Shooting a shotgun to successfully hit a flying target is often called “instinctive” shooting. In comparison to the precision aiming of a rifle or handgun at a stationary target, swinging a shotgun is indeed more of an art than a science, but at best it’s a “learned” instinct. No one is born with an innate ability to see the mental pictures required to break speeding clay targets.
For those of us not fortunate enough to have been born as natural athletes, developing the eye-hand coordination comes slower than to those so gifted. However, with enough practice and repetition of proper form, nearly everyone can instill the skills to break more targets than they miss.
Picturing leads and developing learned instinct to lead a target is required in many sports. In football, the quarterback must lead a running receiver if he hopes to complete a pass. The eye-hand coordination required to wingshoot well is similar to that required in tennis. In fact, back in the days of the old Soviet Union dominating international clay target shooting, they used tennis in their training programs for shotgun athletes.
There are basically four ways you can lead a moving target when pointing a shotgun:
The swing through lead begins as you mount the gun. When the stock reaches your shoulder and your cheek, the picture you see is the barrel is slightly behind the moving target. You speed up your movement on the line the target is moving to swing through and in front of it. When you see what you perceive to be the proper space between the front of the target and the barrel, you pull the trigger and keep the gun moving.
The pull away lead is much the same as swing through, except the barrel is inserted into the sight picture at the front of the target. They key is, it is never behind the target. Your swing speeds up and pulls the muzzle ahead from the target to establish the lead needed to hit it. Pull the trigger and keep the gun swinging.
The sustained lead is similar to the other methods, except the barrel comes into the sight picture with space between it and the front of the target already established. You keep that lead as you swing and pull the trigger. And, as always, you must keep the gun moving to follow through.
Snap Shooting or Spot Shooting
In snap shooting, you pick a spot in front of the moving target and shoot at it anticipating the bird and the shot will collide at that point. Some call it the “bayonet style” of shooting because the mount of the gun for a spot shot thrusts the muzzle toward that point, and to be successful the gun needs to fire as the butt hits your shoulder.
Each of these methods of leading targets is important because the type of shot presented dictates which you’ll use. Swing through is, perhaps, the most common form of lead because it’s used on departing targets like a bird that’s flushed in front of you and is moving away at an angle. Pull away lead is a great way to hit crossing targets. Sustained lead is often used at overhead and incoming targets. Snap shooting is the most instinctive of all and is often relied upon in tight situations like a bird flushing through dense cover or treetops.
And that’s why you must learn them to the point where they become instinctive. If you had to consciously think, “Oh, a bird is flushing. It is moving away from me at a quartering angle at a high rate of speed. I shall use the swing through method of lead. Okay, now I’m mounting the gun. Now I am swinging the gun. Now I am flipping off the safety. And now I will pull the trigger," you wouldn’t hit many – make that any – birds.
With practice – and proper coaching – you’ll gain the instinct to see a target and make all of those judgments and actions, without even thinking about them. It will take time, but you’ll get there.
All methods of lead share one most important thing in common – follow through. If you stop the swing of the gun to perform any of the other actions or thoughts, you are guaranteed to miss. Follow through is a bit like scratching your head and patting your stomach at the same time – in fact, you can help your ability to follow through by practicing exactly that skill – just don’t do it while you’re driving … and maybe not where your buddies can see you.
Stopping the gun is one of the most common reasons for missing any moving target, but we’ll delve into all of those in future posts so you can instinctively avoid them.