your eye's manipulative ability to instantly and correctly align objects anywhere in space”… which also seems precisely pertinent to clay targets. A useful focus-changing exercise for anyone who works primarily at a desk is to look around the room (e.g.: when on a phone call), and preferably out of a window, thus causing the eyes to regularly change focus.
I believe the Pro Vision course can benefit all shooters, not only for their shooting, but because good eyesight is a crucial factor in every aspect of daily living. Surprisingly, in these days of well-documented, computerized research, Dr. Revien tells me that no one knows exactly why the exercises work, they only know from the practical results from over one thousand top athletes and fighter pilots in his files. Or, as Frank Kodl said to me: "You know something's happening!"
Now, what about the application of our newly-improved visual skills to our shooting? That's admirably covered in Dr. Wayne Martin's book, which features trap shooting. He says: "One must always be visually ready before acting (calling). The eyes must be positioned where the target is going - not where it is coming from." This important statement causes me to digress momentarily. One of the satisfactions of writing is being able to share information with fellow devotees (or possibly sufferers!) of trap and skeet shooting, with the aim of helping them increase their success and enjoyment. One of the disadvantages is that sometimes, with the best of intentions, I have written unintentionally incorrect information. I've been writing for shooting magazines for some 20 years. During that time my own knowledge of how to shoot has obviously grown… which includes the realization that theories or practices I firmly believed in - at the time of writing - were just plain wrong! Then I wish I could reach everyone who read them and say I've subsequently learned they don’t work… sorry!
Which brings me back to Wayne Martin's statement about where to look for targets. Having been blessed with excellent eyesight and very quick reflexes, I always believed the sooner I could see the target, the faster I could shoot it. So, I looked where it was coming from… and wrote that advice in many articles. Sure, I could shoot very fast and pulverize targets in a spectacular manner, but not consistently. I could also miss them equally quickly, puzzlingly and very unspectacularly!
We all seek the right colored glasses for various shooting conditions and are acutely aware of their importance to clay target shooting... but when was the last time you exercised your eyes?
Today, I am utterly convinced about looking where it's going, not where it's coming from. We know where it's coming from, but we don't know precisely where it's going… within a 45-degree arc for trap and a 90-degree arc for bunker. Only the skeet shooter knows exactly where the target is going. For trap and bunker, if we look where it's going, our peripheral vision will adequately pick up the target's exit movement and feed into our computer the necessary directional information. By keeping the eyes focused in the area where you're going to break it, you avoid having to rapidly refocus the eyes from the trap house to the killing area or, in bunker shooting, risking a jerky gun movement by not being 100% ready for that 100 mph flash emerging from the trap house.
Four times World Champion and Olympic Trap Silver Medalist Michel Carrega of France, one of the world's most relaxed shooters states: "It's all in the visual pickup" - right - but, Michel goes on to say: "Look at and just above the target exit point." Olympic Gold and later Silver Medalist Liana Rossini of Italy, the world's top bunker shooting nation, says: "Look ten yards out." The US Army Marksmanship Unit teaches shooters to look at the edge of the trap house, expanding the vision laterally to cover the wide arc of bunker target exit. However, the Army's best-ever shooter, World Champion and Olympic Trap Bronze Medalist Dan Carlisle, looks 10 yards out, bringing his vision back a few yards if visual conditions are perfect. Confusing? Yup! There's more.
Readers familiar with my writrng know I'm always trying to persuade (or provoke!) trap shooters to try the far more challenging bunker. I seem to have an ally in shooting instructor Chuck Dryke, father and coach of World Champion and Olympic Skeet Gold Medalist Matt Dryke, who is also a well-known exhibition shooter. Chuck reckons bunker shooting is the severest and most visually demanding of the clay target sports; he says that skeet has the advantage of the known angle, while trap has reduced angles and speed. Chuck believes in looking where the target's going, in the breaking area. Now listen to Ray Stafford, former top Army bunker shooter, who once tied for the Olympic Trap World Championship with Carrega, and who is also a top trap shooter. He looks for the target movement "as close to the bunker as my eyes can cover the relatively narrow exit spot" (which contradicts his Army trainers who believe it's a wide exit area!). Ray believes trap has a wider exit area and that Auto Trap or Continental has an even wider exit area. In a sense he's right, but it seems he's looking where the target's coming from, not where it's going. As you can see, it's very confusing and a perfect example of the difficulties I face, as a shooter and as a writer, in my wish not only to learn, but to offer readers the best information on how to do the job. I think I'll leave the last words on this matter (and rest my and Dr. Martin's case) to Dan Bonillas: "I keep my eyes at all times in the target area.”… and to Daro Handy: "The eyes at all times must stay out in the expected breaking area."
