Instinctive Target Interception……
or the way to consistently smoke clay targets or hunt upland birds
Every time I go to a shooting club or public range I see the same thing happening time and time again. People are struggling with trying to break some targets and develop a shooting style. All to often some well meaning friends are trying to help them with some outdated shooting techniques, which have a very narrow scope of application. The friend ends up trying to teach techniques he or she learned twenty or thirty years ago shooting trap or skeet and feels that’s the way their friend should shoot. Shotgun shooting sports have been changing and evolving over the years and so has the techniques as well as the guns and other equipment. I have seen long time good shooters get frustrated at always missing a certain type bird on a trap or skeet field. I have seen them so frustrated that they sold their $10,000 shotgun and ended up buying a less expensive gun that they felt better with, thinking it was going to solve the problem. They ended up shooting worse with the new gun than they did with their old gun and they still had the same problem. What does that tell you? Obviously, it wasn’t the gun that was the problem; it was their shooting technique. More precisely, it’s what they were seeing, and what their eyes were telling their brain to do. It also probably had something to do with how they set up for the shot. If you have a gun that fits, stick with it, don’t start buying and selling guns to solve the problem, unless you have unlimited funds. And don’t start modifying the gun until you’ve had someone who knows how to fit a gun look at you and your gun to see what the problem is first. If you have a gun that isn’t balanced for the way you like to shoot, that’s a different problem and could require a gun change.
What most people fail to do when shooting or hunting is trust their instinct. To many people ride the target or try to measure it, that’s when problems start to develop. If you develop and trust your natural ability, you’ll be a better shot in the shooting sports and while hunting, and have more fun.
In 1995, prior to getting certified, I attended a very prestigious shooting school held at the Vail Rod & Gun Club. It was an excellent one-week course with most of the top instructors in Britain and America teaching for the school. But they were still teaching, pull away, swing through and maintained lead, all which have a certain limited application for certain type shots. But they weren’t teaching “Instinctive Target Interception” at the time, something I had been doing for a number of years, but hadn’t quite put the finishing touches on as yet. The British are just now starting to teach what they call, “Merging With The Target”, a very proper sounding name for “Instinctive Target Interception”.
I.T.I. can be used in sporting clays, skeet, FITAS, 5-stand, trap and hunting in the field. It’s one style of shooting which can be applied to any situation. It’s like the saying; “Beware the shooter who shoots only one gun for all types of events, and hunting for that matter”. The same can be said for the style of shooting. The idea is to simplify, and become one with your gun. I don’t believe in having one gun for trap, another gun and different sight picture for skeet, another for sporting clays and yet another gun and different sight picture for hunting. If you get a gun, which is balanced well and fits you, and you learn how to use well, there is no reason you can’t use it for any application, and do well, including hunting. I see shooters coming out to the gun ranges with a different gun every week, sometimes a s/s, than a o/u, than an auto, sometimes a 26” barrel, next time a 30” barrel, sometimes a six pound gun than a nine pound gun, and they never seem to shoot well. I think you can see why.
My personal choice for shooting any type of event or hunting is the Browning Ultra Golden Clays in a 30” barrel, which is just a little heavier than the Browning Ultra Sporting due to the density of the wood. It’s a medium weight gun with most of the weight from the receiver back, which makes for a fast easy gun swing. It is an important element in I.T.I. Once you find the right balance and fit in a gun, stick with it and work out the bad habits you’ve probably developed over time. If your a new shooter or not sure what your problems are, try to find a good instructor who will teach you what you need to learn, not what they want to teach, to help you develop your shooting skills and instinct. Avoid a gun that has heavy barrels, or with the weight out in front of the receiver, because the gun is harder to start to move and requires more energy for movement and to make minor adjustments at the last second. It tends to make the shooters arms tired quickly, and leads to lost birds. A Browning Ultra Sporting or Browning XS for a medium weight or a Beretta 391 Sporting for a lighter weight gun will work very well. There are many other makes, models and styles to choose from, just make sure what you pick isn’t to heavy in the barrel area. I would suggest staying with 28 inch or 30 inch barrels for any type of serious shooting or hunting. Avoid 24” and 26” barrels, as they are too whippy and lead to lost birds or targets. You want to develop your swing and shooting speed, reflexes and kill ratio, and to do that you need a shotgun without much weight out in front of your hands.
