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How to hold a shotgun: whether you’re a clayshooter or a game shooter

Tony Bracci explains the essentials of how to hold a gun and when to shoot, whether you choose to be out in the field or prefer to be at the clay ground

How to hold a gun correctly

Take proper note of visual pick-up point to avoid being on the back foot

Knowing how to hold a shotgun – known as gun mount – will go a long way towards making you a better Shot. Look at the best shooters and you’ll see that they have slow, unhurried movements. That’s because they have practised their gun mount consistently so it’s second nature.

Learning how to hold a shotgun correctly

Start at the beginning. Ask a shooting coach how to bring the gun to your shoulder, where to hold the barrels, how to grip the trigger and where the stock should rest against your cheek. You also should be aware of the shooting safety rules when holding a shotgun – when it should be broken (so it can’t fire) and when it should be kept in a slip.

Then keep practising. (You might also like to read where should I put my hands on the fore-end of a shotgun?)

If you are just starting out spend a few minutes each day dry mounting the (unloaded) gun in the comfort of your own home.

  • The simplest exercise is to stand in front of a mirror and bring the gun up to the reflection of your master eye which you should see just over the top of the centre rib.
  • Start with the stock tucked just below your armpit with the muzzles pointing towards the reflection of your master eye in the mirror. Assuming you are right handed, push your left hand towards the mirror and, at the same time, lift the gun with the right.
  • ‘Pushing’ with the left ensures the heel of the stock clears the armpit, and ‘lifting’ with the right allows the butt to slide nicely into your shoulder pouch. Don’t aim the gun.
  • Concentrate on the reflection of your right eye in the mirror and you should find the muzzle comes to the point of aim every time.
  • Dry mounting like this helps you get used to the weight and balance of the gun but continual mounting tires the muscles so restrict yourself to just three or four minutes per session, once in the morning and again in the evening.

Shooting consistently

So the first step is knowing just how to hold a shotgun correctly and then practising. However, when shooting any type of target, there are some very important points of interest that can help you to not only shoot better but also consistently. This isn’t just limited to the clay ground, it can also be a consideration when shooting game.

how to hold a shotgun correctly

how to hold a shotgun correctly

Visual pick-up

Visual pick-up point is where you first see a target, whether a clay or a bird – the only difference being that you will hopefully know exactly where the clay is coming from and the bird will be when you are first aware that it’s there. This is usually a visual reaction but it could be sound as a bird takes flight. With game, we have to make quick decisions as to what the bird is doing and how and when it will be shot.

Hold point

Hold point is where the gun will be held in relation to where it is seen and where the shot will be taken. This will vary on which method you are shooting. You think this is easy in clay shooting but not relevant in game shooting? Not so. As birds flush on a driven shoot, we don’t mount the gun where the bird flushes as we would soon be sent home for unsafe shooting.

Break point

Break point is where the shot is taken. With clays, this is decided by trying to take the target at the easiest time. This could be when it is at its closest or on its flattest trajectory; and with game, also at the most optimum moment.

Can each of these elements affect the result of the shot process? Visual pick-up point, if not properly taken note of, can put you on the back foot as you react to what seems to you to be a random target. Before shooting a stand, you should be aware of what clays are going to be presented to you – one from the left and one from the right is not precise enough. Exactly where the target is coming from and where the second bird of a pair will be is key. Using tree branches, twigs, hedge tops, trap houses and flushing points, the sooner you can get visual contact with the target the sooner you can subconsciously start processing its speed and flight path, all of which helps with the shot process.

Hold point can have a big influence on how the gun is moved to the point at which the shot is taken. Too far away from the break point and the gun could be moved in an excessively fast swing, which can make it hard to control the line; too close and the gun can have very little movement, which can cause follow-through as the target is poked at. That’s the influence on a bad hold point, but if you are aware of the downsides and the pitfalls you can use it to your advantage, starting further back if you need to gain some speed in your gun or starting closer if you want to make sure you keep the gun movement slow.

shooting sim pairs

Compromises may have to be made when shooting sim pairs

Holding steady

Once your hold point is decided, having the willpower to hold steady until the bird has passed can be hard – shooting pull-away or swing-through for some but slipping into maintained lead for others is where targets are easily lost. Starting with the gun offline is a very common mistake and causes a gun movement that intersects the flightline of the bird, which reduces the chances of a successful shot. This is common with game shooting, as I often see the gun mounted into the sky in random places or certainly bearing no relation to what the target is doing.

There is a lot of work to be done to hold the gun on the right line as the bird approaches and to be able to hold the muzzles on the line as the gun is mounted. If this is mastered, the final swing is easily achieved and has a greater chance of being successful. The more constant the hold point, the more consistent the shot. If the hold point is random, it can make the gun move in different ways and the shooter slips into different methods. Your hold point should be suitable for the method that you’re using and also give you the right amount of time to be able to execute it.


Break point should be decided on the targets that are presented to you – no extra points are awarded for taking targets in the hardest place. Sometimes compromises may have to be made when shooting sim pairs – choosing to take a particular target earlier to buy some time on the second is a personal choice. What isn’t good is taking targets later than you should. Though this may still result in a broken target, the adjustment to the second target will be different – if not made, a lost second target is often the result. This can happen after a few good shots and we think trying to make sure is a good idea. This is as common in the field as on the clay ground.

Consistency is the key here but it is just as easy to focus on the wrong things and forget about other vital parts of the shot process. As a whole, we focus far too much on the lead picture or the positioning of the barrel itself and forget about line and follow-through. When searching for the perfect picture, the shot isn’t taken until the picture is achieved. This can alter considerably the timing of the shot and the position it is taken. When the break point is altered, the target can be moving in a different way and make it difficult to get on to the second target.

Being disciplined to do the same thing on each set of targets is the aspiration. Watching a good clay shot you get the feeling you could film them, and if you overlaid the films the movements would sit like ghost images of each other, with pick-up points, gun hold points and break points all the same. This can also apply to game shooting. Although the target is different every time, a good game shot will mount the gun in the same place in relation to the bird and shoot with the same timing and rhythm. This all needs to be practised under the eye of a good coach, who will pick up on variations in your shots and look for reasons for those variations.

Know how to hold a shotgun correctly and you’re well on the way to being a commendable Shot.