At this time of year the same old topic of conversation crops up at shoots far and wide – namely the shooting of ground game and/or low birds.
Obviously the shoot captain will explain what is and isn’t allowed at the start of the day but, when it’s safe to do so, shooters might be asked to take ground game and vermin, (especially foxes).
But what constitutes ‘safe’?
The same can be said of certain types of winged quarry on walked-up days, woodcock and snipe, for instance. When flushed their erratic line of flight can sometimes be just feet above the ground. How on earth do you prepare yourself for this type of shot?
Nothing can really prepare us and, because we rarely get a chance to practice this type of shot, we generally rely on instinct rather than skill – as well as our visual library of sight pictures.
I’d like to look at dealing with these fast and low targets.
Okay, they’re not going to be the everyday target you’re going to encounter on the clay ground but, forewarned being forearmed, having an insight into how to tackle these tricky birds will do no harm at all. And this is regardless of whether it’s on a sporting layout or out in the field on a walked up day, or rough shoot.
Hare today – and gone tomorrow if you miss! Hares and rabbits are the mainstays of all ground game and at this time of the year they’re all over the place.
In fact, some shoots lay on a ‘cock bird and hare day’ as a bonus for the beaters and shoot helpers at the end of the season.
As with all forms of shooting, safety is paramount and none more so when shooting at, or just above, ground level. The golden rule is that if there’s a flicker of doubt in your mind about the shot, don’t pull the trigger.
You need to know exactly where other guns, beaters, stops and dogs are every yard of the way. If you are not sure, DON’T lift the gun.
The best way to hone your technique for bolting bunnies is on a sporting layout where you can shoot the same target time and time again to build up a rock-solid sight picture, and work on your stance/gun handling.
Watching the target’s line of travel before you shoot enables you to ascertain the kill point. And from this you can work on your stance.
Keep your head on the stock and shift that weight over the front foot – which should point towards the kill point. (If you’re not 100% sure where to kill the bird, move those feet round just a little bit more to increase the amount of swing – it could well give you the edge!)
Make sure you don’t restrict the gun’s movement; it needs to swing freely, even after the shot has been taken.
When shooting real rabbits you have no control over the timing of the shot, but this is not the case on a clay ground. One of the commonest mistakes with bolting rabbits of the clay variety is trying to shoot them as soon as they leave the trap. If you position yourself with the muzzles pointing too far back towards the trap you’ll often find the target is up and away before you’re ready, forcing you to play catch-up with the gun.
Your incorrect stance means you run out of swing and the muzzles come off the line of the target. In all probability, you will miss. You will greatly improve your chances of success by addressing the kill point correctly, then turn from the waist to find the pick-up point.
Whatever you do, don’t let the target get in front of the gun.
Another point to remember is the position of the gun muzzles before you call ‘pull’. Holding too high is a genuine disadvantage because the barrels can sometimes hide the clay from view after it has left the trap. End result here is we now have to chop down onto the target and this movement will often interrupt our swing.
Whenever anyone comes to me for tuition and the rabbit question arises, I always tell them to ‘shoot at the front feet’ of the clay.
Shoot at the ‘ears’ and you’ll invariably miss high. The same goes for a real bunny bolting back to its burrow in the field.