One thing I’ve noticed in most of the gun shops as I travel around, is that the person buying the shotgun comes in to purchase a gun that he wants to buy regardless if the gun fits or not. Most people buying a shotgun don’t know if a shotgun fits them properly or not. I don’t think they realize that buying a shotgun is totally different from buying a rifle where the fit isn’t as important. And most shops never check to see if the shotgun fits the person they are selling the shotgun to, or they don’t know how. I think it’s imperative that the person buying a new shotgun makes sure the shop employee checks them for a proper fitting shotgun. And the buyer should keep an open mind as to the gun he’ll end up buying, so as to get a proper fitting shotgun. And if the gun doesn’t fit, the shop should advise the buyer what may be involved in cost and modifications in getting the gun to fit properly. If the gun doesn’t fit you properly, you’ll never become a good shot. It’s imperative in low gun shooting and hunting, that the shotgun fit properly, so it will mount to the same position each time consistently.
Instinctive Target Interception is a series of elements which when put together and executed properly will allow you to see the target quicker, shoot the target quicker, hit it harder, feel less recoil, and feel more comfortable and relaxed while doing it. It’s a natural way to shoot that will enhance your enjoyment in shooting and make you a better shooter and hunter. It’s low gun shooting that allows you to be natural and relaxed and react to targets instantaneously and successfully.
Since your going to be shooting with a low gun, a gun being held below the armpit in the ready position, I recommend a continental style shooting vest, which has a full-length pad for the gun to slide against. The new Chimere shooting vest or the Bob Allen Continental vest are a few that fill the bill nicely. And they’ll work fine for hunting as well. An alternative is a good shooting shirt with a long pad that isn’t baggy in the armpit area. Anything that has too much fabric or folds in that area will probably cause the gun butt to snag or foul with the material and cause a poor gun mount and a missed target. Be sure that what ever you use fits snug and allows for a smooth movement of the gun to the shoulder. Above all, don’t wear a shirt with a pocket on the right side, as the butt of the gun will surely snag on the flap. If the gun seems to drag or catch on whatever your using, try putting some clear fingernail polish on the top and left side of the recoil pad, that will eliminate the drag problem. Another detail that might need attention is the butt pad that has sharp edges. I found taking a Dremel tool to the left edge of the pad and putting a slight radius to it reduces the drag and helps in a smoother gun mount.
What you see and how you see it is probably the most important thing in shooting. For it’s what you see that puts the whole thing of shooting into motion. The proper shooting glasses and color are as important as the gun. How many times have you heard a shooter say he never saw the target leave the trap? That can be due to several different things, but the proper glasses assist you in picking up the bird and focusing on the bird. First, never wear bi-focal or varifocal glasses when shooting or hunting, they will only confuse the brain when the eyes see two different images. You only need to wear your distance prescription since the target is at a great distance from you. You aren’t supposed to be looking at the rib or beads when you’re shooting, so why would you need that ability in the first place? Color is very important in clay target shooting and even hunting. I would stay away from the Yellow, Vermilion or Red colors unless you’re shooting in heavy overcast conditions with low light. Yellow allows in to much light in bright light conditions and can cause stress to your eyes and even cause a condition very similar to snow blindness, if worn for to long a period of time in bright sunlight. Red or Vermilion creates tension in the human eye and causes early eye fatigue in shooters. Some of the best colors to use for shotgun sports and hunting are Purple, Rose and Hot Pink. They have been proven to be the most relaxing colors for the shooters eyes to use all day. The colors are more efficient and function better when they are molded into the polycarbonate lenses, than glass lenses, which are dyed. What these colors do is make the background colors blue for the sky and green for the vegetation darker, while making the target colors, orange, red and lime almost go bright neon. They create more contrast and give you better definition in the subtle grays and browns, the color of game birds. Rose has the most contrast and light reduction with Purple having less contrast and light reduction, but is probably the best all around color to use for 90% of your shooting. Hot Pink makes things brighter just like the Yellow lenses do, but still does what the Purple and Rose do in regard to contrast and target colors. The color you decide to use for most of your shooting should really be determined by the weather and light conditions you normally encounter where you live and shoot, not what is fashionable or the in color for the year. Opti-Sport probably makes the best polycarbonate lens shooting glasses with the three colors mentioned above which they supply, and there are a large variety of shooting lens suppliers who can dye the glass lenses pretty close to what you need. Opti-Sport has come closest to the proper colors of any of the suppliers I’ve had run some tests on glass lenses. Most of the purple glass lenses I’ve seen at the various shooting matches the last year or two tend to be on the light side and don’t really have the same effect as the darker colors do. Be sure and shop around before you by any expensive shooting glasses and get the right colors, which will work to your advantage.
As was mentioned earlier, Instinctive Target Interception is a series of elements which when put together and executed properly will allow you to see the target quicker, shoot the target quicker, hit it harder, feel less recoil, and feel more comfortable and relaxed while doing it.
