Ethan Lowry on the importance of developing strong hand-eye coordination to enhance your shooting prowess
Clay shooting actually involves more of the senses than people may think. You’re holding the gun (touch), watching for the clay (sight) and listening for the sound of the trap (hearing). If you count the smell of victory and taste of defeat, you have the big five of bodily senses.
Combine this with having to judge distance and height, speed and terrain, and accounting for wind and rain, and clay shooting ends up being an incredibly complex sport. All of these are then dependent on the exact time you pull that trigger. A particular area of sports science covers this complex list well: Hand-eye coordination.
This is like any other human attribute in that it can be trained. Unlike most, however, it is actually quite easy to achieve a fairly impressive return on a minimal amount of effort. Additionally, improving your hand-eye coordination can actually be quite fun, and may be a welcome break from your current training regime.
There are some that say the only way to improve your scores is to shoot more clays, and that complementary techniques like the ones listed below won’t help.
We can understand their point, but they are wrong. Firstly, not everyone can afford to go shooting every day, or even every weekend, and so finding ways to improve your game on the days between shoots is very important.
Secondly, what if your clay shooting isn’t getting any better because of a significant lack in one of your complementary skills, like hand-eye coordination? Until these things are addressed. you may not ever get over that hurdle that is hurting your scores and keeping you out of the podium spots.
Let’s start with sight
Our eyes’ ability to track objects and ascertain particular details such as speed and distance is imperative when it comes to clay shooting. The faster your eyes and brain work together, the quicker you can decide how to move your torso, arms and trigger finger.
A simple exercise is to set two objects on a table, one closer than the other. Focus on the one closest to you and after a few seconds switch your focus to the next object. Doing this helps to train your depth perception, and can be made more difficult by adding more objects, moving further away, or adding objects, such as books where the individual has to read a few words each time they switch focus.
You can add different-coloured cards to a table or room and have someone else shout a random colour, when they do so, your goal is to switch your focus from one card to another. The options are limitless.
A way to replicate the clay is to apply this same principle to cars or birds. As a car drives past you, try to document as many accurate details as you can: how many people are in it, the colour, the registration, did it have one or two exhaust pipes, or how many doors it had.
If you are familiar with pest control then you may already do this, but when a pigeon or a crow flies overhead, try to track it as if it was a clay, calculate the lead you require, and if no one is around, pretend to mount your gun!
Combining sight with hand movements
Card games are one of the oldest pastimes around, and can easily be applied to improve your hand-eye coordination. In fact, the entire premise of some card games is based on just that! Games such as the classic Uno or the relatively new Jungle Speed combine looking at your cards and the cards or object on the table (sight) and your ability to quickly and accurately place your own card on the table (hand movements).
If you want a more physical option, I would advise moving outside and grabbing a couple of tennis balls. The age-old game of Catch is an excellent way to train your hand-eye coordination.
You can make it more difficult or exciting by adding in an additional ball, upping the speed, height or distance or using different shapes or sizes of balls. To really challenge yourself, do the following: turn your back to the person throwing the ball, and they will throw the ball a second before shouting “turn”.
When they do so, your task is to turn around and catch the already thrown ball. Depending on the speed, distance, height and number of balls, this can be incredibly hard.
Another fun game to challenge yourself with is to throw one or more balls against a wall in an attempt to catch them all. Again, there are number of ways to challenge yourself with this. You can throw it at the wall and attempt to turn around in a circle before you catch it. You can also use different shapes of balls, or even simply stand on one leg.
Sports in general are a great way to improve hand-eye coordination, but several stick out ahead of the rest. Racket sports like badminton, tennis or squash, and throwing sports like cricket, baseball and basketball all heavily involve the same movements required in clay shooting. Getting involved in a local club can be a great way to supplement your training as well as improving your fitness.
Your goal with any of these games or exercises is to maximise your speed while making sure you don’t sacrifice any accuracy. That same principle applies to the clays.
The quicker you can make the required calculations in your head, the quicker you can mount the gun and track the clay. In total this may only get you an additional half a second, but that may as well be 10 seconds when it comes to shooting clays.
The great thing about the exercises above is that you don’t have to spend all day practising to get the benefit from them. Putting aside as few as five minutes every day can be enough to improve your reaction times, so why not give it a go and see how your scores on the clays improve?