The Role of Muscle Memory in Shooting Accuracy

As with most sports, accurate shooting comes down to one critical skill: muscle memory. When you train your upper body to properly swing, sight and shoot, you are far more likely to be able to repeat that motion in the field, resulting in more accurate shots and more successful hunts.

In theory, it’s easy. If only it was that easy to get to that point in practice.

“Muscle memory is not a memory stored in your muscles, of course, but memories stored in your brain that are much like a cache of frequently enacted tasks for your muscles,” writes Adam Dachis. “It's a form of procedural memory that can help you become very good at something through repetition, but in exactly the same way it can make you absolutely terrible at that same thing.”

As author Malcolm Gladwell famously explained in his 2008 book “Outliers,” it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to become an “expert” at something, whether that activity is playing the piano, tinkering with an engine, or shooting a shotgun. That’s the amount of time it takes your muscles to develop good memory and really nail down what it takes to do their job well, each and every time.

One example of this in action is professional golfer V.J. Singh who, in order to practice what is probably one of the most muscle memory-dependent activities on the planet, famously hits no fewer than 1,000 shots on the range every day—putting in as much as eight hours of pure practice a day—in order to perfect and maintain his swing.

But there is a downside. The key to building good muscle memory is to focus on quality over quantity, because it’s just as easy to develop bad muscle memory—effectively teaching yourself to endlessly repeat your mistakes—as it is to imprint good habits. That’s why it is critical to not only practice, but practice well, taking it slow at first and making sure that the procedural memory that you’re building is taking you in the right direction, not holding you back.

Dialing in the shot

In the shooting sports this can be difficult to do, but it isn’t impossible.

One of the key factors in improving your shooting and developing good muscle memory is using the same starting position every time. That way, when you swing your gun into position to shoot you know where you’re coming from and what it feels like when you get to where you need to be. That’s muscle memory in action.

But starting from all sorts of different positions—over the shoulder, hanging at your side, resting on a forearm, etc—confuses the body and prevents your procedural memory from imprinting like it should. This can lead to shooting that feels “loose” and “off the cuff,” rather than the smooth, dialed-in motion that all shooters want to achieve and is the key to consistent, accurate shots.

Practicing the right things

This is where a shotgun sling like the Upland Sling can pay big dividends.

Not only does a sling make for more comfortable trips into the field, it ensures that your gun is always in the same position relative to your body. That way, when you practice shooting from that position—and then take it out on a hunt—you’ll be developing the right kind of muscle memory that makes for accurate, repeatable shooting.

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