One of the things that often let’s down the average shooter is not really knowing what the target is doing before they call “Pull!”
How many times have you got on a stand, called for the first pair and promptly missed them, because you didn’t know what they were doing? By the time you’ve got them sorted out you’re usually two or three clays down. This is a bigger problem than it used to be in times gone by, when most 100 bird shoots were one over 10 stands of 10. Losing two birds was only 20% overall, which would still just about get you into A class. But now that shoots are being put on over more stands with fewer targets for each, the overall percentage of loss goes up quite considerably. Say you miss two targets on a stand of six. All of a sudden your loss rate is up to 33%, which means you’ll never get far above the dead centre of B class.
So how do we overcome this problem, get ourselves a few more targets and progress into “A” class? The first thing we must do is watch the target, by which I don’t mean watch it break, I mean watch its line, look at what it’s doing. This is the sequence I like to teach on how to read a target. First of all, sort out where you want to break it. Find your “sweet spot” where you’ll be most comfortable landing that crucial impact, and remember, always try and break targets that are still under power. In these cases the lead will only be one-dimensional i.e. you’ll only have to allow for the clay’s forward trajectory. If a target is starting to lose power and dropping out of the sky, the lead becomes two-dimensional i.e. you’ll have to factor in its movement forward and downwards all at once. It helps to cut out as many variables as possible.
Once we know where we want to break the target, this determines how we stand to address it. We must be balanced at the point of break. This gives us approximately 90 degree arc of free movement without rolling our shoulders: 45 degrees to pick up the target, balanced when we pull the trigger, and 45 degrees to swing out or follow through after we have made the shot without losing the line.
When you have your breakpoint sorted out, look at where the target is coming from. Get its line. Pointing at targets will be a big help, but don’t just look at the target make a note of what your hand is doing, as this will show you the target’s trajectory in relation to the background. Quite often a clay that looks like its flying flat will actually be rising or falling, depending on the lie of the land. Pointing will always show you what the target is doing. Some course builders are accomplished at using the background to disguise what a target is really up to, and the slope of a hill, the line of a hedge or some distant power-line can all trick the shooter into thinking the elusive clay is doing something it isn’t.
Once the break-point and target-line have been established, we need to work out two further points along the target’s flight path. The first is our visual pick up point (VP), which is where we first see the target clearly - in other words, not as a flash or a blur, but clear and in focus. Next, we need to find our muzzle pick-up point (MP). The difference between the VP and MP is our reaction time. If we wait with our gun at the visual pick-up point, by the time we react to the target it will have already passed us, leaving us no option but to shoot swing-through with no control. That’s why we need to know our reaction time, so here’s how to measure it.
This exercise is done without your gun. The next time you’re at your club, call for a target and establish your VP (where you see the target clearly). Soft focus into the VP while holding your leading hand (the hand that holds the fore-end of the gun) ready at about waist height. Call for another target, and in one smooth movement point directly at it with an extended arm… and freeze! The distance between the VP and where you are now pointing will determine your reaction time. Do this a few times on different targets and you’ll soon get to know what your reaction time is. And now you know your MP a target should never beat you, giving you the choice to shoot it with whatever method you choose to obtain lead.
Now that our breakpoint, VP and MP have been established, we need to pick objects in the background to give us some reference points to where we should be looking and waiting. Look below your visual pick-up point and choose something to mark this position - a tall tree, a fencepost, a building on the horizon, anything that gives you point of reference so that you look into the same spot for every target. Do the same for your MP and break-zone. You’re more likely to start and finish in the same place if, once again, you cut out the variables.
When you’ve worked all this out and are confident that when you go up to shoot you’ll be standing in the correct place and also looking at the correct place, all you need is a routine to make sure all the above are put to good use. Follow this sequence for every shot, and if any part of it is not right then stop and start again, so that everything is perfect before you call “pull”. Remember, most targets are missed because the beginning is wrong. Here is the sequence I teach, and if adhered to it will cut out all the variables and work no matter what method you shoot, whether it’s swing-through, pull-away or maintained lead. That’s because all of these rely on your knowing where you’re going to break the target, your visual and muzzle pick-up points.
So, once you’re in the stand, mount the gun into the break-zone even if you’re a gun-down shooter. This allows you to check your eye-rib alignment (your gun mount), and also whether you’re balanced at the point of break. If you’re not comfortable, move your feet so you’re balanced at the break-zone. And remember, positive mental attitude. Say to yourself: “This is where I’m going to break the target,” not “this is where I might miss the target.”
Then wind back to the muzzle pick-up point with the gun still in the shoulder. This is muscle memory; you’re showing your body what you want it to do. As soon as you are at the MP, no more checking. Soft focus into the distance at the VP (at this point the gun-down shooter should drop the gun out of his shoulder) and call pull. Remember to look, then call pull, not the other way around as a lot of average shooters do. They’re usually still checking the gun-mount when they call pull, and that should have all been done at the breakpoint. Always soft focus as far away as possible at the VP, because human vision comes back into focus quicker than it goes out. If you’re soft focused as far away as possible the target will appear in between you and the soft focus point, which means you’ll see it quicker.
So, to recap, this is what we’ve learned about how to read a target. Before you get into the stand:
• Find your visual pick-up point where the target comes into focus
• Work out your muzzle pick-up point, your reaction time
• Know the line of the target, where it’s coming from and what it’s doing, and don’t let the background trick you.
• Determine your break-point
Once you’re in the stand:
• Stand balanced at the point of break
• Mount your gun into the break zone, and check gun-mount and stance
• With the gun still in the shoulder, wind back to the muzzle pick-up point (drop the gun out of the shoulder now if you’re shooting gun-down)
• Soft focus into the visual pickup point and call pull (look then call, not call then look).
Ahead Of The Game Shooting School,
Part of “Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”, Coaching series.