John Zurek, Steve Reiter,
Jim Henderson, Daryl Szarenski

(L to R, click for bigger)

My work takes me to many large and successful companies. Some of them build airplanes. Some of them make automobiles. And some of them … well, they won’t say what they do. They just smile and change the subject.

But there is one thing they all share and that is the ability to make their products with a very high degree of quality.

Quality takes time, effort and, above all, consistent attention to detail. Every step, ever facet of their product has to be done to perfection because quality is not one thing but rather the sum total. If any part is flawed, they go back and fix it. Nothing comes out that’s bad.

These companies have learned that, to make a quality product, you need a process.

Many of them use a meta-process — that’s a process about making a process — called ISO 9000.

ISO 9000 is basically a three-step plan applied over and over for each product.

  1. Write down the details of all the steps they follow to build a product.
  2. Rigorously follow those written steps, word by word, as they build the product.
  3. If the finished product is flawed, they go back and revise the written steps so they don’t make the same mistake next time.

When this process is followed, admittedly through several less than perfect but always improving iterations, eventually a quality product is produced. And by continuing to follow that plan, they can produce that quality product again and again.

Just follow the steps.


In Bullseye, successful shooters have a shot plan. They tweak and groom that plan over a long period of time with thousands of shots and nearly as many adjustments, compensations, blind alleys and eventual successes. Ultimately, they have a shot plan that works … for them.

And then they apply it over and over.

Each of us is different. Big hands, normal hands, stubby or long fingers, some are right-handed but left-eye dominant, some have arthritis in a shoulder joint or a knee that needs compensation.

Your plan won’t work for me, nor will mine work for you. Oh sure, we get ideas from each other but only by trying things do we find out what works, what doesn’t, or what looks like something we’re just not able to do (yet).

Trial and error. Yes, that’s the meta-process we follow.


It’s also true that, the more you practice good technique, the faster you will progress. You can’t just throw lead downrange, you’ve got to throw it downrange with care and attention — you’ve got to try and do it right, and learn as you go to do it better and better.

If you shoot a lot in a short period of time, you will memorize what you are doing. Your shot plan will be in your head and, most importantly, it will be in your body.

If you shoot less often, you’ll forget some of those details.

And if you don’t have the shot plan fully internalized but take a long break, your body and mind will almost certainly forget some of the better details.

So, your shooting won’t improve, or it might even go backwards. If that happens, you’ll just have to re-discover what works.

I’m in the midst of re-discovering the surprise break.

Yes, I know, that’s “basic”. I’m supposed to know how to do that already and, for a while, I could do it. But, for whatever reason, I seem to have lost the ability. I see my shots going down and left — a jerk. Sometimes not much but, watching the dot or the front sight, I see it. I know.

I’ve forgotten how to make … or not make, I should say … it happen.

Ink and paper are good for remembering things. They don’t forget like our brains and bodies do.

The note in my gun box says, “In Slow Fire, align the sights on the aiming area, start the trigger so it comes straight back, pour attention into the dot or front sight, and then wait … and if the shot doesn’t go or you ‘hear’ any thought whatsoever, put the gun down.”

That was how I learned to let the surprise break happen, and I’m re-applying it so I can learn that again.

Writing down your shot plan seems laborious and an overkill but the ISO 9000 folks know it works.

If you never forget any part of your shot plan, I applaud you.

But I forget things and the less often I try, the more likely I am to forget.

So I follow the meta-plan:

  1. Write it down;
  2. Shoot the plan; and
  3. Tweak the written plan when something doesn’t work.

Next time you ride on an airplane remember the process that brought it to such an extraordinary degree of quality. The wings don’t fall off. The door seals in the air time and time again. And, with the pilot’s highly skilled guidance, it takes all the passengers thousands of miles before the wheels contact the runway no more than a few feet from where thousands of wheels of other airplanes have put their wheels on that same runway.

Consistent. Quality. Again and again.

The plan works: Write it, shoot it, fix it.

Good Enough For Now

1911 Trigger and Harp with
Trigger Stop Screw Removed

The rules of the Bullseye sport allow considerable latitude in equipment and technique. And there are certain items and practices that improve one’s ability to hit the center of the target.

These include for most shooters but not all

  • Red dot,
  • Good stance,
  • Focus (of attention as well as eye) on the dot (or front sight),
  • and so forth.

But there are exceptions, and good ones, to each of these generalizations.

  • A great many shooters “way back” before there were red dots were, as a rule, shooting better than many of us today with (or without) a red dot.
  • I know a couple of High Masters that, when they assume their shooting stance, look so awkward and uncomfortable I can’t imagine how they do that for a full 2700, but they do – -and they do it quite well.
  • Brian Zins, the most winning Bullseye shooter in history, says he focuses not on the front sight, not on the dot, but contrary to a great many others, he says he focuses on the target.

With those exceptions in mind, here’s the real point: There are some items and practices that, while helpful, may prove to be temporary “stopping off” points along the path. They are useful for a while but, ultimately, they prove to have their own limits — they’ll only take you so far. Eventually, they become counterproductive and must be discarded lest you become stuck on a plateau.

