You might have started shooting as a youngster or maybe you're relatively new to the sport. No matter when you started, there's probably a tip in here for you somewhere. Read them before you next go out
1. Keep your eyes on the bird
This is the best piece of shooting advice you’ll probably ever get. Focus on its head or beak and keep your eyes locked there throughout the shot.
Visualising something is a skill that you’ll have to learn – we don’t naturally keep our focus locked on a moving object. Most of us tend to bring our focus back to the barrel because you have a natural urge to line everything up before pulling the trigger.
But it is hopeless for good shooting. You have to think about the bird. The bird. And again the bird.
2. Keep moving your gun
Many of us stop the gun. If you don’t keep your eyes fixed on the bird (see tip 1 above) and you stop the gun, then bringing the weight back and lifting the head are likely to be the negative results.
Focus on keeping your head down, your weight over your front foot and your eyes on the bird. This will all make it easier to keep the gun moving on every shot. Don’t finish the shot too early, don’t take your head off the gun too early and follow through on every shot.
3. Good timing
Are you a poker or a slasher? Many gameshooters poke at birds and others slash at them. Both look awful.
You need to try to be rhythmic. Count one, two, three on every shot. Do this and you’ll be in smooth control of every shot with no need to rush.
4. Move those feet
Don’t act as if your feet are set in concrete. You’ll run out of swing and create tension – which is the enemy of good shooting.
If I am standing on my peg and see a bird going right or left of centre, I take a small step into the line of the bird … just a few inches. The front foot moves first, the rear foot rotates naturally round on its ball. Small steps are the key to success.
5. Practice your gun mount
Practice your gun mount and then combine it with the swing. If you find this difficult, try the Churchill technique where the butt begins under the armpit and you are forced to push the gun out to complete the mount. Your front hand should lead the process – don’t position it too far forward as that will restrict its effectiveness as a lifting lever. You’ll also find it harder to swing the barrels on line.
6. Think about eye dominance and gun fit
Go for checks from time to time at a professional shooting ground to test for eye dominance – you should also visit an optician too to make sure your focus is effective.
Many shooters in middle age develop eye dominance issues unknowingly. If you are in your 40s and 50s these can creep up on you and you may need a change of gun fit, typically a bit more cast.
The ideal is to use both eyes – because binocular vision makes the judgement of speed, range and angle much easier. Realistically though some will never be able to shoot effectively with both eyes open.
7. Ensure your chokes and cartridges inspire confidence
Make sure you are using a cartridge that you’re confident about. 28-32gram does it well enough in a 12-bore in most circumstances. Go to 34 and consider 4 shot in very testing situations on high birds.
In a 20-bore, I stick to 28gram for just about every thing, and in a 28-bore, to 25 or 28gram. The latter is quite a lot of shot to stuff through a small bore, but I have found it to be effective.
On the subject of chokes, most game guns are still over choked in their first barrel. I favour a very open first barrel for normal driven work – improved cylinder will do nicely. But, I will change to three-quarters and three-quarters (my normal second barrel) for high birds.
8. Consider line and lead
Errors of lead cause many birds to be missed. Usually this is behind because the bird is misread or the Gun stops due to poor technique. Although many birds are missed in front too, usually closer range birds.
Errors of line include failing to get up onto the line of the bird – a problem exacerbated by an over-extended front hand.
Avoid shooting off line because the barrels are canted relative to the line of the bird during the swing.
I now teach a deliberate twisting of the barrels in some circumstances to make sure the barrels stay on line: Usually the muzzles of side-by-side barrels should be parallel or nearly parallel to the line of the bird and over-and-unders perpendicular or nearly perpendicular to it. The exception is a truly straight incomer.
Common errors for a right-hander facing a driven bird slightly right of centre are to arch the back excessively, bring the weight back, and to let the face come away from the stock. The barrels cant relative to the line and the shot goes left.
Avoid this by gently twisting the gun anti-clockwise into the face as you take the shot.
9. Focus on the moment
When you’re shooting forget about your gun, cartridges and choke.
Maintain your focus on the bird and nothing else except safety.
If you watch people, hesitation is frequently evident during the swing, the weight tends to come back, the head lifts and the eyes come off the bird. This is a really bad habit and may be a hard one to break in those people who try and rely entirely on their rationale process to shoot, ignoring the potential of natural hand-to-eye co-ordination.
Once you are committed to shoot though there should be nothing else in your head other than keeping your eyes on the bird and keeping your gun moving.
10. Stay safe
Discipline and control make you a better marksman and they will also make you a safer shot. Safety should never be forgotten.
Don’t shoot low birds. Never point a gun at something you do not wish to kill. Always check that a gun is unloaded and unobstructed when you pick it up, or pass it to someone else.
I have seen several guns that have been blown up due to obstructions. Make sure you can see daylight through the barrels before inserting the cartridges.
If your gun has multi-chokes, make sure they are tightly screwed in. If there is any doubt in your mind, then stop.