Sometimes in life, you look back on something and realize there was a lesson you should have learned, but you missed the opportunity. Recently I was instructing a new shooter on how to shoot crossing targets, and I remembered an important lesson I missed.
Also See: Shotgun Shooting 201
When I was in high school, I was dove hunting with a friend from school. We were walking across the dam of a pond to the field we were going to hunt and three doves flushed from the edge of the pond to our left. The doves flew from left to right, and I swung my shotgun on the first bird and hit him. I then continued swinging the gun to catch the second bird, and he dropped as well. The third bird was still flying the same direction, and I came from behind him and felled him with the last shell in the gun. I’m sure I’ve shot several triples since then, but that’s the only one I can clearly remember. I was elated.
As I was explaining the swing through method to my client, that memory popped into my head, and I realized I should have learned from it. Instead, I spent the next 20 or so years trying to figure out how to get better results on crossing targets. Eventually, I learned the best way for me to shoot crossers was the swing through method, which was exactly why I got such great results on that November afternoon about 50 years ago.
When the doves first flushed from my left, I shot the first and closest bird. At that point, the second bird was moving from left to right, and my shotgun was still behind him. I sped up my swing, and when I caught up with him, I fired again. My momentum carried the gun past that bird and established the lead. Once again, I was behind the third bird, and as I caught up, I fired again, and again the gun’s momentum carried past him and established the lead. Had if figured that out then, I would have had a lot more success in my early wingshooting efforts because the swing through method of establishing lead is probably most effective and easiest to learn.
Everyone knows you have to shoot in front of a moving target or bird to connect. This is because of the lock time of the shotgun and the distance covered by the shot payload at the velocity that it travels. For this to occur, there are three possible methods. The most difficult, called spot shooting, is simply to point the gun at a place in space where the target will pass and pull the trigger at the exact instant to allow the shot charge and target to arrive at the same place at the same instant in time. This is possible but requires more brain power and timing than I can muster.
The second method is the one most people describe. It relates to swinging the gun in front of the target with the correct amount of lead and pulling the trigger. This method requires the shooter to estimate the speed and distance of the target relative to the speed of the shot charge and correctly estimate the lead required. Using this method doesn’t involve complicated formulas, but rather is a learned skill based on experience and it works quite well. It’s the method most often used by experienced shooters talking to other experienced shooters with conversations like, “That target was faster and further than I thought, I was leading it over six feet.” The problem with such advice is that from one person to another person, the perception of six feet at a distance of 45 yards varies widely.
Most new shooters have better results with the third method called, swing through. As was my experience with my miraculous triple at age 16, it involves coming from behind the bird on the same trajectory and shooting at the instant the gun intercepts the target. If the shooter keeps the gun moving on the trajectory of the target, the shot is almost certain to connect. Still, the shooter has to learn to come from behind the target on the same trajectory, and the intercept speed has to be just greater than the speed of the target, but this is an easily learned method.
Learning the intercept speed requires a bit of experimentation, but it can be quickly learned. Several years ago, I was covering a new clay target shotgun for a gun manufacturer. We writers were invited to try some new shotguns and waterfowl loadings on the skeet range. I hung around after the main presentation, and the factory guys were shooting skeet. Some were accomplished shooters, but three were having trouble hitting the crossers. One guy simply couldn’t connect with a crossing target.
I asked if he wanted some advice and he was eager to improve. I explained the swing through method, and he hit the next crosser. We stood at the #4 station, and he hit six pairs in a row. When I came back from a later quail hunt, he was telling the other guys who were having trouble about what he learned, and we walked back to the skeet field for them to try swinging through. Most years, when I’m at SHOT Show, at least one of those guys reminds me of that day.
All forms of wingshooting require a certain amount of trial and error. Shooting a flying target is both mental and physical, and some learn faster than others. If you’re having trouble with crossing targets, give the swing through method a try. You might find it’s the method that works best for you.