Pick­ing your shoot­ing style

Stan­bury or Churchill, that is the ques­tion? These two re­spected mas­ters had widely dif­fer­ent and hotly de­bated views on shoot­ing style. Who was cor­rect?

The Field - - Contents - writ­ten BY michael Yard­ley

Stan­bury vs Churchill? Michael Yard­ley as­sesses their tech­niques

There was a time when peo­ple wor­ried a lot about shoot­ing style. Hun­dreds of books have been writ­ten on the sub­ject, es­pe­cially dur­ing the era 1870 to 1970 – most fa­mously by Messrs Lan­caster, Churchill and Stan­bury (though none of those books were ac­tu­ally writ­ten by the “au­thor”, as billed). I have col­lected and stud­ied most of them. I have shot with the ap­pren­tices of the mas­ters and tested the tech­niques put for­ward. It is a rich heritage to our sport but the dif­fer­ences of opin­ion can be con­fus­ing. The ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tions – par­tic­u­larly be­tween Robert Churchill and Percy Stan­bury with re­gard to for­ward al­lowance and foot­work – were never re­solved in their day. They led to some bit­ter bat­tles. When you ex­plore them com­par­a­tively to­day, how­ever, they are not al­ways quite what they seem. It would be dif­fi­cult to say one man was ab­so­lutely right and the other man wrong. Their in­struc­tions can be of prac­ti­cal use in dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances and may even com­ple­ment each other.

Cut­ting to the chase, what did each man or his Boswell say? Let’s con­sider for­ward al­lowance first. Churchill stated that one should never look for lead on a bird de­lib­er­ately. He sug­gested glu­ing one’s eyes to the mark and ev­ery­thing else would hap­pen nat­u­rally, “In my method there is no ques­tion of try­ing to com­pute muz­zle move­ment, al­lowance, or any other com­pli­cated mat­ter. All I ask you to do is look at the bird; but sub­con­sciously over­throw­ing a lit­tle and so giv­ing the nec­es­sary lead or com­pen­sa­tion for time flight [sic]; and, in that way, ar­riv­ing at what in any

other terms is a com­pli­cated math­e­mat­i­cal prob­lem.” [page 67, Game Shoot­ing, re­vised edi­tion, 1963] Or, as one of my more ex­pe­ri­enced shoot­ing pals, a for­mer chief-pi­lot, puts it: “Stare the bird to death...” The rest should hap­pen of its own ac­cord if you have learnt to ad­dress the bird well and mount the gun ef­fi­ciently.

Stan­bury, mean­time, ad­vised com­ing up through the bird’s tail and head – what might be called “swing through” in mod­ern par­lance. He did not ad­vise ex­ag­ger­at­ing this, how­ever, which has led me to cre­ate the terms “close swing through” and “short swing through” to bet­ter con­vey his method. It has also led to my own de­vel­op­ment: “grad­u­ated swing through”; this ad­vo­cates com­ing in be­hind the bird ap­prox­i­mately as far as you in­tend to move in front when us­ing a swing-through method [see Vary­ing tech­niques, Jan­uary 2016 is­sue].

Stan­bury does em­pha­sise the im­por­tance of swing and line more than Churchill, how­ever. The muz­zles, he noted, must “be held on the line of flight all the time while the gun is mounted”. He also ob­served sagely that for­ward al­lowance was a vexed ques­tion: “Briefly one must shoot with a swing­ing gun and keep it go­ing af­ter pulling the trig­ger, so as to throw the shot in front of the bird’s po­si­tion at the in­stant of fir­ing. At longer ranges, the ap­par­ent speed of a cross­ing bird is less than at short ranges, and this slows down the speed of swing. Some­thing must be done to coun­ter­act this so we give a for­ward al­lowance, or lead, in front of the bird. It is not a dis­tance mea­sured in feet but a ‘pic­ture’ in the shooter’s eye, which he knows is nec­es­sary for those par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances” [page 32-3, Shot­gun and Shooter, 1970].

Stan­bury goes on to com­ment that these pic­tures vary enor­mously. Some may lead by a gate, others just think they shoot at the beak and most shoot­ers don’t ac­tu­ally know what they do at all, and nor does it mat­ter if the bird is killed. Just to com­pli­cate the is­sue, Stan­bury also notes that “an­gu­lar for­ward al­lowance” for a bird at 20yd ef­fec­tively dou­bles at 40yd (with mea­sure­ments of 4ft and 8ft given re­spec­tively in ac­com­pa­ny­ing draw­ings). He did not ad­vo­cate mea­sur­ing rou­tinely but his tech­nique is more de­lib­er­ate and less in­stinc­tive than Churchill’s. Both ac­knowl­edge that one must shoot in front of the bird, whether one is aware of it or not.

