This article is dedicated to my personal friend and Coaching Mentor, Roger Silcox, who I worked for at the Roses Wood Shooting School from 1991 to 1993 full time, and then as a Locum Coach till 1998 when he retired.
I am privileged to have been granted permission to use extracts from the instructional video “Shooting Straight”, which I assisted in the making of in 1991, to illustrate this article. I will forever owe this great man an immeasurable debt of gratitude in making me the Coach that I am today.
Image (above) - Roger Silcox, Life President of the Institute of Clay Shooting Instructors, Senior C.P.S.A. Staff Tutor (Retired).
Shooting a ”Straight” round of skeet or trap and walking away from a Sporting stand with a full scorecard of hits, is the ultimate goal of all Clay shooters and then developing the ability to be able to repeat it consistently becomes the next challenge we all face.
So far in this series I have covered the crucial importance of correct gun mount, gun fit and looked at the various different systems used to apply forward allowance, “Lead”, to a moving target, and in the last issue of Hunting & Safari we began to look at the advantages of shooting “Gun Down’ for Sporting Clays. So in this article I will expand on developing this technique and look at how to apply it when faced with a wide variety of targets.
However, before moving into the detail of this subject, it’s important at this stage to take a look at the one vital and often overlooked weapon in the shooters armoury, that enables us to successfully place a cloud of pellets on the anticipated flight path of a moving target and that is our natural ability to “Point”.
Now the problem we have all experienced at some time, is that when out shooting our shotgun the Brain, our “On Board Computer”, finds it difficult to accept that all we need to do is “Point”, because it already comes with an in built Program (Conscious thought) that tells us when shooting a Gun to hit a target, we must be accurate and so we should take deliberate aim. This we all know does not work on moving targets, as if we aim, it means stopping the movement of the barrels at the moment of squeezing the trigger, whilst the clay continues to fly on, resulting in missing the target behind, as we have just placed our cloud of pellets “where the targets been, not where it’s going”. This is where, from the last article, the simple system of the “3P’s” becomes so relevant, just “Pick it up, Point at it, Pull away!
When shooting a moving target we have to make quick, accurate assessments of target behavior, we have to evaluate speed, height and direction in an efficient consistent manner and to do this; we can use our remarkably accurate ability to point without conscious thought.
Image (right) - This shooter is using his front hand, the one that guides the gun, to point at the target, so he can assess speed, height, distance and line.
By pointing your finger directly at the target and moving with it, allows the dominant eye to pass information to the brain that it will need to plan the correct physical response you will have to generate with your gun, so you can mirror the targets behavior (Speed & Line) and make successful contact with it.
In my opinion carrying out this simple pointing exercise is an absolute must for “Sporting Clay” shooters before they go onto a stand to shoot a combination of targets for the first time. Unlike “Skeet “shooters, who are dealing with Clays that are on a predetermined and precisely aligned flight path, that are shot in a set sequence. Those that shoot Sporting Clays face the challenge of a course that has a variety of targets, all with differing backdrops and these can include: a rabbit clay thrown along the ground in woodland, to targets launched into featureless sky from a high tower.
Baring in mind that our brain uses background objects as reference points from which to judge speed and distance, taking the time to “Point” directly at the clay (the base point) once or twice, will give you the advantage of making sure your equipped with all the information about the targets behavior before you step up to the stand and call “Pull”.
As shown in the previous picture, it’s vital when carrying out this exercise that you use the forefinger of your front hand, as this is the motive force in lifting the gun and pointing the barrels directly at where your eye is looking. This is why I strongly advocate to pupils that the front hand forefinger is placed directly under the Forend of the gun and not beside it, as you see many other shooters do.
Placing the finger underneath not only efficiently directs the gun to the point of contact it also has the added by product of keeping your front hand elbow down at a more natural angle that helps to support the weight of the barrels and allows you to move your front hand freely in both directions.
