Mas­ter­ing driven pheasants

“You’re be­hind it,” is the pat ad­vice. Yet of­ten we’re miss­ing in front or off line. But faults can be reme­died

The Field - - Contents -

Michael Yard­ley ex­plains how to rem­edy miss­ing in front or off line

When out shoot­ing you of­ten hear some well-mean­ing soul say, “You’re be­hind that!” Well, as a pro­fes­sional shoot­ing in­struc­tor I know many – prob­a­bly most – misses are be­hind. But not all. It’s a fool­ish as­sump­tion to think all misses are due to in­suf­fi­cient for­ward al­lowance and/or gun stop­ping. I of­ten wit­ness misses in front as well as be­low and above the mark – the for­mer are com­mon when shoot­ing driven game, the lat­ter of­ten seen clay shoot­ing (where tar­gets have a ten­dency

to drop as they de­cel­er­ate). The in­ter­est­ing thing about peo­ple miss­ing in front is that they usu­ally have ab­so­lutely no idea that they are do­ing it. They think they are be­hind and some­times sim­ply ex­ac­er­bate the fault by swing­ing far­ther and far­ther in front. When their true fault is pointed out to them by a com­pe­tent in­struc­tor – one who can see the shot con­sis­tently and un­der­stands the sub­tleties of tech­nique and gun fit – it can come as a rev­e­la­tion. Of­ten, I find my­self say­ing to clients, “You are ac­tu­ally well ahead of that bird. Have an­other go but this time shoot at it.” (Or at the front edge if it’s a clay.) If the penny drops, this can sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove per­for­mance in the field.

Other in­struc­tors have had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. Chris Bird, chief in­struc­tor at the Hol­land & Hol­land Shoot­ing Grounds, told me: “Miss­ing in front does

hap­pen more of­ten than peo­ple think. We espe­cially see it in peo­ple who come for an emer­gency les­son in the later stages of the sea­son. The usual cause is poor tim­ing of the shot. They start too far be­hind the bird and then flash through. As a re­sult, the catch-up swing speed is too fast, re­sult­ing in ei­ther miss­ing in front or flash­ing through and then stop­ping the gun, re­sult­ing in a miss be­hind. Head lift­ing is a re­ally com­mon is­sue with misses in front as well, ei­ther be­cause the shooter is now so far in front that he has lost sight of the bird – and lifts his head to try and see it – or be­cause he’s re­stricted in his abil­ity to swing com­fort­ably be­cause of in­jury, age or poor body po­si­tion.”

I can only con­cur and also note that head rais­ing can lead to misses be­hind and above. I of­ten use a mid-height clay tower with a cou­ple of vari­able traps to present driven tar­gets at vary­ing an­gles for game shoot­ers. This set-up has taught me a great deal about the pat­terns of miss­ing typ­i­cal driven birds. Most misses to the right (for the righthander) are misses be­hind but many misses to the left are in front (both re­late, of course, to misses left of the mark). On straight in­com­ers you see far more misses left of

the line than right. Rea­sons for miss­ing birds mov­ing right are usu­ally ac­counted for by: poor body po­si­tion, caused by not mov­ing the feet when you should be step­ping into the bird and en­sur­ing there is min­i­mum body ten­sion on pulling the trig­ger; a mis­un­der­stand­ing of the for­ward al­lowance re­quired; or, a fail­ure to fol­low through with shoul­ders par­al­lel to the bird’s line. Mount­ing er­ror can also be a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem as well as ex­ces­sive gun move­ment.

One bird to the right that of­ten catches out right-han­ders (and may re­sult in a miss high and slightly be­hind) is a mid-range one that is only slightly right of cen­tre. This can be a dif­fi­cult bird to con­nect with con­sis­tently if there is any sort of mount­ing or eye dom­i­nance is­sue or if stance is poor, such as arch­ing the back and bring­ing the weight back. It’s dif­fi­cult to get a per­fect line and it’s easy to raise the head. The re­sult is a miss slightly left, high and off-line. The so­lu­tion is to take it as an in­comer but to twist the comb slightly an­ti­clock­wise into your cheek as you take the shot. So, in this si­t­u­a­tion cant­ing the gun may prove an ad­van­tage if it en­cour­ages you to stay on the line of the bird.

