Whether you’re just beginning to shoot or you’ve held your licence since you were a teenager, everyone can benefit from brushing up their skills. These shooting tips from Mike Yardley will help you refine your shooting and hopefully make your next shoot that little bit more fun.
It’s a great idea to read these shooting tips before your next day out shooting, giving yourself time to practice and let the advice really sink in.
Have we missed some tips? Let us know in the comments below.
1. Keep your eyes on the bird
Sustaining good visual contact with the bird – fine focusing on its head or beak – is the best of all shooting advice.
Vision is a skill, not just a natural ability. It is not natural to keep focus locked on a moving object.
The tendency is to bring the focus back to the barrel, both because it takes less muscular effort and because there is an urge to check that everything is lined up before pulling the trigger.
It is fatal to good shooting!
Think: the bird, the bird and nothing but the bird!
Lock your eyes on to its head or beak and keep your eyes there throughout the shot.
2. Keep your gun moving
Many of us stop the gun on occasion, some of us do it habitually. If you fail to keep your eyes on the bird as discussed above, stopping the gun, bringing the weight back and lifting the head are amongst the most likely, negative, consequences.
Make an effort to keep you head down, the weight over the front foot and your eyes on the bird (there is no harm in repeating that critical advice). This will make it easier to keep the gun moving on every shot.
To sum it up in the words of Lord Ripon: “Don’t check.”
Don’t finish the shot too early. Don’t take your head off the gun prematurely, as many do, and make sure you follow through on every shot.
3. Shoot with good timing
Many game shooters poke at their birds, others slash wildly at them. There are a significant number who come on to the bird and then flick forward to achieve the acceleration of the barrels required to get in front.
The latter technique can work on occasion, but poking, slashing and flicking all look awful and won’t give consistent results.
Strive to be more rhythmic: ONE, TWO, THREE on every shot.
It is also important to realise that if you shoot with good, three beat timing, there is no need to rush and you will be in smooth control of every shot.
4. Move your feet
Tension is always the enemy of good shooting. If you leave both feet set in concrete regardless of the shot, it is inevitable that you will run out of swing on some occasions and introduce tension into your swing.
If I am standing on my peg and see a bird going right or left of centre, I must – having anticipated the approximate killing point – take a small step into the line of the bird.
We’re not talking about clodhopping, but small movements – the feet only need to move a few inches. The front foot moves first, the rear foot rotates naturally round on its ball. Small steps are the key to success.
5. Develop a good gun mount
Many shooters have never bothered to practice their gun mount, let alone the mount and swing combined. I advise that you do both.
If you have problems with consistent gun mounting, you may want to try the Churchill technique where the butt begins under the armpit and you are forced to push the gun out to complete the mount.
The front hand should lead the process and must not be positioned too far forward as this will restrict its effectiveness as a lifting lever and also impede your ability to swing the barrels on line.
6. Consider your eye dominance and gun fit
All of us should have regular eye-checks at an opticians or similar to make sure our ability to focus is up to scratch and we should also subject ourselves to periodic tests at a professional shooting ground for eye dominance.
Many middle-age men develop eye dominance issues without realising it. These can creep up on you in the 40s and 50s and may mean that a change of gun fit is required, typically a bit more cast.
Although, it is the ideal to use two eyes – because binocular vision makes the judgement of speed, range and angle much easier – some will never be able to shoot effectively with both eyes open.
7. Ensure your chokes and cartridges inspire confidence
Don’t get too worked up about any technical subject, but do make sure you are using a cartridge in which you have confidence. I have tended to go up a pellet size in recent years – I am using more 5s than I used to do.
I don’t favour Roman Candle length magnum shells, nor very heavy payloads.
28-32gram does it well enough in a 12-bore in most circumstances. Go to 34 and consider 4 shot in very testing situations on high birds.
In a 20-bore, I stick to 28gram for just about every thing, and in a 28-bore, to 25 or 28gram. The latter is quite a lot of shot to stuff through a small bore, but I have found it to be effective.
On the subject of chokes, most game guns are still over choked in their first barrel. I favour a very open first barrel for normal driven work – improved cylinder will do nicely. But, I will change to three-quarters and three-quarters (my normal second barrel) for high birds.
8. Consider line as well as lead
Many birds are missed because of errors of lead. Most often birds are missed behind because the bird is misread or the gun stops because of poor technique.
A surprising number of birds – notably closer range birds – are missed in front too. But, just as important as errors of lead are errors of line. Many fail to get up on to the line of the bird, a problem made worse by an over extended front hand.
Another common error is to shoot off line because the barrels are canted relative to the line of the bird during the swing.
I now teach a deliberate twisting of the barrels in some circumstances to make sure the barrels stay on line: generally speaking, the muzzles of side-by-side barrels should be parallel or nearly parallel to the line of the bird and over-unders perpendicular or nearly perpendicular to it. The exceptions relate to truly straight incomers.
Common errors for a right-hander facing a driven bird slightly right of centre are to arch the back excessively, bring the weight back, and to let the face come away from the stock. The barrels cant relative to the line and the shot goes left.
The remedy is to gently, and only slightly, twist the gun anticlockwise into the face as you take the shot. So, ironically, the remedy for canting – and the errors of line that go with it – may be deliberate twisting. I am not necessarily saying you take the slightly off centre-bird as a crosser – only that you compensate for your natural tendency to come off line by a slight twist – clockwise for a bird to the left, anti-clockwise for a bird to the left.
9. Cut the clutter – be positive and fluent
Many of us suffer from thinking about the wrong stuff at the wrong moment. When you’re shooting forget about your gun, cartridges and choke.
Maintain your focus on the bird and nothing else, other than safety of course. One of the worst sins of all is to start thinking, once committed to the shot.
If you watch people, hesitation is frequently evident during the swing, the weight tends to come back, the head lifts, the eyes come off the bird as the mental wheels whirr. This is a really bad habit and may be a hard one to break in some circumstances, especially in those people who try and rely entirely on their rationale process to shoot and ignore the phenomenal potential of natural hand to eye co-ordination.
Once you are committed to shoot though there should be nothing else in your head other than keeping your eyes on the bird and keeping your gun moving.
10. Stay safe
The same discipline and control that will make you a better shotgun marksman will also make you a safer shot.
Comments above not withstanding, never forget safety. Safety is an active process in shooting. There is an accident out there waiting to creep up on you and you must be ever vigilant in preventing it.
Don’t shoot low birds. Never point a gun at something you do not wish to kill. Always check that a gun is unloaded and unobstructed when you pick it up, or pass it to someone else.
I have seen several guns in recent months that have been blown up due to obstructions. Make sure you can see daylight through the barrels before inserting the cartridges.
If your gun has multi-chokes, make sure they are tightly screwed in.
If ever in doubt – don’t.