A lot of shooters come to me for a technique tune-up and sharpener before the start of a new season.

I once had a couple of out-and-out game shooters visit me for a spot of coaching. They both had the same problem – assessing and hitting high birds. After watching them both shoot, here’s a summary of what we agreed they both should consider?

It happens to us all. As we get older our eyesight changes and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. Having said that, an optician can!

If you’re having trouble hitting targets that you used to clobber every time – and assuming you haven’t changed your gun or mounting technique – go and get your eyes tested. There’s no disgrace in wearing glasses or contacts, and if your averages increase – that’s all that matters!

High birds are (obvious I know) high! As such your head/neck is going to be tilted backwards while you watch the flight of the bird.

It’s important to remember that whatever the angle of the muzzles, you should always aim for a parallel gun mount. This way the gun will come into the face as it should. If the gun isn’t mounted properly it will not be pointing where you’re looking, resulting in a miss.

A couple of months ago we covered the benefits of snap shooting. In that article we talked about how relying on your instincts can pay dividends and increase your scores.

Shooting high birds is certainly one area where instinctive shooting comes into its own. Generally speaking, a high target will be in view for quite some time, so don’t be tempted to mount the gun too soon. If you do you’ll tend to aim at the bird rather than getting in front of it before pulling the trigger. Also, holding the gun in the shoulder for a long time is tiring, it will ultimately give you the wobbles, and you’re more likely to lift your head off the stock.

1. Judge bird.
2. Track bird.
3. Pull away.
4. Judge lead and keep the gun swinging.

There are pros and cons for all the shooting styles, be it swing through, pull away or maintained lead. Given a choice for high birds, though, I’d generally opt for the pull away (CPSA) method.

Not all the time mind

For high crossers, shooting maintained lead (if you’re familiar and proficient at shooting this way) could achieve some excellent results. With high, incoming clays, I find the act of swinging through the target can be detrimental as the muzzles can obscure the bird. This in turn often makes the shooter lift his head off the stock and results in a zero on the scorecard.

1. Start with your weight on your front foot.
2. As you start to rock back, transfer the weight to the rear foot.

Being steady on your feet is paramount for hitting high birds consistently. Transferring your weight from the (normal) front foot onto the back foot during the swing, is probably the best way to remain steady. It might feel (and probably look) a bit daft, but practice at home until the action becomes natural. Assuming you’re right handed (opposite if you’re not) the distribution of your weight needs to be taken from the toe of the left foot, through a neutral flat-footed stance and onto the heel of the right foot. A smooth rocking action is best. Don’t be tempted to keep the weight on the front foot and simply bend from the waist. Not only will you end up with a bad back, but also the contorted position will restrict your swing.

Bring your hand on the fore-end back towards you a little. If the bird is really high, and virtually above you at your chosen kill point, having your front hand too far forward on the fore-end will restrict your swing. Practice dry mounting and swinging the gun at home and you’ll see what I mean.

If you know the target is going to be high, keep the muzzles higher than normal at the ready position. Why waste time and effort bringing the gun into your shoulder/face more than you have to. If the bird is coming from behind, make sure you’re looking back as you call for the target. The quicker you can get on to it visually, the quicker you can mount, swing and fire.

The biggest mistake shooters make when presented with a nice high bird is to aim the gun at the target. We all know this is a recipe for disaster. As with all other types of targets, you must swing the gun ? and keep it moving after the trigger has been pulled. Because of the distance from the shooter, high birds generally appear to be travelling slower than they really are. (The same bird presented at just 20 feet above the ground would look like it was simply rocketing.) Because the target looks to be travelling quite slowly, the shooter thinks it’s easy, aims – just to be sure ? and inevitably misses behind. The golden rule of hitting high birds is to remember to swing the gun.

Everyone knows I’m a great believer in sticking to just one choke/cartridge combination. However, if you know in advance the majority of birds you’re going to shoot will be high, it might be worth tightening the shot pattern a trifle by dropping a choke size. If you’re using a fixed choke field gun, flick the selector switch to use the top barrel ? tighter choke ? first. This will help the stream of shot remain dense at longer distances.

– High incomers: keep the muzzles up when you call for the bird, but not so high they obscure your view. Don’t mount the gun too early and try to pull away rather than swing through. Be ready to transfer your weight onto the back foot if necessary.

– High crossers: treat as any other crosser, look to achieve a smooth mount and swing. Don’t be fooled into thinking the clay is travelling slower than it really is.

– High overhead from behind: muzzles high, weight on back foot (ready to be swapped onto front) and look back to pick up the bird visually as soon as you can.

Have you got a problem with your shooting?
Drop us a line, maybe Mark can help. Please write to our usual address: Sporting Gun, PO Box 157, Stamford, Lincs. PE9 9FU or email: sportinggun@ipcmedia.com
We’re afraid Mark can’t give personal replies, but he’ll do his best to tackle your subject in future articles.