Forward allowance is an obsession among shooters, but rushing a shot won't improve your shooting ratio. Tom Payne explains the "give it a few more feet" myth
“Give it 4ft, 5ft, 6ft”; “I think that bird needs at least 10ft, actually no, that’s at least a gate’s length; change that, it needs a bus’s length.” Does this sound familiar? What is the obsession with lead when it comes to shooting game, and why is it most guns’ and instructors’ priority?
Unless someone is a mathematical genius and able to determine not only the height, speed and direction of a bird, but also the speed of an individual’s gun movement, body movement and varying eyesight, as well as the speed of shot at distance through a particular choke, I honestly cannot understand how you’d be able to calculate this distance so accurately. The truth is, you can’t. Some of the distances you hear mentioned on a day’s shooting are truly ridiculous, to the point that if this predicted distance and expert advice was listened to, the bird in question would probably still be in cover as the shot is fired.
If a Gun misses a bird, the automatic assumption is that they are behind — or this is what they are told. In fact, there are myriad reasons as to why a bird is missed, and many more places to miss a bird than just behind.
What a Gun sees as lead is a personal thing
Why is this obsession with lead and what people are told wrong? Lead and what a Gun sees as lead is a personal thing. It is also the end product of everything that has gone before. Every Gun’s eyesight is different. The way they shoot may be different and their gun speed may be different — there are lots of variables that can affect the shot.
By thinking lead first, you are effectively using a shotgun as a measuring tool. How many Guns reading this article have been told that they stop their gun? Has the reason for their stopping a gun ever been explained? Most Guns’ reaction to being told that they stop a gun is to move their gun faster, or they are encouraged to give birds more lead.
Improve your shooting
These words of wisdom produce a few results: if you move too fast you will lose all control and effectively end up rushing the shot. On top of that, all your technique will go out of the window. If you end up giving the bird more lead because the reason for your stopping the gun hasn’t been explained, two things will happen. First, you could give the bird more lead and continue to stop the gun — you could be lucky and get your timing right, killing a very unfortunate pheasant. Or you may set off with the standard “give it x feet”, keep watching the bird and start missing out in front. You will still think you’re behind, so off you go, farther and farther, until you are in what I call “no-man’s land”.
The reason people stop their gun is that they look at their gun at the point of pulling the trigger. The proper term is “checking your swing”. As soon as you look at your gun at the vital moment, your gun will stop stone dead. You inevitably end up missing behind, but you can also pull your gun off the line because your gun no longer has any momentum. What you have seen in terms of lead may have been correct prior to pulling the trigger, but this will be cancelled out as your gun slows and stops.
It’s like any ball sport. If you look at your cricket bat as you are about to hit the ball, everything goes wrong. You don’t run around a tennis court staring at your racket, and you certainly don’t look at your hands when you are trying to catch a ball. Of course, you are aware of where your hands, bat and racket are in your peripheral vision, but your focus always stays on the ball. By being told to give a bird lead (in feet, gates or buses) you are being cheated into killing a bird.
The key is that you are able to get yourself there. Shooting is not a guessing game. The feeling you have when you know a bird is about to fold is when you have correctly read the bird yourself.
It’s not about throwing a gun out to what you have been told, being lucky and connecting and then thinking to yourself “How did I do that?” You cannot stand there looking at a bird and think, “That needs 10ft”. The only thing that will happen is that you will end up with the finished product — a dead bird — and cheat the shot. This will bring no consistency to your shooting.
Tom’s top tips for improving your shoot ratio
The connection you make to the bird is key. When you make a sound connection, and by this I mean yourself, gun and eyes on the bird, for that split second that you are on the bird you will read three things: speed, distance and direction. This is how you will know where the gun needs to go. You must not cheat this. If you try to cheat the bird and make a poor connection, your timing will go out of the window and you will misread the line of the bird, thus misreading the shot, causing an inevitable miss.
Line is key with any gameshooting. If you do not pick up the bird properly, you will misread the line and the three things you need: speed, distance and direction. You can still give a bird the correct lead, but if you are low, above or to one side, it doesn’t matter what your lead is because you will never kill the bird.
3. Gun speed
Every shooter moves a gun at a different speed. This will change what you see as lead if, indeed, you see any lead at all. The key is not to rush. With a sound connection you match the speed of the bird and gently accelerate past it, keeping your vision completely on the bird you are shooting. Remember: nothing you aim at can move faster than the speed at which you move your gun.
4. Watching the bird fold
Watching the bird fold is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given. If you watch the bird fold it is impossible to stop your gun because your vision has not left the moving object. I call it finishing your shot correctly. It is not easy to train yourself to finish a shot properly, but the best way to describe it is that your cheek does not leave your stock until you see the bird start to fall. It’s one of the main reasons that the top few Shots in the country are so deadly. If you watch George Digweed shoot, he is a master at finishing a shot. It takes time to achieve this and there is a fine line between keeping your vision on the bird and suddenly checking your swing. I can’t tell you how important finishing your shot correctly is — it really is worth working on.
5. The bird
The bird is the priority. It tells you everything you need to know when shooting. Don’t cheat the shot and don’t simply guess. Lead is an end product to everything mentioned here. Everyone is different so, all-important technique aside, concentrate on the points above. The priority is what you are shooting at. If you keep dropping the ball, you need to watch it more closely. when shooting. You don’t just stick your hands and hope the ball will land in them, which is the equivalent of just thinking lead.