I have spoken with a number of game Shots over the years to investigate how confidence in your shooting can be affected by factors such as technique, choice of shotgun, choice of cartridge and one?s feelings on the day. For many game Shots who shoot on a regular basis, the confidence drawn from the selection of the right gun and cartridge is key, and an increase in barrel length is a recent development in this area.

When some people buy a new gun they experience what I call the ?new gun honeymoon period?, during which the gun feels fantastic, as do the cartridges, and the way you connect with the birds feels amazing. This honeymoon period shows the importance of the mind on your shooting. The subconscious reaction to your shooting well is enjoyment at hitting the target ? you are not concentrating on your gun or cartridges; you are unburdened by conscious thoughts. But, inevitably, it is just when everything is going right that the honeymoon ends, and you become conscious of what you are doing, and you try to analyse how your new gun shoots.

Gun shop manager Simon Darch certainly knows a thing or two about guns, having sold thousands over the years and speaking with thousands of game Shots in that time. I asked him for his opinion on the ideal barrel length for a shotgun: ?In recent years there seems to have been a trend for longer barrels for higher pheasants, but it was just that: a trend. In my opinion, the optimum barrel length for high pheasants is 32in ? anything longer than that simply has no manoeuvrability, and instead of being an extension of your arm, it becomes an unknown entity.

?It is a question of balance and pointability ? the more you increase the barrel length, the more you add to the front end loading. With over-and-under shotguns, you need to have balance, and the build of the over-and-under enables it to absorb recoil better, so for me the best length of barrel is 30in. For a side-by-side shotgun, 28in is the perfect length, though a lightweight 30in can do the job equally well. The shortest length of barrel I?ve seen is 25in, and this certainly has a following, too.?

This would suggest that, from a confidence perspective, size really does matter, but there is a limit to that benefit. I have heard reports of some gameshooters losing confidence in their 34in guns following that initial honeymoon period. Those who are serious about improving their shooting and therefore in need of a more pointable gun, should look at one with 32in barrels, while for those looking to have more of a swoosh to swing through, the 30in is the gun to go for.

Anybody who is in doubt as to what is required to improve their shooting should look seriously at what length of barrels they currently shoot with and analyse it against the percentage hit rate that they have. If you are happy with your gun and your technique then there is no cause for a change, but if doubt is creeping in, then you might look to try a slightly longer-barrelled gun. The reason to try a new gun before you commit to buying it is to gauge your shooting with a longer barrel ? there is an optimum length and it is important to discover what it is for you.

Regaining confidence

Once you are happy with the gun, your confidence will return, but you need to look at both the technical aspects and the actual length of the barrels ? only then can you shoot with real confidence.

Those who are shooting with confidence will shoot with a subconscious reaction to the bird; not a conscious reaction to where they are shooting. As with all shooting, you can only shoot well when you are in the right frame of mind and allowing yourself to shoot in an easy manner. Later in this series I will look at a checklist of confidence boosters to improve your shooting state of mind.