With the start of the season just a few weeks away, it's time for some grouse shooting lessons
Yes, in just a few weeks’ time a fortunate few will be having their first days grouse shooting.
Admittedly my choice of words ‘the fortunate few’ are chosen with care.
Shooting driven – or even walked-up-grouse can be expensive by anyone’s standards. However that’s all the more reason to have a session on the clays to get some practice in. Because you might get an invitation out of the blue to go grouse shooting or – what is more likely – be entered into a team flush competition at our local shooting ground.
Grouse are easily simulated on the clay range
Many shooters say they’re not too keen on tackling grouse shooting targets. That’s possibly because they don’t get to shoot them that often because grouse stands aren’t too common a sight on a lot of sporting layouts.
I’ve never really fully understood why this is the case. Unlike other clays that emulate game birds grouse are easily simulated on the clay range. It’s easy to replicate the predictable way the birds are presented to Guns in real life.
Generally speaking the birds tend to come in fast and low, which makes for a standard driven target, but they can also come in quartering from either left or right.
On the moor the live birds often turn when they hear the first shots fired, instantly becoming a fast-moving crossing target.
From the ‘clay shooting’ perspective I can make ‘grouse’ targets pretty realistic when I’m setting up the traps.
How is simulated grouse shooting different from the real thing?
It’s probably the frequency at which the birds are presented – it’s not always that easy to get a covey of 20 or 30 clays in the air simultaneously!
Which is a pity really, because it’s sometimes the sheer number of birds hurtling towards the peg that can unsettle the nerves of even the most accomplished grouse Gun. This nervousness is often the cause of a miss.
Driven grouse type targets
A good way of practising grouse shooting with loads of birds in the air is to take part in a local ‘charity clay shoot’ that’s offering a team flush as part of the event.
To be honest this is probably as near as most of us are going to get to shooting driven grouse-type targets on the clay ground, albeit the birds will usually be higher than those seen on the moor.
I certainly recommend it as it’s excellent fun and also an enjoyable way for shooters to do their bit for worthwhile causes.
Typically a flush can feature anything from 30 to 50 birds, up to over 100 – depending upon the number of Guns taking part at any one time.
It’s usually shot in pairs or fours at small events, but you can get flushes with a dozen or so shooters taking part.
The targets are released (seemingly) at random, generally from two, three or even four different traps, and you can guarantee they’ll come thick and fast.
Whole chapters can be written on team ‘tactics’ for shooting flushes – who takes which bird, letting your partner/s know when you’re empty and reloading etc so I won’t go into that at the moment, but I guarantee it’ll sharpen up your driven bird skills and leave you wanting to have another go!
Pick your bird and stick to it
No matter what the target is you’ve only got two barrels so you’ve got to pick your birds carefully and choose which bird will be shot first.
A point worth remembering when you’ve only got a second or two to decide which bird to take first is that everyone has a natural preference when they swing the gun.
Most right-handers, for instance, find it easier to swing the gun from right to left, so keep this in mind when choosing your targets.
Where will the targets come from?
Unlike conventional ‘driven’ clays coming from just one trap, you won’t see how the bird’s presented before you shoot and you won’t know exactly where the targets will come from; all you’ll have is a rough idea.
Therefore, picking up the bird visually and then choosing the kill point will have to be done on an ad-hoc basis.
As such, your ready stance should be neutral, almost square to the expected flightline.
Concentrate your vision on the accepted ‘arc of fire’ in front of you, remembering the traps will be to the front of the stand and the flightlines will pass directly over the top of you and your fellow shooters. Incidentally, unless you have the luxury of a loader, be prepared.
Fumbling around for cartridges in the bottom of your pockets or bag is ridiculous when the birds are coming at you thick and fast – make sure you’ve got more than enough shells within easy reach.
Keep the gun down but be ready
Try to relax and make sure you feel comfortable, with your feet shoulder-width apart and with your weight on the front foot.
Hold your eyes half-focused on the expected pick-up point of the birds.
Keep the gun down, but be ready to mount it when you think the bird is hittable. If you shoot gun up you’ll end up with arm ache and you will be at risk of obscuring the target with the muzzles.
Keep the mount smooth
If the bird is travelling particularly fast, or you’re not that confident on this type of target, it might be worth considering a kind of ‘half-way’ house approach to your gun’s ready position.
Keeping the stock just out of the shoulder pocket will not tire the arms and will mean the gun can be mounted just that little bit quicker than when shooting in a genuine gun down style.
As the bird approaches the intended kill point start to mount the gun, make sure your face is tight to the stock and ensure you keep it there.
In the heat of the moment a common mistake is to raise the head off the stock in an attempt to get a glimpse of the target as you pull the trigger.
(If your head’s not on the stock the gun’s not pointing where you’re looking and you’ll almost certainly miss.)
Any shooting style can be used for driven birds, but I think the best option is probably to use the pull away method. Keep the gun moving, pull the muzzles ahead of the bird and rely on your instincts to tell you how much lead you need before pulling the trigger.
Keep the swing going after the gun’s been fired
Driven targets sometimes look easy so shooters often miss because they forget to keep the muzzles moving and they aim at the target.
Take the bird earlier than later – in an ideal world you want to be breaking the target 15 or 20 yards out.
Be prepared, though, to transfer your weight onto your back foot if the bird is approaching the point where it’s going to be almost above you.