Dear Mark,

My shooting has suffered recently, most noticeably on driven targets, and I reckon it’s because I’ve been stopping my swing.

I’ve shot since I was a young lad, albeit with a ten-year break before deciding to take it up again last season.

(I bought a Browning 525 Sporter and had no problems on driven pheasant.)

During this spring and summer, however, I decoyed a lot of pigeon and noticed my shooting seemed to deteriorate – mainly (I suspect) because the pigeons were slowing as they came into the decoys.

I recently bought a lovely Guerini Maxum 20-bore game gun, which feels fabulous in every way, but on a day’s tuition (for pre season practice) I really struggled on driven clays.

I’m told I do everything perfectly, except that I’ve started to stop my swing at 45 degrees on the first barrel. I miss with the first shot and then accelerate through with the second and smoke it.

The harder I tried the worse it got!

At the end of the day, and almost in desperation, I went back to the low tower to shoot a few simultaneous pairs. Unbelievably, and almost immediately, when I was on my own I started to hit the birds consistently again – no pressure, no hesitating, just instinctive shooting.

I used to be an A-class shooter and I’ve never experienced anything like this before. Is there any advice you can give me?

Paul Ashton.

BACK TO BASICS

This is an interesting problem but Paul needn’t worry too much as it’s a relatively common complaint among shooters, not just those coming back to the sport after a long lay off. 

The first thing I’d like to talk about is actually the last point Paul mentions, that is, he can hit targets when the pressure is off.

This is an important factor. You need to remind yourself why you decided to take up shooting again and remember that it’s supposed to be fun and you’re there to enjoy yourself!

CHILL…

So, irrespective of the type of target presented, or indeed, even the discipline you’re shooting, it’s vitally important that you’re relaxed.

When I say this I don’t mean you have to be so laid back you’re mentally horizontal and don’t care either way whether you hit or miss the bird, but it’s important you’re not tense when shooting.

Even the best shots miss pretty simple birds because the pressure gets to them and they’re tense and uptight.

Shooting lessons: Perfecting your swing

Being rigid will almost certainly affect your gun mounting and inhibit your swing.

Restrictions aren’t all just in the mind, though, and you can also make things more difficult for yourself in physical ways.

I know it sounds obvious, but if your jacket or shooting vest is tight around the shoulders or chest it will definitely hamper your movement.

Now I don’t mean you should dress like a teenage hoodie with clothes that only fit where they touch, but try not to make it harder for yourself by wearing stuff that’s too tight.

So if we’re happy we’ve sorted out both the mental and physical reasons why your swing might be being impaired, we now need to look at the techniques, hints and tips to get you moving and hitting targets.

SMOOTH OPERATOR

Faced with a problem such as the one we’ve highlighted here, a shooter can do no worse than go back to square one – back to their very first lesson, in fact.

From the outset every shooter is told they must keep the gun moving (swinging) before, during and after the moment they pull the trigger.

Shooting lessons: Perfecting your swing

It’s one of the essential ingredients an instructor will try and drum into a novice right from the word go.

Stopping the swing will almost certainly result in missing the bird behind.

It’s worth remembering that the swing should always be as the word implies – a swing.

Swinging the gun should be a single, smooth and rounded action and not a series of jerks from one position to the next.

POSITION

In this scenario, Paul’s having trouble hitting driven birds, but I think it might be easier if we draw a comparison with crossers to put things into context.

As with any bird, you’ll struggle if your initial stance is wrong.

If your feet and body are positioned, say, 45° from where they should be on a crosser, you’ll know that you physically can’t swing the gun far enough.

You’ll always ‘run out of room’, end up twisting your body, dropping your shoulder to compensate, and invariably missing the bird.

Shooting lessons: Perfecting your swing

This is probably what’s happening with Paul’s shooting; the scenario is similar, the only difference being the birds are coming towards the stand, rather than crossing in front.

But for the driven targets I think Paul’s leaving it too late before pulling the trigger, and it’s because of this the swing is stopping – there’s simply nowhere else for him to move the gun. He’s run out of room.

Take the birds when they’re at 45° to you and the length of the swing, the arc if you like, is manageable and comfortable.

If you start your swing as the clay is almost above you, the point where you pull the trigger and the end of the swing is going to be way past the vertical.

Unless you’re a professional gymnast I defy anyone to shoot well under these circumstances.

Leave it too late and at this point desperation sets in and you’re now relying purely on instinct to get the muzzles onto the line and ahead of the bird.

As we know, instinctive shooting can be great as a get out of jail card when it comes to hitting targets, but on driven birds it pays to adopt a more methodical approach.

KEEP IT TOGETHER

As we can see, it’s paramount that the swing of the gun is smooth and consistent, but moving the body – and transferring your weight if necessary – is equally important.

Don’t just try to swing or move the gun on its own.

Shooting lessons: Perfecting your swing

A good shooter, by moving his body correctly, will swing the gun and himself as one, in total harmony and unison.

It’s really important that the gun is never moved ‘independently’ of the shooter’s body – if it does you’ll find it will affect the correct mounting of the gun in the shoulder and cheek.

In a worst-case scenario we can have a situation where what was a perfect gun mount ends up with the butt being out of the shoulder and the head lifted off the stock.

This results in two things; you’ll almost certainly miss the bird – and probably end up with a bruised shoulder and/or cheek!

Shooting lessons: Perfecting your swing

Don’t forget that at the end of the swing – after you’ve pulled the trigger and taken your shot – that the gun must be mounted exactly as it was at the start of the swing.

You’ll find that if the gun isn’t in exactly the same place the whole relationship between the gun, your eye and the bird will be ruined and you’ll not be firing at the place you think you are – almost certainly resulting in a miss.

AND FINALLY…

Swinging the gun properly is one of the most important aspects of all the shooting skills so it must be practiced.

The easiest way is to spend a few minutes a day dry mounting and swinging the gun at home.

Shooting lessons: Perfecting your swing

Use the line up to the corner of your living room as a guide – stand properly and practice following the line with the muzzles of the gun.

I’ll give you good odds you can’t follow the line smoothly and consistently a hundred times in a row!

Read more shooting tips!

  • Terry Whittle

    Why do clayshooting guns have a safety catch fitted? No clay shooter should ever need to have a loaded gun with the safety on, so why not just have a barrel selector?