Game shooting solutions – part 2
Leading shooting instructor Simon Ward answers your questions and offers his advice for overcoming some common game shooting dilemmas.
Q I shoot with an over-under and struggle with dead straight driven birds as I find it difficult to judge the amount of forward allowance required. I find birds that are slightly to the left or right of my peg a lot easier. What might I be doing wrong?
A This is not uncommon. There is a tendency to momentarily stop the gun as you swing through a straight driven bird, just as it disappears behind the barrels. Some people find it disconcerting shooting at a bird they can't see and will instinctively stop their swing as they lose sight of the bird, even for just a brief moment. But stopping your swing at any point will, in most cases, cause you to miss behind.
But there is a simple solution. For the right-handed Shot (reverse for a left-handed Shot), I would recommend learning to bring your line of swing up the right-hand-side of the bird, so that you don't lose sight of it at any point. A bit like overtaking a car in the middle lane, you need to gauge the speed and line of the bird, pull out alongside it and go past it on the outside before coming back onto the correct line. You will instinctively pull back in front of the bird when you have achieved the right amount of lead. This is the most effective way of shooting straight driven birds, and is particularly effective for those who have to close an eye, such as a right-handed, left-eye dominant Shot. As always, practise this method on clays first, starting with low to medium straight driven targets, and then progress to clays from the high tower.
Q I have been told that shooting clays could actually be detrimental to my success when game shooting, as clays are slowing down when you shoot at them, whereas game is typically speeding up or at least maintaining speed when it crosses the line. Is there any truth in this?
A I have heard this theory too. Admittedly, clays will never perfectly imitate live quarry, but there is no question that, come the start of the new game shooting season, the Gun who has practised on clays through the summer or autumn will outshoot the game Shot who hasn't picked up their gun since the end of January.
But my feeling is that with the advent of modern traps, clays can now be presented with sufficient speed to imitate live quarry accurately enough to be of great benefit to the game Shot. These clays are coming out of the trap at up to 80mph and by the time they reach you, they are travelling at very similar speeds to driven partridges or pheasants. If needs be, you can always stand a bit closer to a high tower at which range the clay will be travelling fast enough to imitate even the fastest driven pheasant. Practice is always better than no practice.
Q During the off-season, are there any routines that I can follow with an unloaded gun at home to aid my shooting when on the peg?
A Definitely. Start off by getting yourself a pair of snap caps and practising your footwork, balance and smooth gun mounting skills so that your gun feels like an extension of your arm for 12 months of the year. It's all about muscle memory. Going through the motions of actually taking a shot – taking off the safety catch, mounting smoothly and ensuring that the gun keeps moving – can be hugely beneficial. Come the shooting season, you won't have to think about your feet, hands or swing. The key is to actually visualise a bird in the air and to pull the trigger whilst ensuring that you keep the gun moving.
It's one thing to dry mount your gun to a stationary target – which will keep your mount smooth – but keeping your swing fluid and well rehearsed is the key. You can have 100 – 150 shots a night and it won't cost you a penny! Come the start of the shooting season, everything will seem natural and the gun will feel like a part of you.
Q I sometimes find that I end up with a bruised third finger on my right hand (I am a right-handed Shot, and shoot with a side-by-side with double triggers). What causes this?
A This could be caused by a number of things. It could be the fact that the front trigger is set too far forward for the length of your trigger finger. If this is the case, you will invariably be stretching for the front trigger and your middle finger will be butting up against the trigger guard. You can go to a reputable gunsmith and have the trigger blade heated up and bent further back so that you won't have to extend so far forward to reach it.
Alternatively, it could be because the measurement from the breech face to the nose or front of the comb is too short, which will cause your trigger hand to be pushed too far forward and you will end up with the trigger near the second joint in your index finger. Remember, you should be pulling the trigger with the fleshy pad at the end of your index finger. The solution to this would be to take a little bit off the front of the nose of the comb which will give your hand more space.
You want a gap of at least 1/8" between the back of the trigger guard and your third finger when the gun is mounted. If you have particularly thick fingers or large hands, this measurement may need to be increased.
Q I have been shooting for over 20 years, but since changing from a side-by-side to an over-under two years ago, I have found that I often end up with a bruised cheek at the end of the day, even when I am shooting really well. I never had this problem with my side-by-side. What am I doing wrong?
A Again, this could be one of many things. Firstly, it could be a simple gunfit issue: i.e. the stock could be too short, or the comb height may be too low which tends to induce head-lifting. If you start lifting your head, your cheek will lose contact with the stock and the recoil will give you a jolt. It could also be a mixture of both. The first thing I would do is to take your gun to a reputable shooting school and have an instructor look at your gunfit. The solution could be as simple as a quick comb height adjustment or the fitting of a recoil pad.
It could also be caused by using loads that are too heavy for your gun. Rememebr, not all guns are designed to handle very heavy loads. As a rule of thumb, a 7lb gun will handle up to 30g of No. 5s or 4s. An 8lb+ gun should be able to handle anything up to 36g.
Q For the past few years, I have occasionally suffered from trigger freeze. It seems to happen for no apparent reason. What causes this and what can I do to remedy it?
A Trigger freeze can be a complicated issue. It tends to be caused by fear of missing or anticipation and fear of recoil. The underlying cause can be something as simple as hard trigger pulls or triggers with drag or creep. A delay between pulling the trigger – i.e. the moment when you expect the shot to go off – and when it actually goes off can be a distraction. It's down to whatever you are used to. As soon as you start to think about the shot rather than the bird, you are going to be distracted and put off by it. Equally, a too light trigger has the same effect.
I have experienced trigger freeze after a busy session on the doves in Argentina. My body was instinctively stopping me from pulling the trigger out of fear of recoil. It is a self-protection mechanism that is almost impossible to control.
Regarding fear of missing, if you are anxious, you will unknowingly start to hyperventilate and hold your breath as you are about to take the shot. As a result, your body locks up as you hold your breath. Here's a tip: open your mouth as you take the shot. If you watch video footage of a top clay Shot such as George Digweed, look at his mouth. It will be slightly open as he takes this shot because he will be controlling his breathing. Not even George Digweed can perform at his peak if he isn't breathing!
The solution is to do some gentle breathing exercises – in through your nose and out through your mouth – until you feel relaxed. Above all else, keep breathing! The natural flow of movement will stop as soon as you stop breathing.
Q With the continuing trend towards higher birds, we are seeing more and more 32 and even 34” barrels on driven days. Do you think that longer barrels really make such a difference? I still shoot with 28” barrels, and I seem to get on okay. Would I notice a big difference if I bought a second set of 30 or 32” barrels for higher birds?
A I would argue that you would definitely notice a difference between 28 and 30” barrels on higher birds. In addition, you will be able to handle heavier loads as there will be less muzzle flip, and 30 or 32” barrels have better point-ability at longer birds.
But do a simple litmus test. Go along to a shooting school with a high tower and have 50 shots with your own gun and then a very similar gun with 30 or 32” barrels and see how you get on.
Q Do you feel the development of cartridges is still evolving or have they generally reached their optimum performance in your opinion.
A I would argue that all of the top cartridge manufacturers are continually striving to improve their cartridges by making small improvements to all of the different components: cases, shot, primers, wads, powders etc. Collectively, these changes will amount to a noticeable difference. All cartridges go bang, but some definitely perform better, no question about it. You don't just want a cartridge that kills well, you want consistency too, in terms of pattern, velocity, clean ejection from the gun, etc.