More on Garmin’s Xero S1

The Xero S1 screen displays the result after each shot.

by Terry Wieland

On the surface, it’s every shotgunner’s dream:  A little machine that sits in front of you as you shoot, tracking your pattern in the air and telling you exactly where it went in relation to the target.  Above?  Below?  Behind?  And how far behind?  Garmin’s Xero S1 will tell you to the inch.

This being the digital age, and the Xero combining radar, digital imaging, and Bluetooth, complete with an app for your phone, of course it does more.  Much, much more.  It will save a record of every round of trap, showing which target you hit, which you missed, and even awarding you a score (out of 100) based on how well you broke the ones you did hit (smash [4], clean break [3], or chip [1]).

When the Xero was introduced three or four years ago, I’m told, quite a few showed up in gun clubs.  They were especially popular with young trap shooters, which is understandable since young folks have more app-affinity than we crotchety (I’m being polite) elders.  Now, however, I’m told by club managers that you don’t see them so much.  The question is, why?

Well, I’ve had the use of one for about 18 months now and, based on my own experience, I have a couple of theories.

First is that the novelty of all the ancillary functions wears off.  It’s nice to know that on that last round you smashed nine targets out of 25, and nailed cleanly 14 more, but so what?

Second is that using the Xero to assess a trap round is seriously disrupting to the other shooters on the squad, since you have to move the machine from station to station, resetting and adjusting it each time.  You might get away with that once, with a particularly understanding squad, especially if you were all going to get a chance to try it.  But on a regular basis?  Not with me, and not with anyone I know.

Of course, you can shoot a round by yourself, but it probably won’t do your shooting any good, and most of us would not want to do that more than once or twice a day.

The results of one round, 22 hits out of 25 shots, fired entirely at Station One, displayed on the iPhone app. The X’s are hits, the 0’s are misses, and they show where the pattern center was in relation to the bird. Obviously, the problem is not with the hard lefts, but with the straightaways!

The third point is that, while the Xero will tell you where your pattern went when you miss, what it does not tell you is why.  It’s left to you to figure out what you did wrong.

Only a good (!) shooting instructor can tell you that, and this is where I believe the Xero really proves its worth:  As an aid to an instructor giving a shooting lesson.

For example, let’s say you have great difficulty with station one and its hard lefts.  You can set up there and shoot a full round of 25 shots.  At the end, the Xero will tell you how many hard lefts you got, how well you did on them, and where you missed; it will also tell you how long it took you to get your shots off.  So, if you see that on your hits you averaged .67 seconds, but only .96 seconds on your misses, you know you were reacting slowly.  This is a great help if your instructor is trying to get you on the bird more quickly.

Carrying that a little further, you could work purely on speed by setting up at station three and concentrating on nothing except getting your shot off quickly, comparing reaction speed to quality of breaks.

In these two examples, the presence of an instructor would be enormously helpful, but is not critical.

The Xero S1 can also be used in certain sporting clays situations, and has a whole array of settings geared to that, so it’s not purely a tool for trap shooters.  There is no Skeet application that I know of—at least, not yet—but as long as there is a trap field available, a little ingenuity can allow a shotgunner of any ilk to get some use out of it.

When the Xero first arrived, a dozen different people asked to use it for a round or two, which is a little like asking someone with a new iMac if you can take it for a spin.  There is a definite learning curve involved, not just in operating the Xero itself, but in interpreting what it can tell you.  After shooting a round or two, most had had enough—partly because of the disruption, and partly because it did not instantly cure all their shooting ills.

In my own case, the more I use it, the more I like it, and that’s because I’m gradually learning how to make use of what it can tell me.  For me, the obvious information—where my shot went when I missed—is not the most valuable.  Most of the time, I already know, or have a pretty good idea.  But how quickly I got on that bird when I turned it to dust?  And working on just that aspect of shooting?  Very valuable indeed.

Gray’s shooting editor, Terry Wieland, resisted learning how to use a word processor (the old Wang) way back in 1979, but once he relented, he loved it.  He’s learning to love the Xero S1, as well, but it takes time.