We’ll start with the feet placement and body position, and work our way up. Whether shooting skeet, trap or sporting clays, the feet should be placed with the toes pointing to either side of the point of where you’ll break the bird, with the upper body facing that point (the neutral position), or the center stake in the case of a skeet field. With this foot position and stance, you’re in a natural relaxed position. The feet should be no farther apart than your shoulders, be natural and be relaxed, just as if you were walking. There is no need to put one foot out in front of the other, to bend over or to crouch or hunch over. Stand erect as though there was someone speaking to you in front of you. If you create any unnatural body contortions while standing, you create tension in the body, which leads to tired muscles, unreliability in movement and lost birds. If there is a report pair and the first bird comes from your right and the second bird comes from the left your going to be in a neutral and comfortable position to take either bird with ease. If there was a simultaneous pair with the first bird coming from your right and the second from your left, you would stand a little off center to the right, since you would be catching up with the second bird later. If the pair was reversed, you would stand a little more to the left of center where you would be shooting the second bird. You always want to be in the neutral position, or a close to it as possible, when shooting the bird as it allows you to be accurate because there is no tension in your body at that point in your swing. You want to use your skeletal structure to support your body, not your muscles as they will tire and not perform as expected.
When you know where to stand and at which point to face, you now have to turn your upper body at the waist to the direction where the bird is coming from. You usually don’t have to turn much; just enough to allow you to hold the gun at the proper hold point for that presentation. The head may be turned a little further with the eyes looking to the point at where they will first see the bird. You don’t want to hold the gun where your going to break the bird because you won’t have any gun swing and you’ll either miss it or shoot it very late. Neither do you want to hold the gun at the point where you’re looking with your eyes. If the bird was close in and fast you’d have a hard time catching up with it. You want to hold the gun between the point where your looking with your eyes and where you plan to smoke the bird, with it being a little closer to where you’ll first see it.
If the bird is coming from behind some trees to your left with little open spaces, don’t try and pick up the bird while it’s still behind the trees, you may miss it. Wait until it emerges from behind the trees to pick it up with your eyes. Have your eyes focused on the area just in front of the trees.
Holding the shotgun properly for a fast easy mount is simple but important. Again, no unnatural positions with the arms as it will only lead to problems. The forend should be grasped in a comfortable manner with the left hand and index finger pointing forward along the forend on either the side or bottom; whichever is most comfortable for you. It is the left hand that directs the movement of the gun to intercept the target, not the right. The right hand assists the left in bringing the gun to the shoulder and assures a smooth mount. If your right hand is used to strongly in mounting and pointing the gun, you’ll probably miss the target. The mount must be swift, but smooth and to the point. It takes lots of practice, and a gun that fits.
The barrels should be pointed to the right of where you’re looking for the target with your eyes on a left to right crossing target. The barrels should be pointed below the anticipated flight path of the target. If they are held above the flight path or at to high an angle, with the gun butt to low, you’ll end up using your right hand to much to move the gun and end up bringing the barrels below the flight path, which means you’ll have to make a correction. The gun should not have a seesaw action while it is being mounted, it should slide upward smoothly till the point when it touches your cheek. Both hands have to work in unison, with the left hand doing all the work. If the barrels are held to high they will also block your view of the target.
When you see the target, you should start your mount. Your body and gun are moving at the same time to get the gun in front of the target on it’s flight path. The barrels will sweep up into the flight path of the target and intercept it. When the stock touches your cheek the gun should be in front of the target with the right lead and you should pull the trigger, and keep the gun swing moving. You have to learn how to trust what you’re seeing and not ride the target. If your eyes are focused on the target, you will smoke it. If the target is a rabbit you must keep the barrels below the rolling/hopping path of the rabbit and bring the gun up to your shoulder and the path of the rabbit to intercept it. The one time you don’t want to mount the gun right away is when you have an incoming target where it has a long flight time and you have plenty of time to read it’s path. Read where it’s going and where and when it’s going to do something. You usually have a few options as to when you want to take the target. Mount the gun just before you plan to shoot the target. Don’t ride the target with the gun mounted to your shoulder, as you’ll tend to make a mistake and miss the target. Mount and shoot, don’t ride the target.
Bio on the author:
Jerry Sinkovec is a freelance outdoor writer/photographer who writes for over 30 different publications. He is also the director of the Instinctive Target Interception Shotgun Shooting School located in Albuquerque. He has been teaching for the last nine years and has been endorsed by Browning in Utah. He teaches in the western states as well as Albuquerque. In June of 2003 he will be operating two schools in the Idaho Falls, ID area as well as Sun Valley, ID. His address in Idaho will be I. T. I. Shotgun Shooting School, 5045 Brennan Bend, Idaho Falls, ID 83406. He can be currently reached by calling: 505-836-1206, or contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org