When you are standing at the line, how many are shooting your gun?

Is it one?



I’ve asked a number of shooters what’s going on inside their head when they shoot.

“Complete silence. Nothing.”

“My internal coach is calling out each step of the shot plan.”

“I tell myself, ‘Watch the dot. Watch the dot. …'”

“I hear Coach Pat’s voice, ‘Smoooooooth.'”

“It’s like I’m watching myself shoot.”

Recently, I’ve been working to keep the bad ones in the gun and only let out the good ones. I’m working to release the shots that are going to be good and abort those that are not.

And to know when to abort a shot, I’ve been trying to be sensitive to, and more importantly to act upon, that feeling of “something’s not right.” Sometimes those words are in my head. Sometimes it’s just a remote sense of discomfort or impatience.

Sensitizing myself to that feeling and turning that into action — put the gun down — that’s been a struggle.

Before continuing, I should insert that there are some who will say this is a form of “dressing up a shot” and should, therefore, be avoided.

Others claim it is an essential skill.

But regardless of whether you think it is a good practice to cultivate that sense of when to abort or not, we’ve all felt it.

And on those rare occasions when the dot settles utterly motionless right smack dab in the center of the X, most of us have heard that voice that comes from nowhere suddenly shouting, “Shoot now! Squeeze the trigger! For Heaven’s sake, SHOOT!”

And, of course, it’s always a jerked shot.


So where the hell does that voice come from when I’m watching the dot and following my shot plan?

Who the heck is that and where did they come from?

In “The Society of Mind” (Simon & Schuster, 1988), Marvin Minsky wrote that a mind is made up of many relatively independent “agents”. He said that, in our brain, these agents are all working at the same time, many of them below our level of consciousness.

But when we become conscious of them — more than one — we experience the different parts of our mind.

Those voices are normal. You’re not crazy.

Well, maybe not.

Multiple personality disorder or “dissociative identity disorder” is described in psychiatric circles as “… the presence of two or more distinct identities … [that] take control of behavior.” There is an associated memory loss such that, when one personality takes over, the other(s) have little or no memory of events during that time.

So, talking to yourself, out loud or otherwise, doesn’t mean you’re nuts — as long as you are aware of both sides of the discussion, that is, and as long as those “voices” don’t take over.

Then, you’re OK.

Marvin Minsky said that’s simply how we are put together. Our brains have many “agents” that all work at the same time. Those agents sometimes come to our conscious awareness and, when that happens, we hear or feel them. And when more than one comes to consciousness, we may “hear” their conversation, experience mixed emotions, or stumble over our own feet because those agents may disagree.

Some Bullseye competitors say they try to have an “empty mind” when shooting. What they mean is that they want their body, eye and trigger finger to all be on automatic and for the shot to “go” in utter (mental) stillness.

Those shooters might say that “no one” is in their head when shooting. They are on automatic.

Some add that, while this is in progress, they “monitor” or “watch” the process but otherwise don’t get involved.

Marvin would probably say that, if one part is silently watching another part’s performance, then those are simply two (silent) agents of the shooter’s brain.

Other Bullseye shooters have reported that when they are ready to shoot, they actively engage an internal “coach” who “talks” (silent words in head) through the shot plan. They “hear” the coach’s words each step of the way.

Again, there are two “agents”. One shooting and one coaching.

My internal coach walks me through my shot plan calling out the highly abbreviated steps we both know so well.

“Grasp gun, insert magazine, trigger-hammer-slide drop, thumb off hammer, grip gun left hand, screw gun into right, test finger position on trigger, trigger finger out, muzzle to table top, left thumb into belt, position feet, look where body faces (not at target), deep breath, wriggle upper body to shed tenseness, another deep breath, turn head to target, look at center, inhale and raise gun above target, lock wrist, find the dot, exhale slightly and lower gun toward aiming area, lock wrist (again), dot nearing the black, start trigger, straight back, settle, pressure, pressure, …”

Whether or not you have a “tape” like this or shoot in utter (mental) silence, every now and then you “know” something isn’t right.

“Stop. Put the gun down. Start over.”

That thought, that feeling, is coming from somewhere, and that “where” has to be within you, within your mind.

Call it the subconscious if you like but the fact remains, it’s a part of your brain and it’s helping you shoot.

And that part of the brain that is watching the dot, that sees it settle and nest so spectacularly perfect and that says, “Shoot! Shoot! My God, Shoot NOW!”

Yeah, that “jerk” is part of your mind as well.

Learning to shoot Bullseye requires training the body and mind to do the right things.

And one of the “right things” is learning how to effectively deal with that “jerk”.

Put the gun down and say,

“Thank you. You’re right, that was really pretty, wasn’t it? Now please sit down back there on the bench and STFU!”

2 thoughts on “Shooters (plural) to the Firing Point (singular)

  1. This is a good explanation as any of the mental aspect of firing a good shot.

    I encourage new shooters to have a ‘Mental’ process. This takes over after the ‘Mechanical’ process (stance, grip, sights, breathing, trigger) is in place.

    I shoot fine when I just shoot, but I shoot better when I coach myself through each match.

  2. Thanks, Bruce. The “coach” and I are getting ready for today’s 2700 but he’s grumpy I won’t let him have a second (or third!) cup of coffee.

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