It Takes Brains to Shoot Clays!

That’s right! The word brain, in the plural, is correct. Our brains have what appears to be a fold running from front to back separating the brain in two. Each one of us has two brain hemispheres; a left and a right.  In between is a mass connecting the two called the corpus collosum that acts as a roadway for information to pass between the two sides.  In 1981 Roger Sperry received the Nobel Prize for his work in this area*.  He conducted an experiment on a patient that had his corpus collosum removed to stop uncontrollable seizures. The patient was shown a pencil to his right eye and hand.  He could name it but not explain what it was used for. When the pencil was presented to the left side the patient could demonstrate and explain its use, but could not name it. Sperry concluded that each side of the brain had a different way to process what it observed. Each side of the brain has a different manner of thinking. Although each hemisphere appears to offer measurable differences in how it responds to life’s situations we apparently need both of our brains to function. The choice of which brain is in control of which situation, determines our response to the world. A key point for the shooter is that the mind tends to favor information coming from one brain hemisphere at a time. Although both hemispheres are active, the dominant hemisphere commands the attentiveness of the body.

Most individuals have a distinct preference for one of these styles of thinking. Some, however, are more whole-brained and equally adept at both modes. In general, our public schools tend to favor left-brain modes of thinking, while downplaying the right-brain ones. Left-brain scholastic subjects focus on logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy; reading, writing, arithmetic. Right-brained subjects, on the other hand, focus on aesthetics, feeling, and creativity; drawing, essay questions, impromptu speeches, writing songs or stories.  Here are some characteristics of the left and right brain hemispheres.

detail orientedfacts rule

words and language

present and past

math and science

can comprehend



order/pattern perception

knows object name

reality based

forms strategies



sees things as still
views in single plane

uses feelingimagination rules

symbols and images

present and future

philosophy & religion

can “get it” (i.e. meaning)



spatial perception

knows object function

fantasy based

presents possibilities


risk taking
sees motion
uses depth perception



It might be helpful for you to know if you are right or left-brain dominant.  There are simple tests that can help you to determine your preference and if you will send us an email at we will send you a free one.

So, why would a shooter care about this brain stuff?  It seems that the act of shooting is much more of a right-brain function than a left-brain one.  We have discussed many times in this publication that the act of shooting is primarily a subconscious function and that thinking too much just prior to shooting can be a mental mistake. In other words, we need to shoot subconsciously once we develop the skill to do so.  Although it is too simplistic to say that the left-brain is the conscious mind and the right-brain is subconscious, because shooting is a right-brain function you might think that a person with a dominant right-brain preference would have an easier time with hitting targets.  Is this true?  After looking at this for many years my thinking is that it depends.

If you look at the characteristics of the left-brain function some of these are useful in parts of the shooting process.  The strategy portion of the anticipation phase of a shot, I call it Preload, is primarily a left-brain function.  Do you sometimes hear words and talk to yourself during this time?  Language is a left-brain function.  You must make decisions and most people make them in a logical, step-by-step manner.  We tend to do them sequentially and uniformly.  We attempt to measure target distance and, for most presentations, forward allowance.  This period is where we form strategies and all of these things are left-brain functions.  So, you might think that if you are primarily a left-brain dominant person you would have an advantage here and I tend to agree with that idea.  OK!  Let’s give the anticipation phase of a station to you left-brainers.

But, when we get close to calling for the target, hearing a lot of words and being busy-minded appears to be a bad thing.  The left-brain tends to get in the way of a primarily right-brain function of shooting the shotgun.  Let’s look at the right-brain functions needed to shoot well.  Motion and depth perception, both essential for hitting clays are right-brain functions.  We respond to the target’s motion.  Speed of gun-movement, the timing of pulling the trigger, even the sensation of having the correct lead is more right-brain than left. Great shooters respond to the targets movements so quickly that words are not possible because they are just too slow.  This is right-brain at it’s best.  No words just action!  So, we have to give the action phase of a station to the right-brainers.

What about the reinforcement phase of a task?  Remember, this is what you think about just after a pair.  You evaluate your shots, making correction and quickly prepare to repeat the process on the next pair.  Do these functions favor either right or left brain?  Let’s see.  The left-brain acknowledges while the right-brain appreciates.  Both occur in the reinforcement phase.  We acknowledge and correct error and appreciate a smoked pair.  You know that you have the proper hold point and yet you believe that you can do it again.  Both left and right are used in this phase with no real advantage to either in my humble opinion.  So, I give the reinforcement phase a tie.

Fact is, all shooters regardless of brain side dominance, use both sides of their brains so much in their daily activities that even if you are strongly dominant you can train the non-dominant side to come the front of the stage when needed and this is the point.  Dominance is not the issue as much as learning to take advantage of the functions that both of your brains offer.  I’ll offer a suggestion or two.

Because the anticipation phase is very much a left-brain function you will probably do better if you talk to yourself during this period.  Language is a left-brain function.  But, as you get closer to calling for the target try to simplify or eliminate words in favor of pictures or feelings.  This will promote the chance that your shot will be executed subconsciously.  Finally, once you exit the station, words again will be helpful as long as they are on solutions and not on problems.  Remember to encourage yourself during this time and refrain from discouragement or any form of negative imprinting.

It has also been observed that humans can switch from one hemisphere to the other quite easily even if you are strongly dominant in one hemisphere.  The technical error of “checking” when the shooter takes his eye off of the target and attempts to take a quick look at the barrel is an example of this switch.  Measuring is more of a left-brain function while trusting is more right brain.  Trusting hits more targets.  Stay in your RIGHT mind during the action phase of the station.

It would be very interesting to test the top shooters to see if there is a correlation between shooting high scores and brain function.  My guess is that you will find winners in both camps.  The left-brainers have adapted to quieting the left-brain during shooting and the right-brainers are still talking to themselves before and after the station in spite of the dominance issue.  Sometimes we wonder if we have any brains at all in a shoot.  We can be certain of one thing; shooters need all the help they can get from both of our brains.

*Roger Wolcott Sperry (August 20, 1913April 17, 1994) was a neuropsychologist, neurobiologist and Nobel laureate who, together with David Hunter Hubel and Torsten Nils Wiesel, won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work with split-brain research.

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