So when we shoot gun down, what in fact we are doing is pointing but with 6.5bs/3kg of shotgun in our hands and with an average 30”/76cm length extended front finger. To do this efficiently we have to use our arms combined with the upper body’s ability to move(turn) in a 90% arc through your leading hands shoulder when standing with the feet placed shoulder width apart.
Place them any wider and this will actually restrict your movement and closer together will make your stance unstable.
Feet should be placed only shoulder width apart.
Holding the gun in a natural manner against your body with the barrels placed parallel to the ground, you will find that the barrels (as in the picture below) are in line with your front foot; this indicates the centre of the arc of movement and instinctively tells you where to line up your body with the chosen target break point and to get the maximum use of your 90%.
This gives the shooter a movement of 45% to left or right to pick up the target and then 45% of movement for the follow through or swing on, after the gun is placed in the face and the trigger is squeezed.
45% Pick up & approach to Target Centre Shoot & Break Point 45% Follow Through
One very important point to remember, is that if you are right handed and you are shooting a target coming from the left, this is a more awkward/restrictive movement for your body to make so to compensate for this you will need to place your body line accordingly, so that you can generate sufficient movement to get ahead of the target and still have enough room left for the swing on. In simple terms, for a right hander, shooting a left to right crossing bird, he/she will need to add up to 50% more lead (or energy) than when shooting the same target coming from his/her right to left. Of course the reverse applies to a left handed Shot.
So how does this arc of movement relate to shooting “Gun Down”, well let’s look at the sequence again:
Picture 1. (below) Shows the start of the Mount, this is the point the barrels are placed on the targets flight path, so once the eye has picked up the target, the movement begins and the gun comes up from under the flight path and converges with it on a flat diagonal approach.
Picture 2. (below) This is the moment the Gun comes into the face at exactly the same time as the barrels make contact with the target, the trigger is squeezed as the stock locks into the shoulder pocket and the accelerating movement of the gun achieves the lead required automatically.
Picture 3 (below). Is the “Follow Through” or “Swing On” after the shot is taken, ensuring the barrels remain ahead of the target.
1. Start of Mount & Approach 2. Gun Comes up to the Face 3. Follow Through/Swing On.
It is important to remember that the moment the gun hits the shoulder your movement will immediately slow down, it’s like putting the brakes on, so for each second you end up riding the target with the gun mounted, trying to “Make Sure” of a lead picture, you are setting yourself up for a “Miss”.
Over my time as an Instructor I have had many clients arrive at the shooting school and when asked if they shoot Gun Up or Down, they replied “Gun Down”. But when I watched them shoot, the Gun was mounted as soon they called Pull and then they proceeded to attempt to achieve their preferred method of lead with gun in their shoulder. This meant the mount was rushed and normally incorrect making it a completely pointless exercise; they would have been far better off premounting the gun and getting set, before they called for the target.
The reason most untrained shooters, who have never had a lesson with a Qualified Instructor do this, is because they have watched an experienced shooter, shooting Gun Down and seen just how much time they have to make the shot. Because they are more intent on watching to see if the target breaks they fail to observe that the shooters gun mount was one flowing smooth movement, with the gun coming into contact with the face and shoulder only long enough for the trigger to be pulled.
A Gunmount must be one movement that achieves speed, direction,line and lead on the target, all before the stock makes contact with the face and then the shoulder.
The following diagrams show the difference between what can incorrectly be perceived as shooting “Gun Down” and the correct method of Shooting “Gun Down”.
Also you should not rush the mount, take it slow, relaxed and easy. When you take a shot at any target, be it close and fast or at long distance, the first fraction of a second of your gun mount should be in "Slow Motion", so it gives the brain time to calculate the targets speed, distance and line, remember the eye is judging this by comparing it with background reference points so it needs some time (milliseconds) to do this. You must start the movement the moment the eye locks on to the target, you must “Participate” with the target not “Spectate” by just standing there watching it, otherwise your movement will be out of "Sync" and you will find it hard, if not impossible, to make accurate contact with the bird.
