This is probably the most difficult of all the bits that are needed to put the gun in the right place to hit stuff flying through the air. If you concentrate solely on the so called ‘gun down’ disciplines I think you’ll find it much more difficult to attain a good mount because the stock has to travel that much further to find it’s place before the trigger is pulled. I’ve always shot clays where there is no need for any start point for the shotgun before being brought to the shoulder but then again, as I’ve never needed to shoot with the gun at such and such a position I’m going to be a bit biased, aren’t I? What I do know is that wherever the butt may be when you call for the bird, at the time of pulling the trigger the stock must be tight under the cheek bone as well as tucked neatly into your shoulder in line with your eye otherwise any break will be luck or instinct. My best results seem to be with the butt resting a fraction inboard of my shoulder with the heel level with my armpit; there’s no accounting for why this works for me, all I know is that from there the stock seems to rise nicely into place when it’s all working properly.
Assuming that your gun fits, you must be ready to shoot many hundreds of clays before muscle memory comes into action allowing you automatically put the gun in the right place in your shoulder so recoil doesn’t knock you back and your master eye is looking straight along the rib of your gun. Once gun mount seems second nature, you’ll then find that on a cold day an extra coat spoils it all, or on a hot day your shirt collar will snag the butt on it’s way up; my way of dealing with this is to shoot in the same gear all through the year with perhaps a jumper underneath when it’s cold and a coat that is taken off just I shoot when it’s wet.
Lots of people will tell you that a good gun mount can be learnt by swinging the gun about along the ceiling line indoors; in my experience that’s rubbish. I find that if there is no real target there is a tendancy to lose concentration and focus on the barrel instead of the imaginary bird so when it comes to the real thing the gun stopped or fell behind but hey, if it works for you then try it.
There are those who are practitioners of the ‘gun up’ method, that is shooting with the gun already in the shoulder when the target is called. General clay breaking amateurs like myself need to be careful with this method because too many times I’ve seen people call ‘pull’ then lift their head off the stock to watch the bird and forget to put it back so the shot goes high time and time again – keep the gun tight against your cheek while watching the bird. Another important factor in a good mount is the way we lift the gun, the hand under the fore end must always push the gun up and away towards the target while the trigger hand supports the stock into position. If this is the wrong way round then the stock will most probably be lifted faster than the barrels leading to a shot below the target or, worse still, you’ll find the barrels waving about struggling to come into the line of the clay. However you physically mount your gun it must be in the same place, comfortably tight into your face and shoulder each and every time you shoot; without that you’ll never train your brain to use your instinct to it’s full capability.
So you’ve started shooting at clays and hopefully breaking several of them as well. How do you make sure you continue to hit them? Part of the answer is to have confidence in what you are doing when you pull the trigger; if you watch a target and think that you can’t hit it then you will miss it. You must have confidence that when you mount the gun in front of a target, it is in the right place and you will break the clay. Confidence will be built after you have been hitting targets for a while, so you will instinctively know that the gun is right, the cartridge is right and that the clay will break when you want it to. Keep trying until the straights start coming for you; shoot 10 in a row and you will have the confidence to keep breaking 11 and 12.
I’ve recently mastered a 40 odd yard crosser from 30yds up a tower – for ages I had trouble with this particular bird because I wasn’t sure it could be broken but twice now I have gone to the stand and absolutely plastered the midi each and every time. It’s all because my mind has decided it will be broken; it doesn’t matter if the wind blows or the trajectory is slightly different, we mustn’t worry about that because our sub-concious will work all it out – what does matter is that I now know that 3/8 choke with 8’s will break that clay every time, I am confident I can do it.
It never ceases to fascinate me when I watch people shooting clays, they all have their own ideas of where the gun should be pointed when they call for a target. One of my fellow squaddies has the stock against his belt with the barrel somewhere beside his right ear heading towards the nearest cloud, another scrunches the pad into his shouder and cheek so tightly that wherever he looks the gun goes too. The method I learnt years ago called for me to find the first point of visual contact with the clay in flight, then the place I reckoned I could kill it and point the gun between the two. That’s a brilliant way to do things in the world of the instinctive shooter. To prove it all you have to do is give a shotgun to someone who’s never before shot a clay.
