A good stance and correct footwork in shooting are key to a confident, steady performance in the field, every time. Tom Payne explains
Being a good game Shot is about being consistent on all forms of quarry, in different weather conditions, on different topography and at different times of the season. Alan Rose, the renowned shooting instructor at the West London Shooting School, always drummed into me that style and technique kill the bird.
The top sportsmen in this country are successful because they have honed their ability by ensuring their technique is correct. This is what enables their hand-eye co-ordination to perform. If your technique is correct and rock-solid, then you can focus completely on what you are shooting at and nothing else need get in the way.
It takes time to perfect, though, and once mastered it also takes time for it to feel completely natural, but it is what will stand you in good stead and put you head and shoulders above the rest.
Feet and footwork in shooting
To progress as a Shot your footwork becomes so important. It takes a long time to develop good footwork, but your stance and footwork are the building blocks to any good shot. With lots of practice you will instinctively start to move your feet correctly with minimal thought. So what should be your priority?
A good basic stance is all you need to get going. As long as you have this in place, you will start the process of shooting straight. Don’t get hung up on moving your feet before you have mastered your stance, otherwise you will find yourself getting confused.
The basic stance for a right-handed Shot is as follows: stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take half a step forward with your left foot and point between 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock, then turn your back foot so that it is pointing between 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock. Gently move your weight forward on to your leading leg. Keep that leg straight or you will find yourself mounting the gun too low.
This will give you a correct basic stance, and will enable you to shoot comfortably and help you mount the gun correctly.
Good footwork allows:
1. Good pick up of the bird and solid connection.
2. Good gun mount, because of good body position and good balance.
3. Correct reading of the line of the bird, and it also enables you to stay on that all-important line.
4. Good footwork also allows you to use your body to make the shot and enables you to finish the shot properly.
Bad footwork allows:
1. A bad set-up for an approaching bird.
2. A lack of stability and balance, which causes bad gun mount.
3. Restriction of movement, so your body will be unable to aid you during the shot.
4. Bad footwork will also be likely to cause you to miss the line of the bird or to fall off the line of the bird.
Weighing up how you should stand
I prefer to stand with my feet fairly close together. This way, I can move my feet with minimal movement to achieve the correct position for my body for the shooting situation I am in.
A slimmer Shot tends to benefit from a stance where their feet are closer together and the body is slightly side-on. The larger Shot benefits from a squarer, wider stance giving better balance and allowing more comfortable movement with a bigger body frame.
Important things to remember
1. Never move your feet and mount the gun at the same time. You will automatically cause poor gun mount and, in many cases, because you are moving your feet at the same time, you will find yourself pulling the muzzles of the gun away from the bird you are trying to make the connection with. You will misread the line and inevitably miss the bird.
2. Never bend your front leg if you are shooting off your front foot. This will cause you to mount the gun too low, and you will also find yourself pulling the muzzles away from the bird and the line of the bird you are trying to shoot.
3. If you are shooting off the front foot, don’t lurch forward as you mount the gun. Instead, gently take your weight forward through your front foot. It is a small movement. Lurch, and your stance will cause poor pick up and bad gun mount.
4. If you are shooting off your front foot with your weight gently forward, don’t rock back on to your back foot during the shot. This will put you off balance, cause you to throw your head back and will result in an inevitable miss. If you choose to shoot off your back foot, then you must aim for a transfer of weight through a straight back leg. You mustn’t lean back or throw yourself back on to your back foot.
Feet movement and fieldcraft
Moving your feet correctly allows for correct shooting as mentioned above, but how and when should you move your feet?
You will hear from many people or instructors about moving your feet but you need to remember that this is normally at the clay ground, in other words in the context of a controlled environment. So, when you have developed good footwork in the classroom how can this be transferred to the field?
This is all about fieldcraft and the ability to understand and read what a bird, whether grouse, pheasant, partridge or pigeon is doing in flight. Your feet move because of what the bird is doing in flight as they approach you, not because the rule book says you must move them.
If you concentrate on bird selection and don’t rush, you will find yourself reading the flight and behaviour of pheasants, for example, and this will automatically help your footwork as you set yourself into the correct position to shoot. Fieldcraft takes a long time to develop and it is only by standing under the birds that you will truly learn it, but it will be invaluable.
Address the bird correctly
Once you have good stance and footwork in place, the next step is to ensure you address the bird and mount the gun properly. So often, I see Guns holding their gun in entirely the wrong direction to where their bird is coming from. If you do this, it will cause you to rush and mount the gun incorrectly. When you have selected the bird you wish to shoot, you need to have raised the butt of the stock so that the heel of the gun is level with your armpit and held just slightly away from the body. This will help you to mount the gun smoothly in line with your eyesight. Then, hold the muzzles just below the line of the bird you are hoping to shoot.
Pick up your bird correctly
If you address the bird correctly, this will help you pick it up smoothly. There are many theories on where you should start, but I prefer to bring the muzzles of my gun smoothly into the back of the bird or just behind it. I believe this solid connection helps me to read the line, speed and distance of the bird and reduces the risk of running off line.
Then, accelerate gently past the bird in one smooth movement and trust what you see when pulling the trigger. Don’t go in thinking “lead”, instead think about the bird because that is what you are trying to shoot. Watch the bird die and this will help you finish the shot and stop you from physically stopping the gun.
Foundations are in the footwork
Shooting is just like any other ball sport. Look at the importance that feet and stance play in so many sports — two sports where everyone can appreciate this are cricket and tennis, but of course balance and correct stance is imperative in any sport. Concentrate on footwork in the field and you will see an improvement in your shooting. It will also help improve gun mount dramatically.