Shooting lesson.

Rabbits are the bane of farmers and landowners at the best of times, but in the Spring they can wreak absolute havoc on young crops. So I reckon now’s a good time to get our eye in on the bolting bunnies.

This means you can hit the ground running (sorry, dreadful pun) when you need to start doing some serious pest control in the next month or so.

For a lot of shooters, though, rabbits can often be tricky little targets and to hit them consistently you need to practice on a pretty regular basis – so this means a trip to your local clay ground and a few rounds on a sporting layout.

As such then, to do my bit to help every farmer in the country, this month I’d like to go back through the basics involved in hitting ground game.

Here are my top practice tips.

STAY SHARP

When you’re out shooting live rabbits you have no control over the timing of your shot, the speed or direction your quarry will run, or even when the blasted thing might appear!

This means you must keep your wits about you at all times – and always keep safety at the very front of your mind. This is even more important if you’re shooting over ferrets or dogs, for instance.

If there’s even a flicker of doubt in your mind, don’t pull the trigger.

Fortunately for our practice session, though, this is not so on a clay ground and we can make sure everything’s spot on before we call for the target.

WATCH AND LEARN

» Try and watch a few clays to see how they’re being presented before it’s your turn to shoot. This will enable you to decide where your preferred kill zone will be, and this in turn dictates your foot position and stance.

As with most targets, when you get onto the stand and it’s your turn to shoot, position yourself so that your weight’s on your front foot, with your toes pointing directly towards the intended killing position.

This will ensure you won’t restrict your gun movement and are able to keep the muzzles swinging freely throughout the course of the shot.

» My next tip also relates to the position of the muzzles as you call for the clay, namely the height at which you hold them.

» Holding the muzzles too high when you shout ‘pull’ can be a real handicap as the barrels can sometimes actually hide the clay from view when it leaves the trap.

This can result in you having to chop down on the clay at the last moment, which in turn interrupts a steady, smooth swing.

By holding the muzzles lower you get to watch the target from the outset, enabling you to react immediately if it puts in one of those infuriating little bounces.

» Knowing where you want to kill the target can help eliminate one of the most common mistakes when shooting bolting rabbits – trying to shoot it too soon after it leaves the trap.

Position yourself with the muzzles pointing too near the trap and you’ll invariably find that the clay shoots past you before you’re ready, forcing you to chase after it with the barrels.

Because of your incorrect position, you’ll run out of swing and the muzzles come off the line of the target. As such, you’ll probably miss.

Address the kill point correctly, then turn from the waist to find the pick up point. This will increase your chance of success. Whatever you do, don’t let the target get so far in front that you’re chasing it.

» One final point to remember concerning stance is to make sure you keep your head firmly down on the stock. Keeping your weight over the front foot helps achieve this when the gun is mounted and should stop you shooting high.

To do this all you have to do is stand naturally and push your weight forward on the front foot until the heel of the back foot just lifts off the ground.

EMBRACE THE BOUNCE

Unlike clay targets, real rabbits don’t suddenly fly up in the air when they run over a stone or other piece of debris! That’s the bounce.

You can’t legislate for it and it certainly isn’t fair when it happens in a competition. But that’s life.

What you can do, however, is trust in your ability and keep a positive attitude. It’s almost worth trying to convince yourself, ‘I hope the little bugger bounces – I love it when they do that’ so that you’re half expecting it to happen.

Staying confident is the best way to beat the bounce.

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER

If there is one simple phrase, or easy to visualise image, that sums up everything about shooting bolting rabbit targets it’s this:

» Always ‘shoot at the front feet.’ (In my experience if you shoot at the ‘ears’ you’ll nearly always miss over the top.)

» Given a choice I’d recommend using either the maintained lead style of shooting – invaluable if the window of opportunity to shoot is limited – or the pull away method. For the less experienced shooter the pull away method will be easier.

Whichever style you employ, it’s important to maintain a smooth, unhurried swing before, during and after pulling the trigger.

» On a sporting layout I’d recommend shooting ‘gun up’ for the rabbit stand. Most course designers will ensure that the opportunity to shoot the target is small, and that the kill zone is smaller still!

Unless you’re supremely confident in your ability to get onto the clay within fractions of a second, mount the gun, get ahead, and then pull the trigger I’d stick with the easier gun up option.

It’s daft making things more difficult than they need to be.

» Rifle shooters aim at targets, shotgun users have to be in front as they pull the trigger.

There’s a huge temptation to point the muzzles at the clay and pull the trigger, simply because it’s travelling in just one plane along the ground.

A rabbit is a target just like any other so make sure you give it some lead.