Game shooting solutions – part 3
Top game shooting instructor Simon Ward answers your questions.
Q) Why is it that the best Shots always look like they have all the time in the world? And how can I improve my gunmount and give myself more time?
A) The key is to train with a pair of snap caps. The fact is, it is much easier to mount a gun quickly by throwing it into your shoulder than it is to mount it with precision.
When you see someone shoot who looks like they have all the time in the world, they are actually mounting the gun at the same speed of the bird, relatively speaking. The key is that they have got their timing right – i.e. they don’t need to rush. Conversely, when you feel like you are rushing your gunmount, it is invariably because you aren’t watching the bird properly. You should move your hands to the bird at the same rate at which it approaches your kill window. So the speed of your mount – and swing – should match the speed of what you are shooting at.
In order to shoot consistently to a high standard, you must achieve a perfect gunmount every time; i.e. you must consistently connect your eyes and muzzles to the bird with pin-point accuracy. If your gun-pointing with your front hand – i.e. left hand for a right-handed Shot and vice versa for the left-hander – is in any way erratic as it connects onto the line of the bird, you will struggle to shoot with any degree of consistency.
And remember, if the gun is in the correct ‘address position’ as you wait for the bird – i.e. the muzzle should be just under your eyeline, and the butt under your armpit, touching your ribs – then it is a very short movement to mount the gun, no more than six inches, so there should be no need to rush.
Q) How do cartridges of different lengths vary in performance?
A) The down-range velocity will be slower in the shorter cartridge. As a consequence your perceived lead will be greater. It all really boils down to velocity, perceived lead and recoil felt when you are shooting.
Q) I do a lot of pigeon shooting, and my bogey bird, time and time again, is the bird that flies straight over my head, and away from me. How do I tackle these effectively?
A) The action of mounting the gun onto a dropping, going away bird, whilst remaining in a seated position, can be quite difficult to master, particularly for the experienced driven game Shot.
As is so often the case, practice is the key to mastering this shot. Firstly, you must get used to mounting the gun in a seated position, and then you need to focus on ensuring that your cheek remains on the stock as you push your hands downwards and onto the line of the bird. Snap caps are key as you must practice the shot from start to finish.
Q) After a season using heavier loads than normal for my game shooting, I have developed a slight flinch upon pulling the trigger. How do I remedy this?
A) If you have a flinch through shooting heavier loads, it could simply be that your gun is too light to handle them or you don’t have a recoil pad fitted. In other words, something is wrong. If you are going to shoot heavier loads, you MUST have a recoil pad, and your gun should be of sufficient weight to absorb the increased recoil.
But to get rid of a flinch, I would recommend using a set of snap caps to practice until you relax, and then start practising on clays with 21g loads until you are no longer flinching.
Q) Is there a quick, off-the-peg method of ascertaining whether a gun fits a person?
A) In terms of length, when you mount a gun to your cheek and shoulder, and you have to pull the gun into your shoulder, it is too short. If it hits your shoulder before your cheek, it is too long – i.e. it should hit your cheek and shoulder at the same time.
In terms of drop, mount the gun with your eyes closed and then open your eyes. If you open your eyes and find that you are looking at the top lever/safety catch, then the comb is too low. If you open your eyes and feel like you are looking up a ramp, then the comb it is too high. In terms of cast, if you open your eyes and find that you are looking down the left-hand-side of the rib (for a right-handed Shot), there is not enough cast on the gun. And if you end up looking down the right-hand-side of the rib, there is too much cast (vice versa for a left-handed Shot).
Obviously, this is a very rough guide to gunfitting. The truth is, the only way to ensure that your gun fits like a glove is to seek the advice of a professional gunfitter.
Q) I have booked a couple of days of walked-up grouse shooting this September, and although I am an experienced driven Shot, I have very little experience shooting walked-up game. Have you any advice?
A) Yes, I have three bits of advice. Firstly, get fit! Secondly, make sure you take some stout walking boots and gaiters, and thirdly, go to a shooting ground and practice going away, quartering birds. A going-away, walked-up grouse requires very quick reactions and an instinctive style of shooting, so practice is the key.
Q) I’m thinking about changing my 28" barrels on my over-under for a new set of 30" barrels. Is there anything I need to be aware of in terms of how this will affect the handling of the gun?
A) I actually think that most people tend to shoot more consistently with 30" barrels than they do with shorter barrels. Of course, there are certain instances when shorter barrels will be of an advantage – i.e. in Skeet or when shooting pigeons in a hide – but as a general all-round barrel length, I do think that you get the best of both worlds with 30" barrels.
The key is to go and do a litmus test at a shooting ground beforehand. Shoot 100 birds with 28" barrels and 100 birds with 30" barrels and see how you get on. It’s all about results and what works for you.
But if you do go up in barrel length, you will instantly find that you have to get the gun moving a little earlier, to get the momentum going. So the preparation and build-up needs to be considered. Shorter barrels are more manoeuvrable than longer barrels, but the latter will generate more momentum, like handling a carving knife and a sabre.
Q) In terms of grip, I have noticed that you hold your gun with the index finger of your front hand on the same side of the fore-end as your thumb. What is the reason for this, and what is the correct way to hold the fore-end?
A) How you grip the fore-end of your gun is a personal choice – there is no right or wrong way. Some very good Shots cup their fore-end in the conventional fashion – i.e. with four fingers on one side and the thumb on the other – while others like to rest their index finger underneath the fore-end, essentially pointing towards their target. Indeed, I find that I can point more accurately with my index finger on the thumb-side of the fore-end as I find this the most comfortable, natural grip on an over-under and, by having my index finger facing forward, i.e. pointing towards my target, it feels more precise and accurate.
Q) Please can you explain maintained lead and for which situations this might be more useful than my preferred style of pulling through from behind the bird?
A) Maintained lead is when you start your swing with the muzzles in front of the bird and keep them there from start to finish – i.e. you maintain your lead and move the gun at the same speed as the bird. ‘Sophisticated maintained lead’ is when you start in front of the bird and pull further ahead before taking the shot.
In game shooting, I use a range of different methods, including maintained lead, spot-shooting, pull-away and swing through methods, depending on the circumstances. There is no panacea, no one method that works for everything.
In terms of maintained lead, I have found it useful for high, crossing (particularly to the left for a left-handed Shot or right for a right-handed Shot) pheasants that are dropping from great height with a lot of speed – i.e. such as a bird that is driven from the top of a fell and heads for a wood behind and below you. In this instance, if you start your swing behind the bird, you never quite catch up with it in time, and you will tend to shoot over the top of it as its line is obscured by the barrels as you swing through.
The point is that you need a lot of time for this shot, and you also need the right line, you need lead and you need to pull away due to the bird’s speed and distance. So sophisticated maintained lead would be the most effective method in this case.
The key is to use the most effective method for the particular circumstances.
To view part 1, click HERE.
To view part 2, click HERE.