"One must always be visually ready before acting (calling). The eyes must be positioned where the target is going - not where it is coming from." Dr. Wayne Martin
There is obviously a great deal more that needs to be said about the proper use of our eyes for clay shooting. There is no element more vital to shooting success than our visual skills and Dr. Martin's book covers it thoroughly. In closing, I want to emphasize the crucial importance of gun fit, as an essential ally to good visual skills. The gun must fit so perfectly that you know, without checking your sights and alignment, when you mount it, it will be pointing exactly where your eyes are looking. If this is not the case, I guarantee it will cause you to miss targets. It is possible to compensate for a non-fitting gun many times, maybe even most of the time, but quite definitely not all of the time. Clay target competition shooting is about hitting targets all of the time. There are enough other mental and physical factors which can potentially cause misses, which are far less in our control than having the right, properly-fitted equipment. When your gun does fit you, bear in mind this most important advice from the US Army Marksmanship Unite training manual: The shooter must guard against the possibility of the stock leaving the face (or lifting the head) through a conscious effort to stay cheeked to the gun stock throughout the swing.
I'll leave you with another word of wisdom from Dr. Martin's book: "The hand is quicker than the eye. Many targets are missed because of fast hand and gun movement started ahead of target location. Rarely can the eye catch up. The gun must be held as still as possible until the direction and location of the target is determined." As a prime offender of calling and simultaneously starting to move my gun before I've seen the target, I'm very well aware of just how many targets that fault has cost me!
Finally, a closing thought for all those who will continue to endlessly discuss guns, barrel lengths, stocks, combs, ribs, sights, chokes, points-of-impact, lead on angles, shells and the never-ending variety of loads, etc., etc., from famed champion Arnold Riegger: "I just look at the target and shoot it." Strangely enough… or perhaps not so strangely, Moscow and Los Angeles Olympic Gold Medalist Luciano Giovanetti of Italy, the only man ever to win two Olympic Trap Gold Medals, used exactly the same words in a recent interview. So, a simple, basic technique that one outstanding champion used in trap applies successfully to bunker shooting, as well.
Can there be any question as to the importance of the eyes and their relationship to shooting the clay target sports? I've had a chance to look at this video tape now several times and one thing for sure, it's truly exercise for the eyes. The first time I watched the tape, my eyes were tired. I mean, they had a workout. As I went through each of the exercises, I realized how they directly relate to clay target shooting. In the kit you receive a complete "course" - the book, Sports Vision; the book, "When Every Moment Counts," the cord-ball training kit, along with the video tape that comprise the thorough comprehensive kit that will most definitely improve your vision as it relates to shooting. Keep in mind, though, there is not much to be gained if you view the video tape only once or twice. If, on the other hand, you are serious about improving your vision, as with any exercise program, you'll need to commit to regularly watching this video at least once every week or so. If you do this, your shooting should improve noticeably. In the book that is part of the kit, there are many quotes from sportsmen who have been trained by Dr. Revien's methods. One of the most memorable of these comes from Billy Smith, a champion hockey player who says, "If I had my way, Dr. Revien's name would be inscribed on the Stanley Cup along with all the Islanders. I was razor-sharp during the playoffs because of eye training.” Now when you think about it, chasing after a hockey puck is not all that different from chasing after clay targets.
This article was written by Derek Partridge and originally published in Shotgun Sports, March 1987 issue. Republished with permission.