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Practising for the next shooting season

If it isn’t lost to Covid, next season will come round quickly so make sure you’re ready by putting in that vital practice, says Tom Payne writing for Shooting Times

shooting pigeons

A day on pigeons to help a local farmer is a great way of practising in the close season

For many, it must feel like you haven’t picked up a gun for months. For many game Shots, this could be the case, especially with the season being affected by COVID-19.

Covid is no excuse for not picking up the gun, nor is a disjointed season. Regardless of what has happened over the past 12 months, many will take their gun out the day before shooting, put it away after shooting and, no matter what the time frame between these outings, this is the norm. It’s not a great way to keep form — nor develop form, for that matter.

Any practising shooting for next season must be carried out with correct and sound technique or all or your hard work will be a waste of time.

Handling the gun

Practice at home is always valuable, even if it’s only handling the gun. All you need is space and height — indoors or outdoors if in a private garden — however, visuals are important. Snap caps are a valuable piece of kit; they aid in the mental squeezing of the trigger while moving the gun, train the brain and get you used to your trigger pulls again.

Never practise your gun mount into a level mirror. This is nothing to do with the mirror, it’s the angle. To develop good and consistent gun mount, keeping your head still and driving your gun to your eyeline with both hands in relaxed control, you must mount the gun as if you were going to shoot a reasonably high pheasant. This is all to do with correct stance, the building block to your gun mount, but also allows for easier and correct body and head position.

Once you feel that you are mounting your gun consistently, you can start to change the angle of gun mount — but make sure style and technique is correct, allowing your head to stay still and in the correct position or bad habits and poor muzzle control will creep in.

A visual aid when you are ‘dry mounting’ is very important; you need something to focus on. If you really want to take it seriously, bird silhouettes at different distances placed on a ceiling or wall are helpful. They assist with gun mount and muzzle control, as you pick the bird up correctly.

The grounds are now open so make the most of a bit of practice. Don’t go wild. There is no need to shoot anything testing. Most game Shots don’t tend to spend a lot of time at clay grounds and are actually easily put off by the thought of shooting clays. So go with some friends, have a wander round first at the ground you’ve picked, look at some of the birds, decide what you are comfortable with and what you wish to practise, and aim for a nice variety of sensible driven, crossers and so on.

Head out with a plan in your mind of what you would like to shoot and enjoy it. A straightforward up-and-down springing teal or crow are great birds for gun-mounting practice if shot at the top.

shooting coaching

Having regular lessons with a reputable coach is a must

Practising shooting for next season

When practising shooting for next season at the clay ground don’t worry about score cards — there shouldn’t be any pressure. You are focusing on your game shooting, not clay shooting. If you find you are struggling on certain birds, this is where a reputable instructor comes in. If you are on your own and struggle with a bird, it’s sometimes best to walk away or you could shoot yourself into a problem and further ruin your confidence.

Shooting clays is good practice if you relate them to your type of game shooting. Any practice done well is better than none at all but it is easy to fall into a comfort zone with clays if you practise the same bird too much and become a one-trick pony.

Lessons are valuable if you really want to improve your shooting, style, technique and consistency. But if you read my recent piece in Shooting Times on finding the right coach you’ll be aware of the importance of having a lesson with a game Shot and instructor.

The number of lessons will depend solely on performance. If you are trying to improve style and technique and embed this into muscle memory, you need to have your lessons as consistently as possible — once a month at a minimum.

I am a bit dubious of simulated days in regards to how much they can actually benefit your shooting. Don’t get me wrong, they are fun to a certain degree and if you are a fan of shooting hundreds of cartridges at clays, in a relaxed setting with friends, then they have a purpose.

However, if you are using a simulated day to polish your style and technique in order to improve your game shooting, you have to be disciplined. Make sure you shoot birds that best represent what you are trying to improve on. Many sim days do struggle to represent the quarry properly in flight. They tend to favour height over correct angle, which defeats the object. I’ve yet to see a 60-yard springing pheasant leaving the ground at Mach 5! You get the idea. If it’s pheasants, partridges, grouse or pigeons on the simulated front, make sure they do simulate the quarry.

Another major problem with a sim day is there is so much shooting that fatigue can kick in, causing poor shooting and possible injury, such as bruising, from bad mounting. Rushing and being overcompetitive can also creep in. Treat sim days with care if you are hoping to use them to work on your shooting.


If you are lucky enough to have your own land — or somewhere else you can put a clay trap — a single stack can be a brilliant investment. They only cost about £500 or £600 and you can spend a lot of time practising crossers and straight, oncoming birds in a relaxed environment.

If you feel that you have practised and trained well, there is the opportunity possibly to get out and shoot a few pigeons or crows, on a general licence with a pigeon guide, on your own permission/shoot. However, make sure you feel that you are ready for it. There is nothing more frustrating — or, in some ways, damaging to your confidence — than when it goes wrong on the real thing. Pigeons are amazing for preparing you for all sorts of game shooting but they are a challenge. You must be realistic when you attempt to shoot them and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

If you’ve put the work in at home, at the shooting ground or with a reputable shooting instructor, perhaps you will feel ready for the real thing. As a reward, treat yourself to a day on the pigeons to help out a farmer if you have permission.

Don’t push yourself too hard; you are trying to develop the correct style and technique, muscle memory, shooting fitness and confidence. It takes time, so enjoy practising shooting for the next season and ultimately you’ll enjoy it even more.