This month I’d like to look at a problem that I’m pretty sure is relatively common, but not something you often see mentioned in books and magazines – namely, how to achieve and maintain your scores when you’re using a new, or borrowed, gun.

Every year I recommend that game shooters should spend an hour or so on a clay ground to get their eye ready for the coming season. It makes good sense as achieving clean kills – whether game or clay – is paramount in the mind of every shooter.

In exactly the same vein, I know I remind readers constantly that it’s important to try and stick with a well-used, known tried and tested gun/cartridge combination so you can achieve consistent scores on the clay ground.

What would happen though if you were suddenly faced with using a different gun for a while? Say you’re shooting in a competition – you might even be winning – and, heaven forbid, one of the firing pins in your gun breaks in half. You’d have no option but to try and borrow a gun from another competitor to use for the rest of the event.

But how would you cope if the new gun is a side-by-side when you’ve been shooting an over and under for the past 20 or 30 years? Will this alter the way you shoot and what can you do to stay in a winning position? I realise this is an extreme example, but the premise remains true.

Alternatively, taking clay shooting out of the equation for a moment, maybe you enjoy a few driven or walked-up days every year and would appreciate the reduced weight of a side-by-side game gun.

A mate of mine has just bought a side-by-side for exactly this reason and it was his question about if he’d need to change his shooting style that prompted me to come up with this article.

Anyway, if you’re in a situation where you’re going to use two different types of gun – for whatever reason – here are a few pointers that might help?

Going from an over-under to a side-by-side might seem to be a radical change, but I reckon most of the perceived differences are in the shooter’s mind and not a physical factor. Of course, the barrels will be double the width, but you shouldn’t be concentrating on the muzzles anyway.

Shooting a side-by-side shotgun.

Obviously you have to be aware of them, with respect to where they are in relation to the target, but the crucial element is to focus on the bird and where it’s going.

The important thing to remember is that although the barrels are horizontally next to each other, in real life shooting situations they might just as well be on top of each other as in an over-under. The barrels are simply too close to make any real difference to busting any clay at a normal shooting distance.

In fact, in every test I’ve ever done (that’s not that many, admittedly) whenever you were to fire both barrels at a fixed point on a pattern plate at 20 yards the overlap of the patterns was almost identical – and certainly similar to those achieved when using an over-under in the same circumstances.

Young shot shooting an over-under.

With this in mind, based on my experience, I’m convinced that any perceived differences are all in the shooter’s head and nothing to do with the guns.

Firing a couple of shells at a pattern plate will not only tell you the spread of the patterns are similar from each barrel (choking aside) it will probably also show the average side by side shoots ‘flatter’ than a typical over-under. Only a gunsmith will tell you why the guns are made like this but I believe it goes back to the glory days of driven game, particularly grouse and partridge.

All the shooter needs to remember is that instead of the gun throwing lead at a ratio of 60% above the point of aim, the concentration of shot is going to be much nearer and grouped around the ‘actual’ point of aim. As such, you can clobber any true going away bird (one that’s not rising) simply by placing the target on the bead and pulling the trigger.

If you have to change guns in the middle of a competition
Try to borrow a gun with similar woodwork, with comparable stock length and cast.

If the discipline allows, shoot gun-up to alleviate any mounting errors.

Make sure the gun is choked the same as your old one – or as near as can be.

Ensure the gun is suitably chambered for your preferred choice of cartridge.

Never be tempted to borrow a gun that’s blatantly wrong for you – a right-handed shooter using a left-hander’s gun, for instance.

Remember the sight picture every time you fire the new gun. Repeat the process if you bust the clay, and try something different if you don’t!

Always use the rib as your starting point for ascertaining the height of the bird relative to the muzzles.

If you’re going to use a different gun for any length of time – game shooting in the winter, perhaps – experiment with different cartridge combinations before the start of the season. You’ll be surprised how you might have to compensate and get used to the lower weight, shorter barrels and possibly more kick from the gun. Never experiment when you’re shooting live quarry.

If you’re confident your gun mounting technique is consistent and you still feel there’s something not quite right, get yourself down to a gunsmith or a shooting ground that has the use of a try-gun. It’s surprising how just small adjustments to the cast, comb and stock length can make huge differences to the way the gun handles.

The majority of side-by-side guns have a double trigger. The back trigger always fires the left-hand barrel, the barrel that’s traditionally choked more tightly. Concentrate when you’re shooting. With practice you’ll be able to choose which barrel you’re going to fire – and a lot quicker than fiddling around with a little lever next to the top lever.

Also, and this is where the concentration comes in again, don’t forget you’ve got two triggers. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people trying to pull the same trigger twice, to no avail! Make a habit of taking your finger off the trigger, ready for the next shot, as soon as you fire one of the barrels.

If you’re using a side-by-side instead of your normal over-under, don’t worry. Simply treat every bird the same as you did before. Remember to use the bead on the rib as your reference point and, even more important, and especially for looping or crossing targets, don’t forget the gun will shoot flatter than your usual over-under.