Judging range - with Simon Ward
Mastering the art of judging range, line and speed is vital to good shooting, says Simon Ward.
To practice the accurate judging of range will be of great benefit whether you are shooting sporting clays, woodpigeons, or game in season.There are some simple exercises that will help. For instance when you are in the garden or maybe taking the dog for a walk in the countryside, make a quick assessment of how far an object is from where you are standing. And then pace it out.
Also try this... walk out ten paces from a tree, post or where your dog has been told to sit and stay. Look back at where you started from. Then walk another 10 paces, look back and keep doing the same at 10 pace intervals until you reach 100 paces. Also try looking up in the sky for an imaginary reference point each time you stop. This might all sound a little extreme, but I can assure you it will help your assessment of range greatly and as a consequence will help your shooting immensely.
This very same exercise can be done by shooting at a crossing clay pigeon, both right-to-left and left-to-right. I suggest standing at ten paces from at the 12o'clock position from where you intend to break the clay. Have ten shots, then walk back ten paces at a time out for up to 60 paces. Remember both right-to-left and left-to-right. This is a wonderful exercise for improving not only your skills of range judging, but also as learning and retaining lead pictures.
You only have to think about the amount of practice which pro' golfers put in to judging distances on driving ranges as well as on the course. Think how they choose a different club for a different shot - it is in effect like choosing a different lead picture for a more distant or nearer shot when shooting.
The only difference with shooting is that you won't have a caddy to discuss it with, so even more important that you improve your range judging with practice. Indeed with time and practice, judging range accurately will be done sub-consciously, and this is when your performance will rise to a different level.
Remember, when out game shooting, the skill of range judging is every bit as relevant whether too close or too far. People's perceptions vary enormously - someone might think a pheasant is 20 yards distant, while another would guess on 50 yards. But there is nothing worse than a pheasant or partridge rendered unfit for the table. So try to refrain from shooting at anything which is less than 20 yards from the gun end.
The average oak tree is 20 yards high, while a mature beech, on level ground, is 40 yards, so both will give a good indication of how high the birds are flying. But out in the open with no points of reference it is more difficult to assess range - it is here where the practice comes into its own.
When shooting look carefully at the bird coming towards you. Focus and sub-consciously think - how far? This will decide your forward allowance, or indeed if you should be shooting at all.
Talking of range...I had a most illuminating experience recently when I joined Dave Carrie to shoot some targets off the 45 yard high tower at Monckton Shooting Ground near Market Weighton, Yorkshire. Dave, you may recall, was featured in this magazine (Winter 2007) shooting 50 gram cartridges (to great effect) at stratospheric pheasants at Whitfield. This time we compared what could be achieved with 50 gram 3s and 28 gram 7s on long range shots. We ended up shooting the tower at 100 paces to the sides. It would have seemed impossible... I'll tell you what happened in our next issue.
When people ask me about shooting with full choked barrels, they also query whether this leads to hitting the birds too hard, making them unsaleable to the game dealer.
First and foremost full choke is essential for high bird shooting if you want good consistent kills. However for shooting hedgerow partridges a 1oz load of 7s through improved and quarter would be perfectly adequate. Incidentally, it is best to stick to your usual gun(s) and this is definitely where multi-chokes come into their own.
Tighter chokes are fine for general shooting. First and foremost, if you are a shooter of any experience then you will not be shooting birds on the end of your barrels. With grouse you will be seeing them and looking to take them well out in front. Consequently you mount on a grouse at 50 yards, and shoot at 45, in which case only a segment of the pattern will connect with the grouse.
Now the most important bit - I am always looking at the front end of a bird. This not only helps your success rate, it results in a clean shot, with minimum body damage.
Grouse and woodpigeon, with their wings flapping in flight, draw the shooter's eyes to the body area. Whereas pheasants and partridges are invariably gliding, in which case the eye of the shooter is much more easily focused on to the front end where the pilot sits.
In fact for all shooting, if you want to improve your performance then remember to look at the front end. I cannot stress this enough. When shooting, your focus should be concentrated solely on the head of the bird, placing the shot string in front so the bird flies into it, resulting in cleanly taken shots.
I'll admit that with full choke you need to be more accurate, but if the gun shoots where you are looking then the full choke is definitely not a handicap.
I had a client at the shooting school recently shooting a Miroku. He was hitting clays, but the breaks were inconsistent, often weak. His chokes were Skeet & Cylinder, so I suggested he put ¾ choke in his barrel. He looked at me as if to say “are you sure?” He shot the same clays at the same distance (around 30 yards) and they went to balls of dust. He couldn't believe it. Open chokes are OK at 20-25 yards, but beyond that tighter chokes are a must. You will see the difference on a clay pigeon - when shooting a full choke you will see precisely where your shot is in relation to the clay, whereas with an open choke you can chip bits of all parts of it, giving no indication of whether you are above, behind or below it.
I recently visited Perazzi in Italy for the first time to get a couple of new stocks for my guns. What an amazing experience. Though their sales are worldwide, it's a family run business, with Mauro Perazzi (son of the founder) very much hands on .
It is also a very slick operation with engineering and skill capabilities that hugely impressed an engineering colleague. I was also surprised at the amount of handwork which went into each gun, from actioners to barrel specialists, and checkerers to gunfitters.
All were clearly passionate and knowledgeable about their work. I was looking for two new stocks with an exact grip shape, so that the stock would perfectly fit my hand.
They did it while I waited, and the guy who dealt with me, Fabrizio Salvini, could not have been more helpful, putting cast into the stock by offsetting the comb rather than excessive cast at heel and toe. The end result was perfection.
They also have an indoor revolving pattern plate, right next to the gunfitting area. It is in a tunnel on rails. Quite brilliant.
Etiquette, gentlemen please...
Always be conscious that your gun can kill people too - never, ever swing through the line.