FIT FOR PURPOSE?

For both novice and experienced shooters alike, having a gun that fits properly is really essential.

Although an experienced shooter is less likely to suffer so much if he’s using an ill-fitting gun, he’ll often adapt around the gun, anyone who’s in the early stages of a shooting career will seriously hamper their progress.

A gun that fits you correctly will obviously help maximise your kill rate – if the gun isn’t pointing where you’re looking you’re always going to struggle to hit targets consistently.

That said; if you don’t mount the gun in exactly the same way every time, all the positive effects of a properly fitted gun are basically thrown out the window.

To this end you must practice dry mounting the gun as much as you can.

Believe me, just five or 10 minutes a day is all it takes and I guarantee you’ll hit more birds as a result. (see perfect mount guide, below).

If you’re worried about your gun fit I reckon the best bet is to have a quick word with your shooting coach and see what he says.

He’ll probably be able to give you some useful advice.

Over the years my coaching experience can tell me when a specific gun is simply wrong for the shooter – the stock’s miles too short or long, for instance – but I reckon the finer points and recommendations should always be left to a competent gunsmith and a try-gun.

He’ll be able to tell you where the major problems lie and suggest ways to rectify them.

THE PERFECT MOUNT

Here are a few pointers to help you when you’re practicing.

• A parallel gun mount is essential, irrespective of the angle at which the barrels are held at the ready/call position.

• Don’t have the gun too low at the ready position. Ideally it should be just out of the pocket of the shoulder – extra movement equals extra effort and wasted time.

• Don’t tilt the gun at the ready position.

• Always bring the gun to your cheek, not your cheek to the gun.

• When the gun is mounted, don’t lift your head off of the stock.

• Remember your ‘front’ hand needs to be positioned on the fore-end according to the type of bird, ie for a high driven bird, consider having the forehand back a little so it doesn’t impair the swing.

FIRST GUN

While we’re on the subject of guns, someone asked me recently if a semi-auto would be a good first gun for clay shooting?

I know several shooters that have started by using a semi so the quick answer has got to be yes.

One of the principal advantages of this type of gun is the dramatically reduced recoil – the kick is absorbed by the gun’s re-cycling mechanism – which is great for the beginner as it allows them to concentrate on the bird without having to worry about getting knocked about by the gun.

Another advantage is having just the single barrel as this makes the gun seem extremely ‘pointable’.

Having said that, as your shooting progresses you might find the option of having two differently choked barrels will work to your advantage.

Start with a semi-auto by all means, and then get yourself a nice over-under, saving the semi for rough shooting and pigeoning!

WATCH FIRST

If you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going you’ve less chance of hitting it!

Watching the flightline – the path of travel that the target is taking – is paramount.

Following the line of the clay with your finger concentrates the mind and also helps in choosing the kill point.

“But I always watch the clay” is a typical shooter’s retort.

I’m sure they do, but I mean ‘really’ watch the bird.

Concentrating and remembering is the name of the game.

Scrutinise each and every target before you shoot and your cartridge/kill ratio will increase.

WHICH BIRD FIRST?

A common assumption is that whenever you’re shooting a pair of targets you should always take the bird that’s travelling in front first.

But does the theory ring true? To be honest, and it might sound a bit daft, the only sensible answer is sometimes.

When shooting any simultaneous pair the rule is to kill the target that’s going to disappear from view first.

(And this could mean hit the ground, fly behind trees or whatever.) 

If you take the ‘second’ bird as your first shot, you will not have as much time to get on the second, swing ahead and fire as you would if you’d shot the pair in the reverse order.

To confuse things even more, if you’ve got all the time in the world, I’d usually opt for taking the trailing bird first.

This way you can swing onto and through the first bird, fire and then get onto the second without having to break the momentum of your swing.

STYLE FIRST

The next item we need to consider is not what you’re shooting, but how you’re shooting it, and by this I mean which style to choose.

In most conventional shooting (pull away or swing through) the muzzles are either behind or on the bird to start with, then the gun is moved to bring the muzzles ahead of the target.

The trigger is pulled and the shot collides with the target.

It’s a simple concept that most beginners can get to grips with almost immediately, but there is another style that can really up your game – maintained lead.

It’s definitely worth trying, even if it’s a bit tricky at first.

(Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a beginner can’t learn to shoot using this style, it’s just that I reckon the concept is easier to understand and master if you’ve already figured how clays are broken and you’ve previously built up a good mental library of sight pictures.)

In maintained lead the muzzles are ALWAYS positioned ahead of the bird.

Even when you call for the clay, your stance should ensure that the swing starts ahead; it continues (ahead of the target) along the flight line of the bird and, when the gun is finally mounted in the shoulder the trigger is pulled.

As the name suggests, there is a ‘maintained lead’ at all times.

The problem for the novice arises right at the start, even before you call for the bird, because you need to mentally establish – based upon the bird’s speed and trajectory – the amount of lead you’re going to give the target.

But there’s no denying that using maintained lead is a fantastic way of killing birds, in fact, it’s the style I prefer to use when I’m shooting.