Assessing the amount of forward allowance (lead) you need to give a target is the most talked about topic on any clay ground.

‘How much did you give that one?’ is probably the most obvious question heard, but it can be confusing for the less experienced shooter to hear ‘oh, about a bus-and-a-half’ or ‘give it a five-bar gate’ as a reply!

The amount of lead we give to kill a bird is quite often instinctive and built on a comprehensive library of ‘sight pictures’ we’ve built up over the years.

But how do you try and explain a sight picture that’s purely in your head?

As such this month I’d like to take a look at forward allowance in general terms, and look at ways of turning sight pictures into words.

Regular readers will remember me quoting the following figures a few years ago when we were talking about how to assess lead, so I apologise for that, but they’re the easiest ‘rounded up’ numbers I can think of that help make my schoolboy maths look good.

That’s why I kept them written down! Incidentally, one of my favourite phrases when I’m coaching is ‘why make things difficult for yourself.’

Admittedly, this is usually applied to tackling sporting targets but it works just as well when dealing with the mathematics.

So, armed with a calculator I pinched off one of the kids, here are the simple basic facts about why you must give a target a certain amount of lead.

For this example I’d like to look at a standard crosser, a target that’s travelling square-on in front of the stand at, say, 40 mph when it enters your expected kill zone.

To make things super easy let’s also assume it’s flying at around head height.

This scenario, although rather unadventurous, is a pretty typical way to present a bird and one you’re likely to encounter on virtually every sporting layout in the country.

So, in real terms, how fast is the clay actually moving? Well, after a bit of nifty work with the calculator, we find out that 40mph equates to just less than 60 feet per second, 58.6 actually.

The shot
Now then, to help keep things simple let’s assume that the shot from our chosen cartridge is going to travel at an average of 1,000 feet per second – a trifle slow admittedly, but as I said before, it really helps to keep the maths simple.

Now the only other thing we have to take into account is how far the shot has to travel before it hits the target in our intended kill zone.

For simplicity we’ll say the bird is going to be 100 feet away from the stand.

Back to the calculator again, and even I can work out that if the shot is moving at 1,000 feet per second, to travel the 100 feet to the target it’s going to take one tenth of a second (that’s 0.1 second in new money.)

So what’s all the fuss about? A tenth of a second, that’s nothing… isn’t it?

Well, not exactly. You see, in the tenth of a second that the front of the shot stream takes to travel to the clay, the clay has also been whizzing forward for the same amount of time.

And remember, if we remember our earlier figures we’ll see that our clay target was travelling at 40mph, that’s a whopping 58.6 feet per second.

So in the 1/10 of a second that it took for the shot to reach the target (divide 58.6 feet by 10) we find that our clay has actually travelled 5.86 feet since we pulled the trigger.

And that’s nearly a couple of yards!

Rounding it all up
In a nutshell, and purely for this rounded up scenario, this five or six feet is the amount of lead (forward allowance) we need to give if we want to kill the bird.

At this point it should also be blindingly obvious why if you shoot at a clay you’ll always, always miss behind.

The bird’s been and gone! Now, having said all this, I don’t want any reader to assume that to kill a 30 or 40 yard crosser all they have to do is give it a couple of yards lead.

No, there are simply too many variables to take into account for this to be true.

Hopefully, though, all this example will have done is make you think about the logistics of arranging the collision between the shot stream and the clay.

So that’s about it as far as the theory goes.

We’ve established that smashing clays is all about arranging a collision between the stream of shot and the clay, and hopefully we now understand the basic principle – that the muzzles must be ahead/in front of the bird when you pull the trigger – simply to allow the clay to run into the stream of shot.

So, how do we try and explain how much forward allowance is needed?

Right then, now we’re clear in our minds that there’s always a slight delay before the shot stream collides with the clay, we can begin to understand and (hopefully) start to relate to how far the barrels need to be ahead of the target as you pull the trigger. 

And this is often where the trouble starts.

As I said at the beginning of this article, ask any member of your shooting squad how much lead they’re giving a particular bird and you’ll almost certainly get a vague, inexact answer – ‘give it a couple of inches, give it a five-bar gate, about an acre-and-a-half’ – are all typical replies.

The difficulty here is simply one of perception; six feet to one man might look like six yards to the eye of a fellow shooter.

And is the distance stated in real terms, say actually six feet ahead of the clay, or what the amount of lead will look like to the naked eye from the stand in reality, say a couple of inches?

As such, and to try and get a bit of consistency, I reckon it would be much better if we refer to the angle of the muzzles, relative to the position of the bird, as we squeeze the trigger – rather than the actual or perceived distance the barrels are ahead of the target.

This must make things easier to comprehend, as the angle remains constant, irrespective of the distance between the gun and the bird.

And to try and make this concept even easier to grasp, rather than think in terms of actual angles, five, 10 or 20 degrees or whatever, I sometimes tell my pupils to try and imagine a clock face where the barrels are the hour hand.

Saying, ‘shoot at halfpast one’ is a darn sight easier to visualise than ‘give it 45 degrees!’

Give it a go yourself and see how you get on.

If there’s a group of you shooting a sporting layout I reckon it would be interesting for all concerned to hear how each member visualised the amount of forward allowance needed to smash particular targets.

We all learn from watching others shoot and receiving feedback so at the end of the day any help you can get to break more clays is a bonus!

Finally, however you choose to arrange the collision, and irrespective of how you describe the amount of lead you’re giving, there’s one factor that remains absolute.

You must keep the gun moving after pulling the trigger.

Stopping your swing is one of the most common reasons for missing targets.

If you stop the gun I can virtually guarantee you’ll miss behind!