Off the Porch: Better wing shooting begins before you see the target
I’ve been a member of Piedmont Handgunner’s Association since the first meeting when seven guys decided to begin a gun club. I’m proud of all PHA has accomplished over the last 35 years and I was really pleased when the shotgun committee announced they were holding a new wingshooter clinic. It turns out a lot of people were pleased and the event drew so many people they could barely manage the crowd.
Clay target shooting is fun, and it helps a hunter improve his shooting skills for when dove, duck, and bird season begins. The best part is there’s no season on clay pigeons. PHA hosts shoots every Sunday afternoon from 12 noon until everyone gets enough and on the forth Saturday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. PHA shoots Five Stand and Wobble Trap, but there are multiple venues in the Triad for Skeet, Trap, and Sporting Clays as well. Success with a shotgun comes from learning the fundamentals until they’re second nature, and focusing only on the target when it’s flying into view. Half the things you need to know come into play before you even begin to track the target.
It’s possible to shoot well and break targets with a gun that doesn’t fit you. I recently shot skeet with a pistol grip shotgun that had no stock at all, and I broke what might be seen as a respectable number of targets, but I didn’t break nearly as many as I would have had I been shooting a gun with a stock that fit me.
Good gun fit simply means the stock dimensions of the gun allow the shooter to easily and consistently mount the gun so he’s looking straight down the barrel. Shotguns don’t have rear sights. The reason they don’t is that you don’t have time to align your eye with the front and rear sights and then swing the sight picture ahead of a flying target to hit it. Having said this, a properly mounted and fitted gun does just that without any conscious effort on the part of the shooter.
With a properly fitted gun, the shooter puts the gun to his shoulder and the alignment process is accomplished by proper gun fit. This allows the shooter to focus on the target and its flight. The shooter sees the rib and bead in his vision field, but they’re not his focal point; the target is. To determine if you have a reasonably good gun fit, focus on a spot, close your eyes, and mount the gun. When you open your eyes, you should be looking straight down the rib without having to adjust.
If you’ve ever watched a really good shooter, whether he’s shooting a rifle, pistol, shotgun, or slingshot, you’ll see a consistent pattern of motion that he repeats every time. Some wingshooters shift their weight from one foot to the other, some adjust their hat, some flex their elbow out, and most take a clearing breath before calling for the target. Many do a combination of moves, but almost all good shooters do them consistently before each shot.
The ritual itself has no effect on the shot, it serves to establish focus and mentally prepare the shooter for the shot. There are reasons that relate to the shot, shifting weight does help to establish balance, adjusting a hat assures the brim won’t obscure vision of the target, flexing the elbow out assures clothing won’t snag the gun mount, and a deep breath clears the mind and clears vision. Still, the most important effect is that it puts the shooter in his comfort zone. Targets are hit when the ritual is observed, therefore observing the ritual enhances confidence, which makes for a more relaxed and successful shooter.
If you don’t have a consistent gun mount, you’ll never reach your potential as a wingshooter. The only way to accomplish a consistent gun mount, is to mount the gun over and over until every time the gun comes to your shoulder, it’s in the same place. Your head is in the same place on the comb, and you’re looking straight down the rib. While many clay shooters shoot with the gun pre-mounted, I believe this is counter-productive to really good wingshooting.
Most knowledgeable instructors teach shooting from a low ready position, and if properly executed, low gun is more effective than shooting with the gun mounted in the shoulder. The reason for this is that on crossing targets, the shooter needs to generate swing speed quickly and getting the gun up to speed is easier when the gun is closer to the body’s center of motion.
The proper sequence for gun mount is for the gun to be held with the stock low and in line with the shooters forearm, and the muzzle intersecting the projected trajectory of the target at the point the shooter plans to pick up his swing. When the shooter sees the target, the swing begins, with the muzzle tracking the path of the target, and the butt coming up to meet the shooter’s shoulder. The shoulder should rise to meet the gun and the gun should come up to the shooter’s face. As the mount is completed, the muzzle should come from behind the target, and as the gun passes the target, the trigger is pulled. The delay in reaction time generates the proper lead for the shot, and the target breaks. On rising, quartering, and incoming shots, the sequence is the same but the swing speed is slower. This shooting technique is called swing through, and it’s the easiest way for most shooters to acquire the proper lead. Another advantage of shooting from low ready position is that it’s easier to pick up the target, and much safer for field shooting, since the shooter has more visual command of other shooters and dogs in the area.
Practicing the mount is easily done at home with an unloaded gun. Again, focus on a spot, close your eyes and mount the gun. If you’re looking straight down the rib and the gun is pointed at the spot when you open your eyes, it was a good gun mount. If not, you need more practice. Once the gun mount is learned, it’s the same, no matter how the target moves. All tracking and movement is done below the waist, the gun mount from waist up is always the same.
By using a gun that fits, and mastering mental preparation and gun mount, you’re half way there to successful wingshooting. Get the fundamentals down pat and you’ll break more targets; every target you break increases your confidence, and confidence helps you be a better wingshooter. Good weather is here. The clays are flying and the season is open. Shoot well and have fun.
Dick Jones is a freelance writer living in High Point. He’s an NRA Certified Instructor and a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national and regional magazines. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com.