All of this prompts a ques­tion: should we look for lead de­lib­er­ately or not? Churchill’s

Shoot with a swing­ing gun and keep it go­ing af­ter pulling the trig­ger

the­ory is that one need never do more than look at the bird; the sub­con­scious mind will do the rest. Is he cor­rect? Af­ter much ex­per­i­ment, I have proven to my­self the wis­dom of the ba­sic con­cept – one must sus­tain fo­cus on the bird and noth­ing but the bird. But, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, it only holds true to a point, or, rather, to a range. I will choose here 35yd as an ar­bi­trary limit for my own sub­con­scious “Churchillian” shoot­ing (but it might be 30yd or 40yd or oth­er­wise, de­pend­ing on the in­di­vid­ual). Be­yond that the tech­nique does not work re­li­ably for me.

Con­se­quently, I would ad­vise most sports­men to shoot a bit more de­lib­er­ately, pos­si­bly adopt­ing a swing-through tech­nique (al­though there are other op­tions, such as “main­tained lead”) as the range in­creases (or, putting it an­other way, as you exit your “com­fort zone”). If you were lucky enough to shoot high birds all the time, if they were your norm, bas­ing your shoot­ing on vis­ual con­tact and nat­u­ral hand-to-eye co­or­di­na­tion alone as per Churchill’s dic­tums and drills might work without qual­i­fi­ca­tion. But my prac­ti­cal ob­ser­va­tion is that there is a def­i­nite risk of the wheels fall­ing off for most peo­ple if it is the only club in their bag of tech­niques. Most can’t make it work con­sis­tently at ex­treme ranges all the time (though if you try, fo­cus and smooth move­ment is ev­ery­thing).

The next big dif­fer­ence be­tween the two teach­ers is their ad­vice on stance. It might seem that there is lit­tle room for com­pro­mise here. Stan­bury sug­gests stand­ing with feet at one o’clock and three o’clock with the heels 8in or so apart. The weight is well for­ward, “nose over toes” (my bor­rowed phrase, not Stan­bury’s), and the rear heel slightly lifted. The front leg is straight but the knee is not locked. The weight is kept on the ball of the front foot. The weight stays on the front foot as one piv­ots for a shot to right or left.

The Churchill stance, on the other hand, is much squarer, with the heels closer, “about three or four inches apart”. There is an­other big dif­fer­ence. Churchill ad­vises weight trans­fer de­pend­ing on the shot. For the shot to the right, for ex­am­ple, the weight goes onto the right foot and onto the left foot for one to the left. Be­tween shots the weight is evenly sup­ported on both legs. On the clock­face, the nor­mal start­ing po­si­tion for Churchill’s stance would have the left foot at about half past 11 and slightly for­ward, the right foot some­where near one. The cen­tre of grav­ity is much more central com­pared to Stan­bury, where one piv­ots on the front foot as noted with the hips mov­ing, too.

Stan­bury de­scribes stand­ing too square as an er­ror (and usu­ally I would say he is right for peo­ple of aver­age body type and build). Robert Churchill ad­mon­ishes those who place the right foot be­hind the left. He sug­gests, ques­tion­ably, that the lat­ter tech­nique pre­vents the butt sole firmly lo­cat­ing at the shoul­der. When, how­ever, you read be­tween the lines and ac­tu­ally ex­per­i­ment with both styles, you dis­cover that they have some­thing in com­mon – the at­tempt to achieve bal­ance and free move­ment. Churchill even ad­mits that when us­ing heavy guns or guns with heavy charges “a greater pro­por­tion of the weight may be thrown onto the front leg”. It would seem both men may have ex­ag­ger­ated their po­si­tions for ease of de­scrip­tion and have cre­ated stances that suited their own (very dif­fer­ent) builds. Stan­bury was tall and slim, Churchill shorter and stock­ier.

Any­one in­tent on im­prov­ing his or her shoot­ing is best ad­vised to ex­per­i­ment rather than blindly ac­cept any dogma. Mean­time, I note, as some­one clas­si­cally trained in the Stan­bury school by Stan­bury’s ap­pren­tices Michael and Alan Rose (of the West Lon­don Shoot­ing School), that I may adopt a hy­brid stance for some clay-shoot­ing dis­ci­plines (with trap shoot­ing I po­si­tion the front foot to­wards 12 o’clock, the in­tended break­ing zone, and bring the rear foot to two, “crack­ing” the front knee, too). I will oc­ca­sion­ally be­come an out­right Churchillian on the game field if, for ex­am­ple, I am sur­prised by a fast bird

go­ing right and I am po­si­tioned on that flank. Bring­ing the weight onto the right foot de­lib­er­ately can make the shot eas­ier and more flu­ent (I will also use the tech­nique on a skeet lay­out to take the sec­ond High House shot when pairs are pre­sented on sta­tions 6 and 7 for the same rea­son: it’s nat­u­ral, com­fort­able and pro­motes bal­ance and good gun move­ment).

