The Evolving Shot Plan

A shot plan is the sequence of steps, physical and mental, that you go through when shooting. Top shooters use their shot plan to gain consistency of performance; if they follow the exact same steps for each shot, they will get the same results for each shot.

Of course, that begs the question of what’s in a successful shot plan? But there’s no simple answer because, over time, the shot plan changes.

Well, that’s not quite correct because it doesn’t, but it does.


Bear with me a moment.

The shot plan changes for two reasons one of which is experienced by the beginner and the other by the expert. The beginner’s shot plans change because, to be blunt, at this stage we don’t know what we’re doing. We haven’t (yet) figured out what will work for us. Beginners have to find these things out the hard way. And because we’re all built differently, each person has to figure out his own “best solution”.

For example, I’m right-handed but left-eye dominant. About 25% of the general population works that way. In Bullseye, someone who shoots this way is said to be “cross-dominant” or to shoot “cross-eyed”. To line things up, I should rotate myself (body, head and wrist) to align the sights with each other and to my left eye.

But my body has a problem. When I was eight or nine, I had a neck injury that prevents turning my head as far as most people can. So if I try to use the “correct” cross-eyed position, my neck hurts. It’s tolerable for a couple of shots but not for an entire 2700.

So I shoot “righty-righty”.

My shot plan, therefore, includes aligning the sights to my right eye. And because that’s not my dominant eye, I wear a blinder over my left eye. Even so, I have to work extra hard at staying mentally focused; staying alert to that eye takes effort. Left to its own, my mind will ignore it and start thinking about other things. In Bullseye, “thinking” is bad so I have to work to keep my mind focused on what the right eye sees.

Years ago “In the beginning,” my shot plan had me try lefty-righty (ouch that hurts), lefty-lefty (look out!) and finally righty-righty with a blinder before I found the “least bad” solution. That is, I had to go through several experimental stages while I worked out what to do with my body and equipment to perform a successful shot.

During that period, my shot plan changed because I would try something, that would force something else to change (and be written down) which would change something else, and so on.

And if I ultimately decided “this isn’t working,” I’d have to throw out a whole series of steps and begin again. This period when we’re working out the most basic of details can be very frustrating. Each choice leads to more choices but when you decide the first domino in the line is wrong, you have to remove and re-stack a lot of dominoes.

Trial and error.

Eventually — for me it’s been years — we work out most of the basic steps. That’s when we start seeing, as I do, that our shot plan is still changing but in a different way: It’s getting shorter and shorter. You see, for the most part I have internalized “Ed’s Meticulously Worked Out Shot Plan” and, if you’ll pardon the analogy, I know the yellow brick road. If I stick to it, I know I’ll get to Oz. My body has learned what to do and what step comes next. (Of course, knowing and doing are two different things, but that’s another essay.)

Today, I pretty much “know” my shot plan. It is largely internalized.

When “shooters to the line” is called, I “start the dance” and it all pretty much just happens on automatic.

  1. I step up to my firing point and verify that my two magazines are loaded and sitting where my left hand can reach them.
  2. I eyeball the location of the brass catcher and the spotting scope, and then move to position myself equally distant from both. In that position, brass will [mostly] land in the net and I can see through the spotting scope just by turning my face.
  3. My feet and body go to a 90 degree stance and I look down at my feet to make them parallel with each other.I’ve heard this called the “Russian position” and, of all the stances I’ve tried, this one seems to work best for me.
  4. I can then lean over, pick up the gun while keeping it pointed down range and verify the slide is locked back– I have to twist my body a bit to make all this work.
  5. When the “Load!” command is given, I ready the gun. The written-out shot plan might say, insert one magazine pressing the release button as it rides over it, press the trigger, hold the hammer with right thumb and release theslide lock with left thumb, move left thumb in front of hammer, release hammer from other thumb, release trigger,remove thumb [if hammer didn’t drop], re-square my shoulders with my body, hook left thumb in belt where appendix used to be (on right front side) to take stress off left back muscles, start the first of three deep breaths, relaxmy shoulders, feel my body “settle in”, lean slightly toward the target, get a little bit angry which tightens my grip and focuses my attention to the end of my hand and the gun, …

Let me interrupt.

You can probably start to see why my shot plan has to become internalized: If completely written out, it would be ridiculously long and impossible to read/do at the firing line. It has to happen from memory, but not from “head memory”. There’s another kind of memory that’s needed for this. It has to be body/movement memory, not word memory. I don’t “talk” the steps. I just do them. I know step one and what follows it and what follows that.

I don’t think. I just “do”.

So let me recap.

In the beginning, and because each of us is slightly different, each of our shot plans will also be different. We each have to work out our own set of details.

Viewing that process over time, each of the individual steps may have been written down at one point but they were then practiced and, once learned, they were summarized into one or two words and the beginner’s attention then moved on to other parts of the shot plan needing work.

The beginner’s plan was starting to evolve into the expert’s plan. As each part was detailed, it too became just one or two words. And the sequence of three or four steps each containing one or two words were, in time, summarized into one step of one or two words.

Ultimately, the “shot plan” becomes short, really short.

Several years after starting this, I can see what my shot plan will become. Mine will soon become a single word. It will be, “Flow.”

And even on a bad day, I can remember that.


I’m a computer geek by profession and, of late, a teacher of other computer geeks. My job requires me to think and analyze all the time, not just computers but also students trying to learn to program computers, and not just any computers but those doing complicated and dangerous things such as flying airplanes.

So perhaps that’s why I enjoy … no, why I need Bullseye. To be successful at it, I have to do something completely differrent, I have to “not think.”

Instead of thinking, I have to


There’s an excellent article on this in Shooting Sports USA magazine. You can find it at Page 16 in July 01, 2009 issue of Shooting Sports USA.

.And looking over at what Tony has written recently, I see this same idea there as well.

And a long time from now, that one word shot plan will become shorter. Eventually it will become a single letter.


That’s the ultimate shot plan. Everything happens on auto-pilot. Our body knows what to do each step of the way. All we need is that single letter to start the process.


And then


And again,


2 thoughts on “The Evolving Shot Plan

  1. I do not agree with your ultimate conclusion to think of an X. The result desired is a perfect release with perfectly aligned sights. A result oriented visualization should be on that image, not an X.

  2. Dear Mr/Ms Anonymous,
    I'm not sure I can agree but, then again, I'm not sure I can disagree with you either.
    You see, several shooters have said that, when everything is working, it's sort of like they are sitting back and just watching it happen. To me, this suggests they aren't *working* on focusing on the front sight but rather that they've learned things so well that the focusing of attention on the sight alignment just happens and the eye and body execute the shot.
    Here's where the words start to fail me.
    From their description, I get the strong impression they aren't "thinking" in the sense of words. Yes, they are feeling, and seeing, and hearing, but the "I" that tells the body what to do is silent. I think of a Zen state described as "empty mind".
    I'm contending that when I reach that level of automatic execution of the shot plan, at that point the outer-most goal of putting a hole in the X ring is going to be what starts my shot plan running. It's going to be the mental button-push that starts the cycle that ends with a shot going downrange.
    And once that program (!) is running, there will be silence in my head until, eventually, … Bang!
    The "X" shot plan is the conscious, word-oriented mind stating its goal — hit the "X" — that starts the shot plan running. The conscious mind then just sits back and watches it happen.
    My goal is a hole in the "X" ring. That needs to be in my shot plan, very early, and my gut feel is that ultimately, it will be the only conscious part of the shot plan. All the other steps will be automatic, unthought, and unvoiced.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *