How you assess a target will mean the difference between addressing it correctly or missing it completely.
By Mark Russell
Thursday, 19 April 2012
Last month we looked at a few 'firsts' in the shooting world, safety first, first gun, first targets and the like. Carrying on from this I'd like to reconsider how we actually hit our targets.
Clay shooting lessons.
What makes us pull the trigger when we do and where should the gun be pointing when we do so?
With two variables that are moving - the target itself, and the stream of shot - how do we learn to pull the trigger at exactly the right moment when the barrels are pointing in exactly the right direction.
Why is it that doing everything in a certain way means you can usually hit a crossing target, say, but utilising the same techniques on a quartering, going away bird ends up with a line of zeroes on your scorecard?
The difference is generally put down to our ability to ‘read' a target, and this is what I'd like to concentrate on this month.
Like almost everything else in life, if you practice a lot more than your mates, you'll generally end up being better than them.
It doesn't matter whether it's football, poker or synchronised swimming, practice makes perfect.
And shooting is a typical example. But don't despair, after seemingly trying everything to dust more targets you're still not alone in wondering how on earth you can improve your scores.
After all, you've spent ages in front of a mirror perfecting your gun mounting technique, a small fortune on having your gun fitted properly and scores of hours down at the range attempting to hit targets.
Although I'm sure this will result in a degree of improvement, for a dramatic increase in your hit rate you really need to know where to point the gun - and why you're doing so - before you pull the trigger!
This is where being able to ‘read' a clay is so important.
Let's have a quick recap on the basics. Irrespective of the type of target presented, it will always travel at several feet per second, as will the stream of shot from your gun, albeit this will be a damn sight faster.
With this in mind all you've got to do to kill the bird is arrange a collision and make sure the target hits the stream of shot.
Now you really don't have to be Brain of Britain to realise that you'll always have to be shooting slightly ahead of the target to ensure a hit because if you've aimed at the bird, by the time the shot reaches the initial position the clay will have moved on.
Aim at the bird and you'll miss behind. Pull the trigger when the muzzles are ahead of the bird and the clay will run into the stream of shot, resulting in a broken clay.
But where do you point the muzzles of the gun as you pull the trigger? Obviously it's got to be in front of the clay to arrange the collision, but where exactly?
With certain disciplines, skeet for example, a clay is much easier to read as the targets always travel on an identical flightpath and at the same speed.
With sporting layouts, however, every stand can be different so the ability to read a target effectively is a skill worth practicing.
One of the most important aspects of reading a target is forward planning, and by that I mean concentrating on how the bird is presented long before you attempt to kill it. Watching closely can really tell you a lot.
Aside from the forward motion, is the clay veering slightly to one side - if so, which way? How long is it before gravity really starts to affect the clay, and then, how quickly does it then start to drop?
And what about the change in velocity? If your preferred kill point on a particular stand is quite close to the trap, the velocity (or speed) of the clay is going to be significantly higher than what it would be towards the end of the bird's travel.
So that's another thing we need to consider when we're trying to read our target. And then we have to consider the distance from the stand to your kill point.
Judging distances only gets easier with practice but there are several useful pointers you can bring into play.
If a target appears from above the tree line, for instance, it's probably only about 25 yards above you.
Now in shooting terms this is pretty close so you probably won't need that much lead, even if it does look miles up in the air.
Then we have to consider the conditions in which we're shooting. It might be calm enough on the stand, but is the wind above the treetops going to make the clay duck, dive and potentially veer off a straight trajectory?
Finally it's also worth spending a moment weighing up the terrain. Course designers can be tricky so-and-sos at the best of times so it's probably worth considering ‘am I being conned here?'
It's one of the oldest tricks in the book, but imagine the tree line in front of the stand naturally drops away to one side.
Throw a crosser (that's basically travelling horizontally) and it can give the shooter the impression that the clay is rising slightly as it goes past - often fooling the unwary into missing above the target.
So, having taken onboard all the above, lets have a quick look at how all this theory comes into its own when we're faced with reading a typical target, a crosser, say.
Before we even close the gun we need to have had a really close look at how the bird is being presented (it often helps to follow the clay's line of travel with your finger) - to decide where we will be able to ‘pick up' the clay (the point at which you first see it) and determine where the ‘kill' point is (where the clay is actually going to be broken.)
In this example there isn't a false ground or tree line to worry about and the clay is not going to be affected by strong winds.
All seems good so far but in reality, though, we have to be careful.
What a novice might miss is that as the bird accelerates out of the trap it's actually gaining height slightly, then it starts to curve around to the right a little before it slows and starts dropping.
As our preferred kill point is where the clay is still climbing slightly, the muzzle of the gun needs to be slightly in front of, a little to the right, and maybe on or just a little above the target at the moment we pull the trigger.
As always, we must keep the swing going after the cartridge has been fired.
The amount of lead we give depends on recalling and utilising a similar target from our memory bank of ‘sight pictures.'
Fortunately, the more you shoot the bigger the library becomes and the more birds you hit.
» Make sure you know exactly where the clay is going to appear. Try and use a convenient reference point - a twig or branch on a tree or hedge, for instance - to help you remember.
» Watch how the target is presented; face on, belly or edge on. Remember that a clay presented edge on may appear to be further away than it really is, luring you into giving too much lead. Conversely, a belly up clay can appear large, even though it may be a long-range target.
» A clear background, the sky for instance, can mislead you into thinking the target is further away from you than it actually is. This is because you have no readily available points of reference.
A clear background with no reference points can mislead you into thinking the target is further away from you than it actually is!
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