Six of the best – part 1

sob_grousemainWhat is the most difficult shot in all of game shooting, and how do you master it? In the first instalment in this two-part series, we speak to six of the UK's finest game Shots to find out.

Jonathan Kennedy

sob_kenedyWhat is the most difficult shot in the book?

For me the most difficult shot in game shooting is a dropping grouse behind the butt, a bird that is falling with the contour (big wind, late season for good measure!). It could be either quartering or going straight, directly away from the butt.

sob_grouseWhat makes it so difficult?

First of all, safety. It is easier to be a good Shot behind if you start early, particularly when the birds are really moving. But you must wait until they are well out behind. Of course the intention is to shoot in front as much as possible, but sometimes they catch you out, or you are just trying for that extra one or two before they disappear. Shooting, to me, is all about making the most of the opportunities.

Top tips

It is so easy to shoot over the top even if the birds are not falling away. You have to swing strongly through and down, consciously, and keep going. Which is easier said than done!

What cartridge and choke combination would you recommend?

I nearly always use E. J. Churchill Hellfire or Gamebore Black Gold, 30g, No. 6 shot. Chokes are ¼ and ¾ – usually I fire the ¾ first.

Dave Carrie

sob_carrieWhat is the most difficult shot in the book?

A very high, driven pheasant that is screwing downwards at great speed. 

What makes it so difficult?

There is very little consistency to this bird because of its sheer height and downward speed. It is incredibly difficult to take out-front because of the angle and speed that it is travelling at, and for this reason, it is very difficult to get two good shots off. Even when you think you have cracked it, you can still miss the next 10 birds in a row, as I once did on Tommy's drive at Brigands, much to the delight of Gwyn Evans who was hiding behind a tree, laughing.

Top tips

You must change your technique from a straight driven shot to a crosser with built-in underneath lead and you must keep the gun moving at pace. A good way to judge the downward speed of these birds is break your gun (if your peg is not too busy) and use the rib as a straight edge to gauge the path and line of the bird. You will be very surprised how quickly it disappears below the rib – even birds that appear to be travelling in a straight line. Think about an aeroplane passing high above; it always appears to be above you and looks to be going so slowly, even though we know it is travelling at 650mph and is likely to be either descending or climbing.

What cartridge and choke combination would you recommend?

I use Gamebore Black Gold 42g No. 3s and 4s, and my barrels are 32" and choked ¾ and full. 

Peter Schwerdt

sob_schwerdtWhat is the most difficult shot in the book?

For me, it would have to be a very high 

(50-80 yard), curling, dropping, fast January pheasant. 

What makes it so difficult?

The combination of side-slip and speed. It may look straight, but it could be sliding half a yard for every couple of yards it travels forward. You see birds that get up and, although they head off in the direction of peg No. 2, end up over No. 6. It's all about line and shooting up one wing. As you shoot you see the bird pop out the side of the barrel. And invariably, just as you think you've got it nailed, you will miss the next 10. The fact that there is a lot to think about is what makes this bird such a challenge – you can't shoot it instinctively. But you do have to simplify things.

Top tips

Higher birds don't necessarily mean more lead. It's all relevant. It's built-in. Rather, it's all about line. Lead is, of course, a factor, but most people miss because of line. What you've got to do is really stare at the bird and watch its line as closely as possible. And if something isn't working, for God's sake try something different. And if you shoot slightly earlier, you will have time to adjust on your second shot. And, contrary to popular belief, you could be missing in front. Sometimes you have to cut down the lead. 

What cartridge and choke combination would you recommend?

My gun is choked full and ¾ and my favourite cartridge and load is Gamebore's Buffalo in 36g No. 4. 

Philip FusselL

sob_fussellWhat is the most difficult shot in the book?

A high, curling cock pheasant is always a real challenge. And the ‘easy' woodie over the decoys is probably missed more than most: it does a little flick just before you fire into thin air.

What makes it so difficult?

Pheasants flying straight shouldn't be missed, but with a curl, you really have to read the line very carefully or you'll miss to the side. It is all about learning to read the line of the bird.

Top tips

You've got to watch the bird: will it straighten, or keep curling? And then shoot at the right time. Inexperienced Guns may shoot too soon, but more often than not, they will leave it far too late.

What cartridge and choke combination would you recommend?

In terms of choke, I've always used full and full, and in my 20 bore now, I'll use 30g No. 5s for really high pheasants. Very tight chokes may be too unforgiving for less experienced Shots, though.

George Digweed

sob_digweedWhat is the most difficult shot in the book?

I would say that the most missed shot of all is the second barrel of a right-and-left on pigeons. 

sob_pigeonsWhat makes it so difficult?

Obviously the first shot you make, provided they haven't seen you, is a fairly straightforward one. But with the second shot, the bird is invariably aware of your whereabouts and departing with speed. And, depending on the wind and whether you are decoying or flighting them, their reaction will vary greatly – they may climb and flip, carry on in the same direction or change course completely. Will they jink, dive or roll? Who knows. Probably all of the above! 

Top tips

Kill the farthest bird with your first shot while it is on a more straight and consistent line, which will give you more time to be able to read your second bird. Make sure you keep as still as possible for that first shot because it will make your second shot easier or more difficult. And be aware of where they are exiting – i.e. the direction they are likely to head when you take the first shot. Indeed, think about the conditions and how they might affect the pigeons' behaviour. 

What cartridge and choke combination would you recommend?

My Perazzi has 32" barrels choked full and full, and I use Gamebore Pigeon Extreme, 34g No. 5s. The longer barrels allow you to be smooth and to take your time on the second shot. 

Philip Thorrold

sob_thorroldWhat is the most difficult shot in the book?

In my view, there is no such thing as a most difficult shot. This is because when we use our instincts, all shots appear as if they are happening in slow motion, and then afterwards we can't understand what happened and why. So any shot, once mastered, is no longer difficult. Those who don't understand this call it luck, those who do understand it call it focus.

But why do some shots seem more difficult?

There are two reasons why any shot may be considered fairly straight-forward by one person and impossibly difficult by another. First and foremost, the bird's movement and line aren't read properly before mounting the gun and you simply shoot in the wrong place. There is a tendency to become preoccupied with the gun and cartridges instead of studying exactly what the bird is doing. The bird is trying to avoid being shot; it's purely instinctive. They may twist, dive, curl or accelerate and move up and over the line of Guns, so it's really important to read the line of the bird.

The next reason some Guns find certain birds difficult is a simple lack of practice. Top shooters handle their guns most days, even if it is just to mount the gun for five minutes in the morning or evening. This builds muscle memory so that the shooter can mount his or her gun perfectly in a split-second without thinking about it, which allows him/her to stay focused on the bird.

Top tips

Clay targets that simulate gamebirds are great practice for shooters who can't afford to spend as much time as they would like game shooting. This will give them an idea of the lead and the different body/gun movements they will need to take on the real thing. I've been on some lovely shoot days and seen Guns pack-up and not enjoy the day in any way, only because they haven't done any practice or preparation before the day. Shooting game is an art of timing, balance, focus, concentration and knowledge of your quarry. 

What cartridge and choke combination would you recommend?

I use Cheddite cartridges because they are very reliable, very quick and have a range that covers every level. Shot size and load will depend on the size and the distance of the bird. For partridges, I use 28" barrels, choked ¼ and ½ with 28g No. 6s. But for high pheasants in Devon or Yorkshire, where the range will be in excess of 40m, I will use a minimum of 32g No. 4s. Although for very high birds, 35g No. 3s or even 2s would be preferable. 

I use 30" barrels, choked ¾ and full, or ½ and full. 

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