I’ll use some of my experience as an example.

I still consider myself a beginner. In the few years I’ve been trying to hit the X, I’ve used and then discarded some things. For example, when my wobble was basically the entire scoring area (5 ring), the practice of consciously squeezing the trigger as the sights neared the center of the target did — and here’s the key word — temporarily result in an improved score.

For a frustrated Marksman, that’s a powerful incentive and, for a while, it works. But that same Markman will also learn, as did I, that as his wobble decreases with practice and time, when he then “jerks” the shot as the sights near the center of the target, the Marksman will discover the resultant jerking motion overpowers his ever-reducing wobble. So, as the Marksman’s skill increases, jerking the shot must eventually be abandoned.

It works for a little while but then becomes counterproductive.

Now, contrast that with the technique known by the experts as “steering with the trigger.”

Specifically, Masters and High Masters sometimes talk about their ability to fine tune their aim into the deep center of the black by the use of their trigger finger. That is, in the last few fractions of a second before the hammer breaks from the sear and fires the shot, the growing pressure on the trigger is also used to guide the sights into the very center of the target. The combination of steering and increasing pressure is, while admittedly different from what the Marksman does, nonetheless similar in effect: The shot breaks when the sights bear on the center of the target.

I should add that one of these is conscious while the other is automatic. And that is the critical difference.

Regardless, here we have an example of where two similar techniques — breaking the shot as the sight picture reaches perfection — where both the beginner and the expert benefit.

But note that in the middle ranks, perhaps through SharpShooter and well into Expert classes, we try to avoid any connection between where the sights bear and when the shot breaks. In the middle ranks, we learn to align the sights on the aiming area and to build pressure on the trigger until the shot breaks without disturbing the sights.

In these skill levels, the goal is the “surprise break”.

As we progress, therefore, we find that what helps our shooting and what is detrimental to it, change.

“Change” is the operative word.

What gives us a better score today may, in the coming weeks and months, prove to be a limiting factor in achieving even better scores.

So, while there may be some near-ideals we learn for stance, trigger control, eye focus and so forth, it is also true that not only are these skills time-consuming to learn, but also that, in some cases, we’re just not ready to apply them.

And it is also worth noting that only the top echelon in the sport have developed the abilities to do these things all at the same time and that, even for them, they may have found techniques that work just as well for them.

Each of us must, therefore, be constantly learning, integrating, re-examining, discarding and trying something different.

It therefore behooves us non-High Masters to listen, watch, read and experiment, but never to assume that every technique will apply to us now. Some may work for us but only after years of effort, years where we essentially ignore that good advice. We may not be able to execute on that good advice until our skill reaches a certain level.

It’s about finding the right combination that works where you are now.

So, yes, you should look for the ideals and try to work them into your shot plan but also be realistic and know that “putting it all together” takes time, a lot of time.

We may have to file away some techniques we are shown. For us, they may be “later.”

In the meantime, we need to push a lot of lead downrange, and do that thoughtfully, studiously and repeatedly.

It will come, but the square of Earth on which I place my left foot today is not the same square I will put it on a year from now.

Times change, and so do we.

Go with the flow, but don’t be afraid to push against the edges of the channel.

That’s where you’ll find the breakthroughs.

Memo #1 to Self

Sunday came with high hopes but that’s as far as it went.

The first target told the story: 22 Slow Fire, 84-0.

To make Expert, I needed an average of 90 across all forms and guns. And although things got better and I ended with 824-19 in that caliber, needing an 810 average, that gave me only a 14 point “hedge” against center fire and 45 caliber performance.

My 22 is often better, much better, and I was counting on it to pull up the scores in Center Fire and 45 to the needed 90% average for Expert.

This doesn’t look good for the Expert card today.

Changing to the wad gun I shoot in Center Fire, I knew I needed to do better than usual, and probably much better.

My mind was busy calculating scores as I began Center Fire.

And with the second Center Fire, it was over.

Oh my gosh, how could I butcher a target so incredibly bad!

Looking in the scope at the target 50 yards away, I could only see seven holes that were worth anything.

61-0 with two visible misses, and then one completely off the paper.


How could it get so bad?

I shook my head in disgust.

But I knew the answer: Ignore the basics and it goes to hell in a hand basket real fast.

In Bullseye, you just cannot let up. A moment of distraction and, “Bang,” into the berm outside of the target.

And that’s exactly what happened.

I was thinking about my scores and that Expert card, and didn’t think about the shot.

The shot. The one you’re doing right now. You’ve got to stay on that one shot and nothing else.

So there I was standing and looking at that dismal target and knew it was hopeless.

Should I pack up and go?

Go home and dig up the yard?

Or do I want to work through this, figure out what all is going wrong, and get back to where I can shoot most of the middle out of a target again?”

I’m not a quitter. As long as I’m safe to shoot, I’ll try to work through it.

So I sighed, had a quick snack of bitter crow in front of the other shooters, and then resigned myself to work my way through, to forge ahead and get back to the basics.

The first Slow Fire of the National Match Course in Center Fire was next.

I thought myself through the shot process.

