Earlier this month a reader emailed to say that for as long as he could remember – in a shooting career of nearly 20 years or so – the battue has always been his bogey bird.

He asked if I could help sort out the problem. He went on to say that it was often this target that ruined his scorecard and sometimes made the difference between being on the podium and coming in with the also-rans.

And so, without further ado, here are my hints and tips to blast the battue every time.

Ask a shooter how he goes about hitting a typical sporting bird, a crosser, say, and he’ll tell you that he will sort out his stance before calling for the bird.

He’ll mount and swing the gun as smoothly as he can and then rely on his library of sight pictures to determine the amount of lead needed to smash the target.

No problems there then, that’s what we all do in one way or another.

But here lies one of the major problems when shooting battues. It’s the sight pictures – or lack of them – that cause the problems. Generally speaking, shooters don’t get enough opportunities to shoot this bird as it’s often classed as a ‘special’ target.

This means their use in competitions is restricted to just a small percentage of the birds presented and, unfortunately, a lot of shooting grounds tend to stick to this ratio for normal club shooting and practice sessions as well.

In the shooting grounds’ defence, battues are slightly more expensive than standard clays (which could be a factor in these cost-conscious times) but this can’t be the sole reason they’re not used more often because the extra cost is negligible.

I reckon the main reason people struggle to hit battues is that they simply never get enough opportunities to practice shooting them!

A battue has a significantly thinner profile than a standard clay. This means that in flight it sometimes fools the shooter into thinking that it’s further away than it really is.

This in turn means the Gun often over compensates and gives the target too much lead. Another result of the slimmer profile is that it will also travel faster through the air. In fact, on a like for like basis the battue will still be under power and steaming away when a standard clay is on its last legs and beginning to drop.

Both these things make it tricky for the shooter, but it’s when the clay starts to lose power that the fun really starts.

A side effect of the target’s ultra-thin profile (look at the picture and you’ll see it doesn’t have the deep skirt found on normal clays) is that when it eventually slows down it will roll onto its side and zoom towards the ground in an arc – an action that can only be described as impressive!

Clay pigeon & battue

But there’s another side to the elusive battue’s character… literally!
More often than not most course designers – including me – will choose to present a battue with a difference.

To do this we simply place the target upside down on the arm of the trap. When this bird’s presented – usually as some kind of fast crosser, it will whizz past the shooter, edge on. Then, when it’s lost most of its speed, it will flip onto its side (presenting itself as a full-on target) before plummeting out of sight or into the ground.

Speed kills… or in this case, doesn’t! Coming to terms with the increased speed of the battue is crucial if you’re going to kill it consistently.

– The first thing to remember is to adjust your stance accordingly. This means having the muzzles slightly further in front of where you would for a standard target. Forget this and you’ll inevitably end up playing catch up with the bird. Your foot position might also have to be altered slightly – still keeping your leading foot pointed towards the chosen kill point, though – so that you don’t run out of swing.

– Taking speed into consideration, I would generally advocate shooting this type of target using the maintained lead style. Because your muzzles will naturally always be ahead of the bird you haven’t got to worry about getting in front – either from pulling away or swinging through the target. Those few extra moments can make all the difference so make sure you use them.

– As always, concentrate on the flight line of the target (before you call for the bird) so that you can determine the visual pick up point. As you call for the bird, try and ‘half focus’ your eyes just behind this point on the flight line. This means you can get on to the target quickly as soon as it’s visible and not waste time hunting for the bird in the air.

– A course designer will usually try to ensure the battue flips onto its side when it’s still hittable, and you must try to batter it as soon as it does. In fact, apart from being the easiest kill point it’s also the most logical. When it’s flying edge on, the fact that it’s still under power means that the trajectory will be consistent – but the negative point is that you’ve got a physically small target to break as the surface area of the clay is at a minimum. But then, even when you can see the target full on after its ‘flipped,’ it’s crucial you don’t ‘wait and see’ what the clay is going to do in the air. Believe me, it’s going to be considerably harder to hit on the way down. The important thing to remember with battues is the old adage ‘he who hesitates is lost.’

If you miss your preferred (the ideal) kill zone and you find you’ve no option other than to shoot the bird as it descends, the only advice I can offer is to give it a lot more lead, say, double what your normal library of sight pictures thinks it needs.

This is because this target will not just be falling under the effects of gravity, but actually plummeting back towards earth. Also remember you’ll need to allow a bit for the arc of the clay as it will either be curving away or towards you. When you reach this stage there’s going to be more luck than judgement involved if you bust the clay. To shoot consistently the bird at this stage is foolhardy to say the least.

– Sometimes, however, a devious designer will ensure that the bird will only be presented edge on to the shooter, whizzing through a clearing in some trees, for instance. In this scenario we need to use everything we’ve spoken about so far. Then, when all the technical stuff is sorted, the most important thing is to believe you can break the clay – having a positive mental attitude is essential.

-If you know from the outset that you’re going to shoot battues ‘edge on,’ it might help to have a slightly tighter choke fitted. Concentrating the shot stream is always beneficial when shooting smaller than average targets. Don’t forget, though, whatever cartridge/choke combination you use… if you’re on it you’ll kill it!