Un­less it is a straight driven shot or within a tight arc to the front, shoul­ders should be level with the line of the bird if pos­si­ble. It’s es­sen­tial to prac­tise mount­ing the gun well, keep­ing the bar­rels on line and keep­ing the head well down in all sit­u­a­tions. It’s so easy to lift the head, mean­time, without re­al­is­ing it, espe­cially if the weight comes back.

Birds on the left side may also be missed be­hind by the right-han­der but misses in front are fre­quent at mid range and of­ten re­late to eye dom­i­nance (even in some­one who thinks they have right-eye dom­i­nance or who has been tested as such). The left eye takes over and the bird is missed, typ­i­cally a foot or two for­ward. A quick fix may some­times be achieved by squint­ing the left eye. When pos­si­ble, the in­di­vid­ual should be taught the cor­rect ‘pic­ture’ to break the bird with a re­newed em­pha­sis on the im­por­tance of sus­tained vis­ual con­tact and not­ing that the speed of the bird should al­ways dic­tate the speed of swing. Gun fit should also be checked with el­e­vated muz­zles as well as hor­i­zon­tal.

Some­times an al­ter­ation to cast-off or comb height may be needed, too. This may be as­sessed prop­erly on pat­tern plates and with cer­tain tar­gets, such as straight in­com­ing and go­ing-away birds. Oc­ca­sion­ally, the eye dom­i­nance is­sue only shows up when the in­di­vid­ual is stressed in par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tions. So, we can­not say the pat­tern plate is de­fin­i­tive though it may be a great help.

For all-im­por­tant comb height, here is a quick test: if you raise the proven empty gun to 45 de­grees and lose sight of the bead with the eye look­ing down the rib and while ap­ply­ing nor­mal cheek pres­sure, the comb needs rais­ing. A low comb will lead to misses to the left for the righthander and to the right for the south­paw. As well as misses be­low the mark, po­ten­tially.

The sen­si­ble shot will not as­sume he knows the ex­act con­di­tion of his eye dom­i­nance and knows it may change. He or she will seek help from an in­struc­tor pe­ri­od­i­cally. Most peo­ple do not have quite the eye dom­i­nance that they think. There are many dif­fer­ences re­lat­ing to age and gen­der. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, pre­vi­ous eye test­ing has not been thor­ough enough. Years of ob­ser­va­tion has taught me that there ex­ist all sorts of vari­a­tions be­tween full right and left dom­i­nance (I now work with six cat­e­gories of eye dom­i­nance). More­over, many men suf­fer changes in eye dom­i­nance in mid­dle-age.

What else causes misses in front? Rush­ing is fre­quently an is­sue and it may lead to misses both in front and be­hind when the gun is sud­denly stopped, as dis­cussed. Rush­ing is ag­gra­vated by light guns that are quick to start and quick to stop (don’t as­sume a lighter gun will im­prove your shoot­ing – it will take more mus­cu­lar ef­fort to con­trol). Short-bar­relled guns may also ag­gra­vate misses in front as well as gun-stop­ping.

The shoot­ing method that you adopt can de­ter­mine your pat­tern of miss­ing, too. ‘Main­tained lead’ meth­ods of ap­ply­ing for­ward al­lowance - whether de­lib­er­ate and mea­sured or in­stinc­tive - may be use­ful in some sit­u­a­tions. I tend to use them wildfowling at longer ranges and for clays at ex­treme range but they can lead to more misses in front. As these tend to be clean misses, there is at least the con­so­la­tion of not prick­ing birds. My ex­pe­ri­ence, how­ever, has taught me that any­one with sig­nif­i­cant eye-dom­i­nance is­sues should avoid main­tained lead and stick with vari­a­tions on swing-through for game shoot­ing.

