The Mental Side Of Missing: Part I

By Jace Bauserman

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man looking down the scope of a rifle

It happens on mountainsides and on the range, with stakes as high as a once-in-a-lifetime tag or just bragging rights over buddies. Under pressure, the simple act of executing a shot—lining up sights and pressing a trigger—can fall apart.

But with a little understanding of how the human mind works, a lot of concentration and a conscious choice to follow a controlled shooting process, it can all change. Just ask former police officer Joel Turner. He graduated at the top of his class in firearm training, and while he was elated with the accomplishment, he found his natural calling a few years later. While still on the police force, Turner became a firearms instructor and began preaching the importance of mental shooting instruction to others.

Joel Turner standing in front of a white board with writing

He has turned his passion into a career and has helped thousands of shooters—both firearm and archery—through his SHOTIQ courses. Unlike so many other courses and schools of thought that focus on the physical processes of shooting, Turner sets his sights squarely on those between the ears, and the difference is dramatic.

The Problem

"The core problem in shooting is your subconscious will not allow you to cause your body impact as a surprise," he says. By impact, Turner means recoil.

"People have been chasing the surprise trigger break for centuries," he continues. "Our granddads taught us we were to press the trigger slowly, but they never knew the proper way to show this because they were always approaching it from a mechanical means."

Shooters then and now trim the poundage on their triggers to help create that surprise trigger break. Some will even heavy-up a trigger so they can stay in the scope longer and focus on the act of aiming while working to perfect the trigger press.

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"This is where a problem comes in," Turner says. "As soon as the shooter puts their concentration into the aim, then punching the trigger is inevitable."


When concentration is placed on the aim, shooters, according to Turner, go into an “open-loop” mental process on the trigger pull. The term open-loop means your brain sends a motor program to your muscle group that catches and initiates the motor program. The process is super-efficient, and Turner notes it can't be stopped once started.

"When you go open-loop, there will be pre-ignition movements linked to the trigger, and we see it in firearm shooting. We have dubbed it the flinch. Say you hand a new shooter a big-caliber rifle—one that's going to produce significant recoil—and tell them it's going to kick them. They can focus on aiming, but you would see lots of pre-ignition movements linked to the trigger motor program if you watched them shoot."

The question for many shooters has become, how do I achieve a surprise break? According to Turner, it's all about answering this question: Do you know how to concentrate on the trigger press in a precision environment? He stresses that if you're thinking about the aim, you can't think about the press. This causes shooters to try to “time” the shot.

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"Even in military instruction, for centuries, there has been a misnomer that your sight movement is a sideways figure eight," Turner says. "As it comes in down the slope of this sideways figure eight, you increase pressure on the trigger, and then when it gets in the middle, you work the trigger, and the gun goes off. If you follow this system, you're trying to catch the aim, and you will go open-loop on the trigger. We want to be able to concentrate on the trigger."

Break The Cycle

To break this, shooters must develop a controlled shooting process. Turner notes that the best rifle shooters in the world—snipers, competition shooters and hunters—seem to have one thing in common: they all talk to themselves during the shot process. They say a word or phrase at a particular moment, typically after the shooter believes the aim is complete and before they start to go into their trigger work.

It all boils down to how to control the mind and execute precision shots under pressure, and that’s what we’ll cover in Part 2 of this series, coming soon.

For more information on SHOT IQ, visit