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TOP TIPS: How to shoot a high bird

High birds are no different to any other type of target, whether you're taking aim at game or clays. So why do so many shooters struggle to hit them?

high bird tips

High bird tips

There are many reasons why high birds are missed. It could be:

  • The shooter doesn’t have his face on the stock
  • Gun mount is wrong
  • The shooter forgets to aim in front of the bird before pulling the trigger
  • The shooter isn’t steady on his feet

The most common reasons for missing high birds

The most likely reasons for high birds to be missed is because the shooter pulls the trigger when his face is not planted firmly on the stock. He’s either mounted the gun correctly (he should have as he’s had all the time in the world to see the bird coming) but then for some reason lifted his head away from the stock, probably to get a better view of the bird.

Or the shooter has simply thought ‘this appears really slow and easy’ and didn’t give the bird the attention it deserved.

high bird tips

Pulling the trigger before the gun’s mounted correctly – when it’s not pointing where you’re looking – is a recipe for disaster and should be avoided at all costs. The fact you have to tilt your head and neck back further than you would for normal crossing or incoming targets (simply because the angle of the muzzles relative to the ground is greater) is no excuse for shoddy mounting. If you recognise this as a flaw in your technique, practice dry mounting the gun until you can get it right first time, every time.

It’s also important to remember to try and achieve a parallel gun mount,  whatever the angle of the muzzles.

parellel gun mount high bird shooting

Mount the gun correctly when you’re after high birds and you’re half way on the way to increasing your hit rates.

Clays slow down, birds speed up

Which bird you’re after, or however the clay is presented what you need to remember is the basic difference between clays and game.

  • Seconds after a clay is released it starts to slow down.
  • A flushed game bird will speed up and keep going until it believes it is out of danger.

top tip high bird shooting

Instinctive shooting?

A steady and calculated approach will pay off when you’re shooting high birds. However you can opt for shooting instinctively at a late-seen bird, but wait a while if you want to use this technique as your normal shooting style.

waiting game high bird shooting

Don’t try to mount the gun too soon because a high bird will usually be in view for a while. If you mount too quickly you’ll probably aim at the bird, rather than in front of it. Your gun will also weigh heavily and you will have arm ache at the end of the day.

What about your feet?

You need to be steady to shoot high birds so practise moving the weight from your front to your back foot.

Let’s assume you’re a right-handed shooter (if you’re not it’s the opposite). Your weight distribution needs to be taken from the toe of the left foot (normal for most targets), through a neutral flat-footed stance and then smoothly onto the heel of your right foot.

footwork high bird shooting

A gentle rolling action is generally the most effective way to achieve this. The golden rule is to make sure you don’t keep the weight on the front foot and simply bend from the waist. If you do you’ll restrict your swing, probably miss your bird – and ultimately end up with a bad back!

Final tip

Keep the muzzles up when you see or call for the bird, but not so high that they obscure your view. Don’t mount the gun too early and try to pull away rather than swing through.

muzzles high bird shooting

Be ready to transfer your weight onto the back foot if necessary.

Shooting with choke

Should I change chokes on high bird days?

A: In more recent years it has become fairly standard practice for over-unders to be multi-choked, thereby opening up a dilemma for many shooters about what…


  • If you know the target is going to be high, keep your muzzles higher than normal at the ready position
  • Do not aim at the target. If you do you’ll miss behind. High birds often appear to be travelling slower than they really are, tempting you to aim. You must remember to swing the gun – and keep the muzzles moving after you’ve pulled the trigger
  • Having your front hand too far forward on the fore-end will restrict your swing, the last thing you want on high birds. Bring your leading hand back towards you and you’ll see your scores improve. Practice your swing with this gun hold at home if necessary
  • For really high birds use a tighter choke. This will help the stream of shot remain dense at longer distances.