Didn't shoot as well as you would have liked? Need shooting excuses quick? Roderick Emery has the answer. Just don't expect any sympathy

1.The sun was in my eyes…

This is a classic, especially among partridge shooters in, as it might be, October when the sun tends to hang low in the sky of a morning. Step one, of course, would be to slip on a pair of sunglasses. Really good sunglasses, mind you, not the £4.99 ones you get from the petrol station in an emergency. Packing the right equipment is a key to good shooting and top shades are a given for top shots. Mark you, the problem will probably be the same for your neighbours and, indeed, the whole line since a good keeper will never drive partridges into the sun. It just doesn’t work. So here’s a thought. Why not turn through 45° degrees and shoot the birds over your neighbour’s head as a long crosser and invite him to do the same for his neighbour? And so forth down the line. Remember, it’s a team sport.

2. The wind was pushing the birds off line…

The wind was not pushing the birds off line, the birds were using the wind to glide on the curl to bamboozle you and it worked a treat. Payne-Gallwey, in High Pheasants in Theory and Practice, describes the curling bird as the most difficult shot of all. Tall pheasants in open sky, sliding across the wind. You’ve got far too much time to think and more than enough to start squinting down the barrel like a complete beginner. Especially after the first half dozen have sailed past without so much as a shrug. Forget about lead, line is everything here. This is where the mantra “bum-belly-beak” is often deadly because following through the bird will give you the line and the speed of swing needed to overtake it will deliver the lead. Watching the birds is also crucial. Once you have worked out their route past the line, you are in with a shout.

shooting gaiters

It’s your responsibility to make sure you get a good footing on your peg. Find the right spot and get it sorted.

3. I couldn’t get a good footing on my peg…

Actually, you didn’t bother to get a good footing on your peg. One exception is those drives where they put a pallet down for you. Awful. Awful. Awful. I’m always so worried about dancing off the edge that I might as well not bother. We all know how important footwork is, so spend a few minutes sorting stuff out. Stamp the plough into a satisfactory platform. Search the vicinity of the peg for a suitable foothold. Failing which, set yourself up in one direction and then focus on birds in that area only. It takes rigorous self discipline to ignore all but a handful of birds but by taking these routinely with elegance and style when they are right at the margin will cement your reputation as a known killer.

4. I was too cold…

And by extension – though less so – “I was too hot”. Regulation of temperature is, or should be in all but the most extreme of environments, a piece of cake. With a combination of modern materials and gadgets it is straightforward to stay warm. Silk/wool mix undies, heavy twill shirtings and big tweed suit. Cashmere scarf and a fur hat. Gloves in extremis and a warmer in your shirt pocket. Some people seem to think it odd to carry a naked flame under one’s waistcoat but I wouldn’t be without one. And a good hat. On cold days a cap is useless. Fur, on the other hand, is brilliant. It doesn’t have to be exotic, fox or rabbit is perfectly adequate, although it must be said that re-purposing great-granny’s winter coat into a lined gilet and matching hat is both practical and stylish.

As for cooling down, obviously, take things off. But don’t overdo it, will you? I’ve swum in a loch on a walked-up grouse day, though, and very wonderful it was too.

5. I ate too much last night…

For which read: “I drank too much last night.” When will you learn to listen to Nanny’s wise words, “Never mix grape and grain!” It is sound advice. Stick to one flavour all night and odds are you will not feel too awful the next morning. Also, try to down a pint of water before turning in even if it does mean a 4am shuffle to the bathroom. Most particularly, of course, do try to give the more exotic after dinner confections a complete swerve. The Kummel and the Akavit. Benedictine, for crying out loud. I would even advocate dodging the port – unless it is spectacular, in which case maybe a teeny, tiny one? And definitely do not slosh out another glassful of anything for the wooden road to bed-fordshire. Mark you, if you haven’t yet come round to taking Nanny’s advice on board, I’ll warrant there is precious little chance of you listening to me.

