Unlike clay shooting, pigeon shooting is much more reliant on instinctive shooting to hit the mark – and of course the use of field-craft to get the birds within a killable range.

But what makes them champions in their field is technique. This month I’d like to look at how using a few basic shooting techniques found on the clay ground can pay dividends when you’re out after woodies.

Wouldn’t it be great to have the confidence to leave the sitters and concentrate on those fast, high-flying and curling birds?

But don’t worry if shooting live quarry’s not really your cup of tea, high birds make up a good percentage of typical Sporting targets – so follow this advice and you’ll see your scores improve.

SIZE & SPEED

Although a real pigeon is bigger than its clay-made namesake, it often travels faster and with a more erratic flight path – especially when it spots something untoward and gets spooked.

That said the benefits you’ll achieve by practicing on clays – even though the targets are smaller – are worth pursuing.

It almost goes without saying that if you can hit the clay; you’re going to be much better prepared to hit the pigeon. (I’d be the first to admit, though, that the steady path of a clay target is an easier prospect to hit if it’s tackled correctly.)

shooting pigeons on a flightline

While we’re on the subject of size and speed, don’t forget that any smaller target generally appears to be travelling faster than it actually is (compare a standard clay with a mini, for example) so shooters are often tempted to rush their shot.

Don’t fall into this trap because, as with most targets, it’s a smooth mount and swing that’s important.

ASSESSING DISTANCE

What some people call a high bird might be the norm for other shooters. With live pigeon we owe it to the quarry to not attempt anything that can’t be killed cleanly, but obviously clays are a different matter altogether.

We need to be able to assess distance accurately to make sure we break them consistently.

We’ve probably all got a rough idea what 40 yards looks like in terms of distance – just think of the gap between three lamp posts and you won’t be far wrong.

Forty yards up in the air, however, either directly overhead or to the front or side, is another thing to judge altogether.

There are no reference points in an empty sky so assessing how far away the bird is can often be a problem.

There’s no way of learning this other than practice, so use every opportunity you can to guess/judge how far away certain objects are.

Pace out 40 yards from your front door as a point of reference, for instance. How far away is that house over the road?

As you’re walking along, guess the distance to a specific point, a street corner, for instance, then pace it out to see if you’re correct.

Being able to judge distances is crucial in shooting sports, and no more so than when trying to judge high birds.

Every sight picture you’ve memorised over the years will be invaluable, but common sense can also help.

If a bird is clearing the treetops you can guess that it’s going to be, say, between 15 and 25 yards up in the air.

Think how much forward allowance you’d give to a straight crosser at this distance and shoot accordingly.

As always, when you’re shooting clays you must take your time to study the target closely before you pull the trigger.

HEADS DOWN!

The way that high birds are presented creates its own set of problems. With the gun in the shoulder and the muzzles ahead of the target, the bird is often obscured from sight and any ‘eye-muzzle-target’ relationship goes out of the window.

The shooter simply has no idea of the amount of lead he needs to give the bird as he can’t see it!

In this scenario the natural thing to do is to lift the face off the stock to watch the bird but as soon as this happens the muzzles will not be pointing where the eyes are looking.

To make matters worse, with the head off the stock the natural tendency is to slow (or even stop) the swing.

Combine all these faults and the general result is that the shooter stabs at the bird as he pulls the trigger. So that’s another big zero on the scorecard.

Keep your head down, keep the swing going and rely on your instincts to tell you when to pull the trigger.

PULLIN’ POWER

Nine times out of ten you have plenty of time to assess the speed and line of a high driven bird. As such, make sure you don’t mount the gun the moment you see the target.

Be ready by all means, assume the position of a coiled spring if you think it helps, but don’t mount the gun at this stage.

shooting pigeons on a flightline

If you mount too soon you’ll end up aiming, your arms will ache and you’ll probably miss behind.

As far as style is concerned, I reckon the easiest method to use is the pull away style.

Lock onto the bird when you’ve mounted the gun, track it for a while – this helps you ascertain the speed of the swing – pull ahead of the clay and pull the trigger.

Remember to keep the gun moving after you fire and you should have another kill on your scorecard.

FOOTWORK

Being steady on your feet is paramount for high birds and transferring your weight from the (normal) front foot onto the back foot during the swing is probably the best way to remain steady.

It might feel a bit daft, but you should practice this at home until the action becomes natural.

shooting pigeons on a flightline

Assuming you’re right handed (opposite if you’re not) the distribution of your weight needs to be taken from the toe of the left foot, through a neutral flat-footed stance and then onto the right foot.

A smooth rocking action is best.

Don’t be tempted to keep the weight on the front foot and simply bend from the waist. Not only will you end up with a bad back, but also the contorted position will restrict your swing.

HOLDING ON

If the bird is really high – say, when it’s almost directly above you at your chosen kill point – having your front hand too far forward on the fore end will restrict your swing.

You physically won’t be able to move the gun past a certain point.

shooting pigeons on a flightline

Simply sliding your hand back down the fore end towards you a little will give you scope for that extra movement and swing.

Try dry mounting and swinging the gun as for a high bird with your hand at opposite ends of the fore end and you’ll see what I mean.

STANCE

As you know you’re after high birds, make sure you keep the muzzles slightly higher than normal at the ready position.

Have the stock just out of the shoulder pocket so you don’t waste time (and effort) mounting the gun.

shooting pigeons on a flightline

If the bird is coming from behind, make sure you’re looking back as you call for the target.

The quicker you can get on to it visually, the quicker you can mount, swing and fire.

SQUEEZING IT

If you know in advance that the majority of birds you’re going to shoot will be high, it might be worth tightening the shot pattern a trifle by dropping a choke size.

shooting pigeons on a flightline

If you’re using a fixed choke field gun, flick the selector switch to use the top barrel – tighter choke – first.

This will help the stream of shot remain dense at longer distances.

TO RECAP…

– For high incoming birds: Keep the muzzles up when you call for the bird, but don’t let them obscure your view. Don’t mount the gun too early and try to pull away rather than swing through. Be ready to transfer your weight onto the back foot if necessary.

– High crossing targets: Concentrate on getting a smooth mount and swing. Don’t be fooled into thinking the clay is travelling slower than it really is.

– High birds dropping in from behind: Keep your muzzles high, with your weight on back foot (ready to be swapped onto front.) Look back over your shoulder to pick up the bird visually as soon as you can.

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