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?
There are several reasons that these birds are missed. It could be because the shooter doesn’t have his face planted firmly on the stock, has incorrectly mounted the gun, forgets to aim in front of it before pulling the trigger, isn’t steady on his feet or mounts the gun too early.
Here are a few hints and tips to get you back on track!
The commonest reason high birds are 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, and this happens more often than you’d believe possible, the
shooter has simply thought ‘this appears really slow and easy’ and
didn’t give the bird the attention it deserved.
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.
Mount the gun correctly when you’re after high birds and you’re half way on the way to increasing your hit rates.
Irrespective of the type of bird, or the way it’s presented on a clay ground, the important thing to remember is the basic difference between clay and game. Literally seconds after a clay target leaves a trap it starts to slow down, it’s decelerating.
A flushed game bird, however, will be accelerating until it reaches its maximum flying speed – which it will maintain until it thinks it’s out of danger. Clays slow down, birds speed up. Forget this at your peril, as it’s important if you’re having a sharpener/tune up on clays before a driven day.
Shooting high birds is one area where a steady, methodical and calculated approach will pay dividends, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t scope for instinctive shooting. Shooting instinctively at a late-seen bird, for instance, will often reap results, but if you want to use this technique as your normal shooting style, you’ll find that you have to bide your time.
As we’ve said before, a high bird will usually be in view for quite some time, so don’t be tempted to mount the gun too soon. Do so and you’ll tend to aim at the bird, rather than getting in front of it before pulling the trigger. You’ll also find the gun will seem a lot heavier at the end of the day – holding it aloft for ages and then swinging it will cause no end of problems; your arms will ache, the muzzles will wobble all over the place and you’re more likely to lift your head off the stock.
For this exercise we’ll 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.
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!
Be ready to transfer your weight onto the back foot if necessary.
HIGH BIRD CHECKLIST
- 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.