I will focus on the dot. Then come into the aiming area. I’ll start the trigger straight back (feel my trigger finger arching to move it straight back, and then I’ll just hold it there, ignore the wobble, focusing on the dot, the dot, the dot and wait until it goes.

First shot. Do the process. “Bang!” That felt pretty good.

Let’s do it again.

And again.

After each shot I’d glance in the scope to see if it landed where I called it.

Most did.

But after seeing that one new hole, I went back to the shot process.

After the tenth shot was gone, I reloaded the magazines, clicked the dot down four clicks for the short line (next), set the screw driver on the table with the blade pointed toward me (meaning the sight was now set for the short line), and looked in the scope to tally the score.



I looked again, counted the holes, and then tallied the score a second time.

A 91-2 in Slow Fire?

I just shot a 91-2 in Slow Fire!

Damn! That’s good!! That’s real good for me!!!

Wait. What did I do? Why was that different?

I repeated the mantra to myself: Focus on the dot. Come into the aiming area. Start the trigger straight back … and then just hold it there, ignore the wobble, and wait for the shot to go.

And what did I not do?

I didn’t think about getting my Expert card.

I just thought about the next shot.

Timed and Rapid came and went as I worked to focus back on that basic process for each shot. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but even in the latter case, all the shots counted — there were no more misses, not in Center Fire and not later in 45.

With the three misses in Center Fire and the struggle to resurrect “how to shoot a good shot”, I ended with 772-12. That’s so short of the needed 810 that even that tiny corner of my mind that hoped against hope to still pull victory out of this disaster, even that gave up.

45 Rapid Fire: 94-1


45 caliber was next. Nine targets later, I saw my total: 802-14.

Still short of the needed 810 but, then again, if you look at the progress of a bad 22 performance followed by an utterly dismal Center Fire Slow Fire, and then the return to basics and the scores coming back up, well, that 802-14 actually looked pretty good.

If my 22 had “been there” and my Center Fire and 45 had been up to that same 802 level, I might have had enough for the Expert card.

But there was a much more important lesson here.

Indeed, if I were looking for a prime example of how thinking can mess up shooting, thia was it. I had started the day thinking, “I’m gonna earn my Expert card today,” and then became so preoccupied with that thought that I completely destroyed the possibility.

And as soon as I accepted the fact that I couldn’t get there and would, instead, go back to the basics and look no farther ahead than the next shot, it all started coming back.

My Expert card will come someday.

It will happen.

But I won’t get there by striving for it.

In some sports, you may be able to visualize that gold medal hanging around your neck and use that inspiration to help you get there.

But in Bullseye, your vision can’t be any further away than the end of the barrel or that red dot and this next shot.

Focus on this shot.

The Expert card is the mailman’s responsibility, not mine.

It’ll come with it comes.

Memo to self?

That’s easy. It’s to focus on the dot, come into the aiming area, start the trigger straight back and then just hold it there, ignore the wobble, and wait for the shot to go.

Anything else is noise.

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,


Spotting Holes

I can see two, maybe three camps of thought on what a spotting scope is for but first I’ll point out that we all probably agree it’s a good tool for getting your sights lined up. But once that’s accomplished, the divergence of opinion begins.

Specifically, once your sights are lined up, do you still need a spotting scope?

The three camps of thought I have in mind diverge when you call your shot but it lands elsewhere. The scope is where you’ll see that this has happened, and it’s this recognition that takes the next step where things begin to diverge.

In other words, once you see that you’ve messed up, now what?

One camp would say you obviously didn’t follow your shot plan. That is, the shooter’s shot plan is developed to the point where, if followed, the shot always goes to the right place. Hence, the value of the spotting scope to those in this camp is as a tell-tale. It says that the shooter is not mentally focused and following his/her shot plan. The banner slogan in this camp might be, “All Hail the Mighty Shot Plan!”

Just down the road is the second camp. When the scope reveals that a shot landed somewhere different than the call, occupants of this camp would say that the shooter did something wrong and — here’s the difference — now’s the time to analyze and correct. In this camp, the shot plan isn’t yet bullet-proof (sorry, couldn’t resist). It is still being developed. In this camp, every shot remains an opportunity for a learning experience and the spotting scope is the tool that tells the shooter, “Oh boy, look at this. There’s something to learn here!”

The third camp — I hosted some beginner-relatives at the range a while back and they come to mind — is the group where, after each shot they would look in the scope, were generally mystified (and annoyed) at the results but, on rare occasion, they would suddenly shout, “Bullseye!” For them, the spotting scope was a source of entertainment.

They grin at the mysterious bullseye and say, “Hey, I’m gettin’ pretty good!”

And then resume blasting away at the berm and the target frame.

As we ascend the Bullseye ladder, we experience all three camps, some longer than others. And over a long competition, I sometimes find that my tent has been moved because although I’d like to say my shot plan is perfect, in reality it’s still a work in progress.

I kidded John Zurek one evening about his targets all being so boring with all those Xs and 10s.

“Don’t you get bored?” I asked only half in jest.

He just smiled.

Is bored is a good thing?