How to return from bad form
Simon Ward shares his advice for getting back on track in game shooting after a slump of bad form.
We’ve all experienced it at one time or another. Just when your biggest days of the season are approaching, you suddenly find your form has taken a dip and you are missing far more birds than you should be. It can be highly frustrating because you know you are capable of shooting to a much higher standard.
The truth is, you have become a member of a surprisingly large club. Yes, the problem is very common. And there is good news: in all likelihood, it is easily cured.
You may have started your season with grouse, then partridges at which you have probably become pretty proficient. And therein lies the root of the problem – partridges tend to be easier to shoot than pheasants.This is largely due to the fact that they are smaller and consequently give the impression of flying faster – they certainly look a whole lot quicker than a big cock pheasant as they energetically power over the Guns, wings flapping, with lots of momentum. Pheasants, on the other hand, tend to set their wings and then glide, giving the impression that they are going slowly. It can look so easy, but those set wings are deceptive – they’re not only faster than partridges, but there is likely to be a bit of drift and curl on their line of flight. When shooting partridges, because they are small, you will naturally (correctly) lock onto the beak, whereas with the size of a pheasant, your eye tends to be drawn to its body, which immediately puts you at a disadvantage. Add to this – because of the pheasant’s apparent lack of speed – the tendency to stop your gun as you take the shot, forgetting the all-important follow through as the initial movement of the gun will have been negated, and the result is a miss behind.
As long as your gun fits you properly, you really shouldn’t have any issues with straight driven birds, providing you stick to the mantra of ‘feet-hands-follow through’. In other words, as the bird approaches you, move your feet into the correct position (where you expect to complete the shot), and then, using your hands to mount and guide the barrels onto the bird, take the shot, keeping the gun moving until you see the bird start to fall.
In other words, in order to get over a slump, you’ve got to go back to the basics. It is amazing how bad habits can creep in, particularly when you may have got away with it when shooting partridges. Without realising it, you have probably started poking or stopping the gun.
But the birds which tend to really find you out are the left-to-right crossers (for right handers – the opposite for left handers). If you are not taking the shot correctly, you may find yourself pushing the gun stock off your face, guaranteeing a miss.
Instead, remember the mantra for crossers ‘feet-hands-hips’ . Yes, hips, for having established where your shot will be taken, your hands will guide your gun, while your hips will move your body to the perfect position for taking the shot and ensure that you follow through. But remember the follow through – it is crucial.
Practice with snap caps in the comfort of your home. A good instructor will put you right, but don’t think that buying a box of clays with which to shoot yourself back into form will work – it won’t; you will simply practice bad habits. Instead, think ‘feet-hands-hips’. And those magic words ‘follow through’.
Remember not to store shotgun cartridges in a cold building or leave them in the car on a cold night. Gunpowder is very porous and any dampness will lead to poor performance, dirty barrels and lots of unburnt powder around the gun’s action.
Another reminder... don’t forget to take some non-toxic shot cartridges with you just in case there’s a duck drive. Whatever we think of the law, it is a law we must abide by. There will be people looking for dead or wounded duck carrying lead shot. Don’t let it be your fault.
Two eyes only – really?
I was surprised to read an article recently which argued that in order to shoot consistently well, you should shoot with both eyes open. As we all know, an awful lot of instructors have for years advocated this, but only when it is appropriate for the shooter in question – i.e. if he or she has perfectly balanced vision. However, for the many right-handed Shots who are left eye dominant (and vice versa), shooting with both eyes open may not be the best option. One way round this is to close the dominant eye (left eye for a right-handed Shot, right eye for a left-handed Shot) as the bird reaches the area at which the shot is to be taken. The other option, if you can’t close one eye, is to paint a black spot on the relevant lens of a pair of shooting glasses or use a Shotspot (a translucent foil disc that is placed over the lens).