What­ever the tech­nique, feet should never be set in stone, stance will of­ten need to be ad­justed for spe­cific sit­u­a­tions. Some will pre­fer be­ing closer footed for high-bird work than for grouse and par­tridge, where rapid swing­ing and more sta­bil­ity may be needed. In any sit­u­a­tion, a good stance must pro­mote bal­ance and min­imise un­nec­es­sary ten­sion. In par­tic­u­lar, there should be as lit­tle ten­sion as pos­si­ble as the trig­ger is pulled. All the Bri­tish, rel­a­tively close-footed styles have evolved for driven game shoot­ing. They may be con­trasted to wider, less con­sid­ered, Amer­i­can and Con­ti­nen­tal game-shoot­ing stances that look more like us walk­ing-up birds over dogs in 18th- and early 19th-cen­tury prints.

Both Stan­bury and Churchill have some­thing to teach us. Gen­er­ally, for my own driven game shoot­ing, I pre­fer the el­e­gant Stan­bury stance com­bined with Churchill’s un­con- scious for­ward al­lowance within 30yd to 35yd, as dis­cussed. Be­yond that, Stan­bury’s ad­vice em­pha­sis­ing swing, line and con­tin­ued unchecked move­ment is prob­a­bly bet­ter and more likely to achieve con­sis­tent kills. And, as far as ab-ini­tio novice in­struc­tion is con­cerned, Stan­bury’s close “swing through” com­bined with aware­ness of line and fol­low through is def­i­nitely the way to go for most peo­ple. One may still evolve into a Churchillian sub­con­scious leader with prac­tice (and the Churchillian – just watch the bird and for­get the rest – com­fort zone may ex­pand with ex­pe­ri­ence).

We have not men­tioned the mount thus far (a sub­ject cov­ered in more de­tail in Per­fect­ing Gun Mount, July is­sue). The Churchill and Stan­bury tech­niques are, again, dif­fer­ent. Churchill ad­vised keep­ing the bar­rels par­al­lel to the line of sight as they were raised to face and shoul­der. He sug­gested the stock comb should lo­cate be­tween jaw and cheek­bone, tuck­ing the butt under the armpit rather in­el­e­gantly in his drills (a po­si­tion that has def­i­nite safety im­pli­ca­tions if muz­zles re­main low). Stan­bury looked more el­e­gant and, frankly, safer. Muz­zles were kept just under line of sight to the mark, stock well out and with comb more or less par­al­lel to the fore­arm. He also noted the im­por­tance of not dwelling in the shoul­der as the mount was com­pleted but fir­ing as the butt touched it.

Churchill’s under the armpit mount­ing method – which looks like bay­o­net prac­tice in his books and is dread­fully il­lus­trated on the cover of some edi­tions of Game Shoot­ing – is vis­ually unattrac­tive but bril­liant for teach­ing the mount to a be­gin­ner. It is also use­ful for re­me­dial in­struc­tion (with a mod­ern em­pha­sis added on keep­ing the muz­zles up more for safety). My own tech­nique tends to be a hy­brid one. I keep bar­rels/muz­zles up but not on the line of sight as per Stan­bury but slightly under it, safety al­low­ing. Some­times safety dic­tates rais­ing the muz­zles higher but the most ef­fi­cient mount pro­ceeds from a hold just under line. The butt may also be held gen­tly against the tummy without be­ing pulled back un­nat­u­rally as in the pure Churchill tech­nique. It is a po­si­tion of min­i­mum ten­sion with the stock in­dexed com­fort­ably against the stom­ach rather than held in space.

In con­clu­sion, Churchill’s was an in­stinc­tive style and he de­vel­oped his XXV short-bar­relled gun and par­al­lel-with-li­neof-sight mount­ing tech­nique to go with it. Stan­bury’s style was in some ways more nat­u­ral, less con­trived, and it looked more el­e­gant. He favoured a longer bar­relled gun. Both these great in­struc­tors still have much to teach us but it is not a ques­tion of either or. As my friend Chris Bird, chief in­struc­tor at Hol­land & Hol­land, notes: “To­day, we mix and match more than in the past, tak­ing parts of tech­nique from both schools of thought as well as more re­cently evolved hy­brid tech­nique to suit the in­di­vid­ual.” Michael Yard­ley is a Fel­low of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Shoot­ing In­struc­tors

To­day, we take parts of tech­nique from both schools

Left: clas­sic Stan­bury stance for high bird, weight on front foot. Right: more Churchillian, with weight on rear right foot for a shot slightly rightPre­vi­ous page: Percy Stan­bury of­fers in­struc­tion

Main im­age: clas­sic Stan­bury ad­dress Inset: mod­i­fied Churchill ad­dress with butt under armpit but muz­zles raised

Above: my re­laxed, Stan­bury-in­flu­enced ad­dress. Inset, left: clas­sic Stan­bury

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