Every shooter that has ever taken a lesson with me knows how much emphasis I put on the eyes. The eyes and how you use them are the most important thing on the skeet field, with keeping your cheek attached to the gun at a close second (as long as the gun fits you properly). So if they are so important, how do you use them properly? It is one of the hardest things to describe verbally, let alone trying to write it on paper, but here we go! First off, realize that your eyes can be in one of two states of focus during the shot: a soft or hard focus. You can also say relaxed focus or sharp focus. Let us clearly define each before stating how to use them for shooting.
A soft or relaxed focus can be described similarly to the focus you have when you are driving. You know, when you are driving down the road with no apparent need to slow down, stop, turn, etc, you are just driving down the road. It’s that point where you kind of “zone out” and gaze in front of you. Your eyes are not moving from side to side or up or down, they are just relaxed, looking straight ahead out into the distance. Heck, you probably don’t even see your car, your hands, your steering wheel, nothing close to you, you just seen out into the distance. At this state of focus, your eye muscles are relaxed, not straining to see anything and your peripheral vision is pretty darn good. For instance, if something flashed out of the corner of your eye in this state of focus, you would see it and your eyes would be drawn to it quickly.
A hard or sharp focus is just the opposite. This is where you pick out something specific to look at and are focusing on just that part of the object. Notice I said a specific part of the object, not the object as a whole. Meaning, you are looking at a specific number or letter, not the entire sequence of numbers or letters. In this case, your eyes are focused on just one thing and are straining to see that one thing in extreme detail. Your peripheral vision is very limited, pretty much non-existent in this state of focus.
How does this apply for shooting? When picking out your look point, your eyes need to relax into the softer focus, in the target flight path and out into the distance. This allows your peripheral vision to pick up the flash better allowing you to start your swing quicker and sustain your leads better. When you look out into the distance in the soft focus, it also helps you stay at home and keep your eyes calm or still when calling for the target. It also helps your eyes be drawn to the flash and focus back inward to the target. Once you acquire the flash and you start moving, it is then imperative to shift to a hard focus on just the target (a specific part of the target like the front edge) as you approach your break point. Not the lead, not in between your gun and target, just the target as you pull the trigger. Next time you go to shoot, it might sound frightening to not look at the lead when you pull the trigger, but give it a try. Lead should be set up in the beginning of the shot with a proper setup (hold point & look point) and the proper start (matching gun speed with target speed when you see the flash), not visually acquiring the lead at the end of the shot. You should be focused on just the target when you are going to pull the trigger.
Final thought: Think back to the best day you ever had in your shooting career. Think about that day vividly. Tell me, did you see targets that day or leads? That’s what I thought because 100% of the people that I ask that question to said “oh man I saw targets clearly, they looked slow and as big as trash can lids!” On the other hand, when I ask them about their worst day, I hear “they looked fast, I was seeing a lot more of the barrel, I was checking leads, etc.” Coincidence much? I think not! “I missed that target because I looked at it too hard,” said no one ever. Give it a try and enjoy the soft to hard focus transition on the target the next time you go shoot!