Once our newbie has been shown the target it just feels natural for him/her to hold the gun there; a classic example of this in action was one of my newest additions who turned up recently with a semi-auto. On his first outing he had a perfect instinctive, maintained lead style right out of the tin with broken clays everywhere; as usual though, when he started to think about what he was doing the wheel fell off but fortunately for him, he’s one of the rare guns I’ve met who can take advice and act on it immediately – he could be a spectacular gun one day. Sorry, I digress. Why do we want to hold the gun there? Well, for our brains to work instinctively we have to help them a bit.
By starting the barrels well in front of the clay when we first see it we’re giving ourselves time to analyse the direction and speed of the clay. Once we’ve worked out the trajectory, muscle memory comes into action so we swing and mount the gun still ahead of the clay as we’ve done thousands of times before. As I’ve said before, instinct comes into play putting the gun the correct distance ahead of the target so when mounting is complete we pull the trigger and break the birdie. It really does come down to trusting yourself to hold the gun far enough ahead of the target so that during the short period when the flightline is being worked out subconciously, the target doesn’t get itself ahead of the gun. If you hold the gun too near the trap, you’ll end up chasing the clay across the sky, (or ground, it doesn’t matter where the clay goes), finding yourself throwing the gun though the clay hoping you are far enough in front to hit it. You’re then back to the ‘follow through’ method which we all need from time to time when we’re in a muddle but it’s not neccessary to work that hard.
Similarly, holding the gun too far along the line of flight could result in a miss in front of the clay – if you are going to get it wrong this is the best mistake, all you need to do is hold the gun a bit nearer to the trap to cut down the lead. Remember that the gun in the hold point must be pointing below the clay’s flight line, if you hold above the line it takes time to bring it under and then back up again so the clay gets ahead of the gun leading to a miss behind. If you just chop down on the clay you’ll more than likely miss anyway. Once you are fairly sure of finding the correct hold point each time you will be able to adjust it, enabling you to shoot earlier or later as required, for instance the first crosser of an ‘on report’ pair can be taken at leisure but the first bird of an opposing simultaneous pair would need to be taken earlier in order to acquire the second target. Find a good, steady crosser or tower bird and try it – after a bit you’ll be able to break it whever you want to!
Something that has recently been bothering my guns is their lack of ability to hit targets that are travelling behind trees. Once again I’m going to trot out my favourite chestnut about instinct and how the mind controls what we do or don’t do with a gun. Consider a left to right rabbit rolling along the ground in front of you but behind two or three small trees; watch the guns in turn and you’ll see that most people pick their spot to shoot at the clay, invariably in the widest open area between the trees. Why do they do that? It appears to me that these shooters have told themselves that the only way to kill a target is when it’s out in the open so there is nothing between the muzzle and the clay; they’ve also told themselves that the trees are somehow going to restict their swing with the gun – watch how the timing goes wrong and the gun stops his swing just as the barrels point towards a tree, once again -why? The barrels won’t hit the tree, it’s yards away.
The shooter has allowed his mind to see anything along the flightline of the target as an obstacle so while he’s in the process of shooting his subconsious is saying, ‘hang on, that tree might damage my gun, we’d better stop the swing now’. The result is always a miss behind. What’s the answer then, you ask? Simple – ignore everything except the target; there is no reason whatsoever that your shot can’t be taken at any point along the flightline unless the tree is a mighty oak. Think about it; your gun is moving sideways, the shot string is moving sideways as well as forwards, the clay is moving sideways, there are hundreds of pellets in your cartridge. The vast majority of the pellets will go either side of an 8 inch tree towards the target resulting in a kill to the clay behind. When you next shoot at a clay that is running behind a tree wait until it’s safe to do so then look to see where the pellets have hit the wood or branches – you’ll be hard pressed to find a couple of dozen, the rest went past. Don’t allow yourself to see trees or branches as something which will dictate how you shoot a clay, just concentrate on the bird.
