above: If The Line of Sight and Line of Barrel are on the Same Plane, Then you will Shoot Where You Are Looking
With bird season just around the corner the boys are coming by to report on their pre-season runs through their favorite coverts. Common practice to get an idea what the bird count is and to prep the dogs before opening day. When asked how the puppy did last season the typical answer would be, with proud exclamation, "fantastic! I only wish I could have been just as good with my shooting". As a wing shooting coach, and always one for job security, I suggest I could help. The common response is "oh I know what I'm doing wrong. I'm peeking. I just have to make myself stop peeking."
"Peeking" is an expression used by wing shooters for lifting the head and looking high over the gun just before shooting. As the eye raises over the breach of the gun the muzzle subconsciously follows. This creates a gun that is pointing higher than the eye is looking. Although the movement might be slight, over distance it can be greatly exaggerated. A lift of a 1⁄4” will result in a miss of feet as the line of sight and line of bore intersect and move farther away from each other down range. The reason why it is difficult to stop lifting the head is because "peeking" is usually a symptom and not the actual problem.
Peeking is generally a subconscious reaction created by a mistake made earlier in the preparation for flush and gun mount sequence. By far the most common reason for peeking is the need to acquire or reacquire the bird after the gun mount. It is considerably more difficult to get a good visual on the target when you have the distraction of gun barrels. The head lifts involuntarily to better see the bird over the obstacle. The best way to eliminate the distraction is to understand priorities and change the gun mount sequence.
If The Head Lifts To See The Bird Over The Gun, The Muzzle Will Follow The Eye and The gun Will Point High
Most self taught wing shooters base their methodology on the simple fact that birds move like screaming demons and nothing good will get done unless the gun mount is made as quickly as possible. The sequence this creates puts priority one at the end; snap gun mount, chase,and then attempt to clearly acquire the bird. This is when peeking occurs. Priority is target acquirement. Even a baseball batter with perfect technique has to see the ball with extreme clarity before he swings.
To change from mount, chase and pray to move, mount and shoot requires changing the order of priorities. First is visual, the bird has to be seen with as much clarity as possible. Second is the leading hand (hand on the forestock), it is a sense of holding the forend like a flashlight and maintaining a beam of light on the bird while keeping visual contact. Last is the gun mount hand, which follows the lead of the forehand and hinges to the cheek. This is body and gun movement efficiency. When done correctly there never should be a feeling of disconnect and the need to reacquire the bird.
To make this very efficient gun mount sequence work requires a proper muzzle ready position when preparing for the flush. Since the next step after visual acquirement is connecting the muzzle to the bird (the flashlight analogy), it would be best to ready the muzzle as close to your line of sight as possible. This will allow it to have the shortest route possible to the bird.
There are a few other possibilities that could create "peeking" including improper gun fit. This is best to be analyzed and corrected by a reputable gun fitter. That's right, it may not be your fault. But remember as you try to explain to your pup, who just performed flawlessly, that the miss was not your fault but instead because of improper stock dimensions he only understands hard and soft single syllable commands and that's why he is looking at you with a cockeyed head.