shooting tweeds

It’s too late to start moaning about your clothes restricting your swing on shoot day. Sort it out beforehand and you will feel more comfortable and shoot better

6. My jacket is too baggy and my stock is snagging…

Or, on a really chilly day: “My coat is too tight and I can’t get a good mount.” Gun fit is central to good shooting. We all know this. And poor clothing is the enemy of gun fit. This is an area associated with temperature control and the secret is to have really good gear for any and all circumstances so that your stock can snuggle nicely into the shoulder each and every time.
If you study really good shots you will soon spot that they wear the same outfit every time. It may be grandpa’s old shooting suit or the last word in modern synthetics but it is always the same. And the stock comes up smoothly into the shoulder, the barrels go up like a signal arm and another archangel bounces on the sward. Find an outfit which is comfortable and which works and pack it for every outing. If in doubt have a suit made for the purpose. A good tailor is probably as valuable as a good instructor.

7. I’m never ready when the birds come to me…

This is because you are not concentrating. Too much chatter on the peg. Too much dog settling. Too much phone. You have to focus on where the birds are likely to come from in order to pick them up good and early. Once you have isolated the covey or, as it might be, a flush that is heading in your direction you can begin to concentrate on the bird you intend to take first. And having made that determination stick with it. It is the nature of the covey or the flush to force a last minute change of aim which is always disastrous. Steely concentration on the selected quarry is the key and only when it is folded up and on its way groundwards do we address the next. That is how classy right and lefts are built. But you can’t think about the second until the first is in the bag. It never works; and you will, like as not, miss with the second barrel too. Good shots always seem to have so much time is because they don’t waste it.

8. My host’s wife was standing behind me…

It is strange, isn’t it, the extent to which having someone stand with you can put one off? Hosts, host’s wives, agents, spouses, partners and significant others can all wreck a drive – or even a day – just by being there.

Some people, of course, simply blossom when in the vicinity of a charming companion, and shoot like gods. I’ve heard it described as the Peacock Syndrome but the rest of us seem to simply go to pieces. You can always tell someone you know well enough just to push off although one doesn’t want to cause offence. Perhaps the answer is to turn the ensuing disaster into a compliment, “I can never shoot well when there is a beautiful woman nearby!” perhaps; or “I’m not surprised that everything is headed this way, that scent is just dynamite!” You won’t shoot any better but at least the drive won’t be a complete waste of time.

9. I don’t like these cartridges…

I am constantly amazed by how little interest some people take in their ammunition. Cartridge manufacturing has come on in leaps and bounds over the past several years as our ever increasing understanding of ballistics and a ferociously competitive market has driven the urgent need for differentiation. And yet there are still guns who go into their local shop and ask for “a box of cartridges”.

Custom made guns will be regulated for a particular charge which will be agreed with the purchaser at the time of ordering but even an off-the-shelf purchase will perform better with one shell than another. A good few hours at the pattern plates at your local shooting school with a range of products will allow you to make an informed decision. You know those superb shots who say, “I know they are only 30gram No.5 shot but I like them.” Well, they are on the money. Although the 10,000 per annum that they order probably helps.

10. I’ve got a lot on at work…

I know it is easy to say, “Don’t think about it then” but it is the answer. Don’t think about it. To shoot well takes focus and concentration so it is crucial to clear the mind and give the birds the attention that they deserve. One of the reasons that many very successful and driven – and pressured – people enjoy shooting so much is precisely because it requires them to clear their minds of everything but the job in hand. So savour the moment. Look at the hills, the moor, the trees, the house wherever you might be. Consider the generosity that has brought you here. Have due regard for the work and effort that has gone into presenting the birds for your sport. Enjoy yourself.
And when you return to the problems which beset you before, I’ll venture that you will address them with the same stylish efficiency that brought that stratospheric, curling cock to bag.

Roderick Emery received some assistance in writing this article from Rob Fenwick, MD of E.J. Churchills, who has also heard them all before.

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