The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

The Great Debate: Front rank v back gun

Front rank by Ben Samuelson

I’m not sure whether it says more about me, my friends, or just the type of shooting I do, but I have spent an awful lot of time either with a chum standing some yards behind me trying to shoot anything I miss, or trying to do the same to some other hapless soul.

I enjoy formal shooting, with a team of guns who believe that if a bird clears the front line, then it should be allowed to fly on in peace. But I also enjoy the challenge when one’s host quietly moseys into position a scarcely polite number of yards behind me. I am the first to admit that my shooting ability is all Samuelson and not at all Nickerson, but I like to think that I am actually more likely to have a good drive if a smiling assassin positions himself directly behind me.

There’s one chap in particular, who for the sake of anonymity shall only be known as Karl Oyston, who likes nothing more than messing with the heads of his friends. Waving cheerily, ostentatiously loosening his limbs as if to prepare for some very hot work, he is the gun you least want to see standing behind you. Frequently, my shooting goes to pot entirely. Birds fly over entirely unscathed, then my ex-friend calls to ask if I’ve finished prior to dispatching them at ridiculously long range.

But sometimes, just sometimes, a mood of grim determination comes over me. Only picking the good birds (of course), I quietly and efficiently dispatch what flies over me, leaving my chum ruing his decision while occasionally having to take evasive action as dead birds rain down around him.

I admit it’s not something that happens often but, given the option, I’d always take the front rank just in case.

Back gun by Giles Catchpole

What’s not good about being a back gun? The first thing about being a back gun is that it very seldom involves the luck of the draw. Any host worth his salt will know there is a drive where the guns will be double banked. He will look at the distribution of his guests when they have been allotted their pegs, do a lightning calculation and say to himself: “Hmm, best we do Jubilee first thing after the break then.” This is because he wants his top hitters in the back row where they can not only knock down the starchasers, but they can also tidy up any pricked birds that the duffers in the front row have tickled but failed to bring down.

It is therefore a huge compliment to find yourself in the back row of a signature drive, and you can smile quietly to yourself as you unsleeve the gun, settle the dog and fire up your cigar.

The chaps farther in front of you will be trying their damnedest to close you out, but if you are double banking there should be more than enough birds to go round. And, while they will be good birds for the front rank, they will actually be great birds for you.

You won’t need very many of these to make your day, so be selective and nail them dead in the air. Especially the ones that have just been missed with both barrels by the guns ahead of you. The classy thing to do is shoot the wing-tipped cock smartly and then wallop that cracking hen with the choke barrel with no more than a quick flick of the gun.

I’m thinking now of a lovely drive where we triple bank – four, three, one. Everyone wants to be at the back. It is strictly Number 8 on the peg marker but we all know it is Number 1 in terms of sport.

Related stories

10 reasons we miss when driven shooting

The Great Debate: Lunch stop v shooting through

More features from Shooting Gazette