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July 09, 2008

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Hard Focus

One of the most simple ways to become a better shotgunner is to learn how to correctly focus on your target, whether it is made of clay or feathers. The term often used is “hard focus” but what is it and how do you do it? The idea is that instead of looking at the pheasant, you concentrate instead on the pheasant’s beak. Or, with clays, instead of looking at the whole target you look at a portion of it, say the leading edge.

This is easier said than done but there is a trick you can use to put the concept of hard focus into practice. Take a straightforward crossing target moving from left to right, for example. If you picture the target in the center of a clock face you want to pick a specific time, in this case 4 o’clock, as the spot where you’ll focus your eyes.

Try it without shooting at first. Let one bird sail by while you just look at the target without hard focus. Now, call for another bird and fix your eyes right at 4 o’clock. The sensation should be quite different. The target will be more clear in your vision and, as if by magic, it will also appear to move more slowly.

Shoot that one target repeatedly while concentrating your eyesight on the 4 o’clock position. You’ll soon be able to judge the shots where you had “hard focus” and those where your focus went soft.

With other presentations you simply need to determine where on the clock face you need to concentrate. With enough practice it will become second nature and you’ll break more birds.

—John Snow



That's a great post, thanks! I recently took up shotgunning, and I discovered that after 16 years of shooting pistol, I am a terrible shot with a shotgun, so every bit of advice helps.


I like to work a newcomer with hand thrown targets, straight up...let them find the point where the "bird" stops climbing, and stands still in mid-air, and fire while the target is barely moving...give them confidence and practice! Then, the movers start to get easier...and the confidence grows!

Another trick is to find a handy AA mini maglite, which is the same size bore as a 12 ga., and slip it down the tube with the light on. Practice throwing the stock to shoulder and pointing, without "aiming", and then see where your light is going....not only does that give you practice, but lets you know if your stock fits you right!

Tom Sorenson

Awesome tip! I think this applies to just about everything requiring hand/eye coordination. I remember playing baseball it was a constant struggle to really "hard focus" on the ball - same with any type of shooting, to...not just shotgunning - as Cameron Hanes would say, "Pick a spot!"

Ion the Target

If you read the Orvis Guide to Wingshooting and Bob Brister's excellent book on the Art and Science of Shotgunning, this is a recurrent theme. Sports analogy: When you are batting, when do you look at the bat? When shooting a basketball, when do you look at the ball? When throwing a football, when do you look at the ball? The answer to all of them is "You don't" - you look at the "target". You might have heard that Ted Williams could tell which way the ball was spinning when he was at bat - think he was "hard focused"?

Heck it even helps to focus on the far inside edge of the wastepaper basket when tossing that crumpled page! I shoot a lot of clays, and if I can tell you the lead, then I missed the target. If I look at the target, it "slows down" and it breaks! Frequently a target breaks when I'm sure I was off - I lost some faith in my instincts after the shot, but it breaks and I am reminded of my "mascot" - "Ion the Target". Get it?

We teach new shooters bad habits by offering advise such as "two foot of lead on this one". Put the barrel out front and focus on the target - it'll break if you really focus.

Great article!


I'm all over trying this!