If you’ve been following all this stuff I’ve spent hours telling you, some of you may well be asking yourselves, “it’s all very well but can you prove it works”? The answer is yes, of course I can. I have spoken before about my squad who seem to take an interest in what I write, only because this is the system I use to try to help them to hit a few. They don’t really have a clue how it works but it’s surprising how often I am able to show them a way of hitting a target using their inbuilt instinct. Yesterday came a spectacular breakthrough with one of my boys. This particular gun is a great friend whom I have tried to coach from a complete novice to a low ‘A’ class shooter. Like the rest of us, he has good days and bad but recently he’s been in the doldrums, expecting to do well only to find himself in the low 20’s. Our last round together was a revelation to all the squad – this was the culmination of years of hard work when everything came together to produce a Double A beating score. If you’d looked at his card; it wasn’t much to be proud of – just you read on bor….. A lesson in Instinctive shooting.
Now we have to bear in mind it was a cold winter’s day with a wind blowing straight through you so the Stand 1 score I’ll let pass with only the comments that his car was warm, his fingers were cold and DTL clays are never to his liking. On 2 we had a singles, pair, singles, pair sequence of a fast quartering right hander and an edge on left-hander, dropping and slowing very quickly. The first pair was broken; our friend didn’t know where they were coming from and instinct took over as soon as each clay came into view. The rest were intermittent as he started thinking too hard about what he was doing. Stand 3 was the start of something special for me, here was proof that my theories work, here was vindication of everything I’ve said to all my boys and you lot. Our squaddie stood up to the line, called for the clay, and hadn’t got a bloody clue where it was! “Up high”, we shouted, pointing to a high, edge on, curling clay at 1o’clock. Dust. Panic set in now – where was the second of the pair? A distant left to right in front – we shouted and pointed – guess what? Blown to bits. From then on the very same each time for all 4 pairs and the first straight he’d had for ages. My hero had absolutely no idea from whence the clays came but eight times we pointed and shouted it out to him, eight times his instinct kicked in, the gun flew across the sky and there was a convincing break every time his subconcious told him to pull the trigger.
You want more proof? OK. Stand 4 was a simultaneous pair of a fairly quick, close left to right and a long, quartering incomer – the leftie was the one to take first to make sure of a mark on the card. So here we go again. First clay is in the bag but where on earth is the second? “Up there, THERE!” Bang… bird dead. The only miss was a bit unfortunate because a hefty gust of wind sent the clay off course and drove it down faster than all the others. Once again instinctive shooting had marked a good card. 5 started with a good pair, trajectory unknown and unseen; the correct hold point at the start counted for these. Thinking then came into the picture again and it went a bit wobbly. 6 was the icing on the cake, a quartering rabbit followed by a vicious right to left rising fast and being driven down even quicker by the wind at treetop height. My exemplory pupil clawed his way through the by now beside themselves with emotion squad, clamouring to see him make a fool of himself. Once again, the hold point was right, the rabbit was hit early and the gun rose, swinging up in front of the bird for a beautiful, blisteringly fast second shot. Each pair was the same and every shot he had to hold his nerve, forcing out of his head the ribald comments and taunts from his mates – he even had to cope with a ‘no bird’ but he still came back to score. To pile on the agony someone shouted, “well done, good eight!”, even though we were on the 10 stand. Another fine rabbit taken and finally the pressure told as the wind played havoc with his last bird of the day. For me, this round was a vision of instinctive shooting perfection. The poor chap had to cope with the cold, wind, taunts, (support, you understand), a newish gun and different cartridges but still the technique I’d tried to instill for donkey’s years shone through like a beacon – yes, it works.