“How’d I miss?”
It’s a common question for shotgun shooters whether at the range or in the field. Obviously, you shot too high, too low, too far in front, too far behind or a combination of these such as high and behind. A more important question is how can you tell?
You can’t. A better answer is "you shouldn’t be able to tell." The eyes of a shotgun shooter should be focused on the target - not on the shotgun’s barrel, not on the sight at the end of the barrel and certainly not on the smoky glimpse of shot and wad coursing downrange. If your eyes are focused properly on the target, the barrel, the sight-bead and especially the cloud of shot flying out the end of the gun will only be seen with your peripheral vision, if at all.
The “How’d I miss” question can only be properly answered by a second person, standing close behind the shooter, concentrating on watching the track of the shot. It’s the shooter’s job to keep eyes on the target; it’s the spotter’s job to try to see if the missed shots were high, low or where ever.
Is seeing the flight path of a load of shot even possible? Absolutely - some of the time. In certain light conditions, it’s pretty easy to see the path of the shot fired from a shotgun. Sometimes it's nearly impossible. When lighting conditions are favorable, the smoke, the wad and even the shot cloud itself can be visible - at least out to 25 or 30 yards for a brief, fraction of a second.
Over the years, ammo makers have attempted to create shotshells with easy (or easier) to see loads. I’ve heard of shells partially filled with flour or confetti. Tracer-equipped shells (tracers like you see fired from automatic weapons in old war films) were tried years ago and didn’t work. Sure, the bright, burning fireball was easy to see but the fire didn’t start burning well until the load was 40 yards or more downrange. They were better at setting grass fires than training shooters.
Fiocchi now manufactures a training shotshell in which a tracer chemical (cyalume) is incorporated. Cyalume is commonly used in glow-in-the-dark sticks and other applications. On the plus side, they won’t start fires. On the downside, they aren’t at all bright in daylight and cost $2.00 per shell. They work well at night at lighted shotgun ranges against a dark sky.
The best visual aid for spotters I’ve found are Winchester AA TrAAcker loads. These shells are identical to the famed Double-A target loads except instead of the non-descript light gray, shot cup/wad - nearly impossible to see against any backdrop, the TrAAcker shells are fitted with either bright orange or solid black wads. These colored shot cups are designed to make the spotter’s job “easier” to see. Note I said easier, not easy.
Use the orange-cup version when shooting in very low-light situations or when shooting against a backdrop of trees or hills. The black shot cups show up best against a bright or lightly overcast sky. Traacker shells are priced similarly to comparable, non-wad-tracker shells.
Give them a try the next time you need someone to answer the question, “How’d I Miss?”