So now give this a try when practicing, "Slow Motion Start" (and it really needs to be slow motion, much more than you think), remember you can pick up speed much easier than you can slow down,
especially if you are using a 30”/76cm or 32”/81cm barrels, which will generate a considerable natural swing. Also doing this will develop your personal "Discipline" and will give you "The Time" to take full control of the situation, so you are now in command of the shot and you are now turning an "Instinctive Reaction" into a "Positive Controlled Response" to the targets behavior (Its speed, distance and angle).
The great advantage of shooting gun down is that it gives the shooter the ability to move the gun freely in any direction whilst it is out of the shoulder, so should the targets speed and line change during flight then a movement can be achieved to mirror the targets behavior. More importantly it now provides the ability for the shooter to dismount the gun after shooting the first bird in a report pair in order to efficiently address the second target by placing the barrels at the right point to pick the target up and at an elevation that brings the gun up to make contact in that flat diagonal approach. This is not an option for the gun up shooter, who will be trying to achieve the same but is hindered by being able to move using only the body and not the arms.
For example- a high driven target followed on report by a fast left to right crossing bird, once the driven target has been shot the gun can be dismounted from the shoulder and the barrels lowered to the correct muzzle pick up point just below the flight line of the of the crossing target. As the body makes a quarter turn to the break point of the second target the eyes go to the visual pick up point, the bird is acquired with the muzzles, the gun comes up into the face and the shoulder as the right lead picture is achieved and the trigger pulled. The physical effort the “Gun Up” shooter needs to put into the same sequence of shots is substantially more demanding as their ability to move the gun is so much more restricted with the gun pre-mounted in the shoulder. Also in all probability the gun up shooter will lift the head away from the stock after the first shot to visually re-acquire the second target and waste valuable time in realigning the dominant eye with the rib of the gun before attempting to establish contact and correct lead.
Look at the following sequence of pictures showing Roger Silcox shooting a climbing Teal target which shows the ease and economy of movement that is required to make contact and successfully break the target:
Picture 1. (below) - This shows the correct start position, the gun is down far enough to generate a physical movement that corresponds to how far the target is away from the shooter and the barrels are at an elevation that allows the approach on that flat diagonal line bringing the barrels up to make contact from underneath.
Picture 2. (below) - Having called for the target the mount is now in progress, notice how the shooters eye is locked on the target and the arms are bringing the gun up to the face and the shoulder instinctively.
Picture 3. (below) - The mount has now been correctly achieved with the gun coming up into the face and then the shoulder at exactly the same time as the barrels have made contact with the target.
Picture 4. (below) - All that now has to be done to break the target is for the trigger to be squeezed and success is achieved.
Being able to shoot gun down at Sporting Clays gives the shooter a distinct advantage, as this discipline has its roots in shooting live targets which demands the ability to move the gun freely and of course shooting Gun Down is a must for those wanting to shoot the Discipline of F.I.T.S.C. Sporting as well as Olympic Skeet. A Shotgun is not a Rifle and was not designed to be used in the same way; this is why so many rifle shots when turning to Clay Shooting decide to shoot one of the Trap disciplines, as this is the closest they can get to use their familiar “comfort zone skill” of “Aiming”.
It is crucially important before attempting to shoot gun down; that the “Gun Mount” is perfected and is instinctive, as the Dismount of the Gun is equally important to the shot as the mount itself, especially when shooting at report pairs.
As I was told by my mentor Roger, “You don’t miss them because you can’t hit them; you miss them because you’re not doing it right”, so, now you are armed with that marvelous natural ability to “point” and have the technical skill to apply it, you can go out to the range knowing that when you hit that Clay it’s because you are doing it RIGHT!.
Remember, Good Shooting & Safe Shooting Are No Accident!
Best wishes... Keith..