Gen­er­ally, miss­ing in front be­comes more likely at ex­treme ranges and on midto short-range birds. When shoot­ing grouse or par­tridges near the butt or peg, miss­ing in front can oc­cur be­cause the birds are not go­ing as fast as you think, they are just close in, cre­at­ing a de­cep­tive vis­ual im­pres­sion of speed. This is ag­gra­vated by the per­ceived short­age of time (no­tably the case on short-hori­zon grouse butts) and ex­cite­ment. So, move­ments may be­come wild in the heat of the mo­ment. Not only must one be care­ful not to rush in front (espe­cially on grouse on up­wind drives) but one must pay due at­ten­tion to line, which will do much to pre­vent er­rors of for­ward al­lowance both be­hind and in front. Grouse are fre­quently missed above (hence the say­ing ‘grouse wear spats’).

Main­tain­ing good, three-beat shoot­ing rhythm is al­ways im­por­tant. ONE–TWO– THREE on ev­ery shot – or, YOU–ARE–DEAD. Don’t short­cut the swing. Body po­si­tion must al­ways pro­mote good bal­ance, espe­cially at the mo­ment the trig­ger is pulled. If pos­si­ble, the point of min­i­mum ten­sion should be where you in­tend to kill the bird (which

Gen­er­ally, miss­ing in front be­comes more likely at ex­treme ranges

and on mid- to short-range birds

Vis­ual dis­ci­pline is vi­tal. Stare ev­ery bird to death with fo­cus on beak or head

may en­tail step­ping into the bird’s line as you swing the gun – front foot and bar­rel tip mov­ing to­gether). If there is ten­sion in the swing one will tend to shoot be­hind but one may also shoot off line and in front through sud­den ac­cel­er­a­tion in com­pen­sa­tion.

Vis­ual dis­ci­pline is vi­tal, the most im­por­tant thing in shoot­ing tech­nique bar safety. Stare ev­ery bird to death with fine fo­cus sus­tained on the beak or head. If you learn to do this – and never for­get vi­sion is a skill in the shoot­ing con­text – prob­lems re­lat­ing to eye­dom­i­nance will be min­imised. There may be a gun-fit com­po­nent in all this, as noted. If your comb is just a bit too low, the view to the right eye may be blocked in some sit­u­a­tions (for ex­am­ple, that high shot to the left) the wrong eye may be en­cour­aged to take over and a miss in front re­sult. The prac­ti­cal ad­vice here is that main­tain­ing hard fo­cus on the tar­get is more im­por­tant than most re­alise (it pro­motes good hand-to-eye co­or­di­na­tion) and a bit too high a stock is far bet­ter than one that is a bit too low.

Chris Bird notes an­other pos­si­ble cause of misses for­ward: “Oc­ca­sion­ally, misses in front re­sult when the butt slips. The front hand is push­ing the gun cor­rectly to the tar­get but the body may slow through lack of flex­i­bil­ity. So, the left hand pushes as it should but the gun slips up. Miss­ing in front may also typ­i­cally hap­pen when some­one has im­peded them­selves on the first shot and then over-com­pen­sates with the se­cond. Or they have missed low or high, as­sumed they are be­hind and changed what in fact was a cor­rect lead pic­ture.”

I have noted on a skeet lay­out that when one shoots the cen­tre pair the se­cond bird is of­ten missed in front. On long crossers, many of the peo­ple I stand be­hind will miss a clay with the first shot be­hind but miss it in front if they take a se­cond shot. I have also noted that I have a greater ten­dency to miss in front on game than clays. Miss­ing in front is com­mon on ex­treme and close birds as noted, but it may also hap­pen on av­er­age driven pheasants if you prac­tise a lot on clays. The rea­son for this is prob­a­bly that the typ­i­cal pheasant is trav­el­ling at around 40mph and the av­er­age stan­dard clay at around 50mph. Par­tridges are sig­nif­i­cantly slower.

In con­clu­sion, keep your eyes locked on the bird and your head down, don’t rush. The real speed of the bird should al­ways dic­tate the speed of swing not a false per­cep­tion. The writer is a Fel­low of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Shoot­ing In­struc­tors

Birds at ex­treme range are missed in front (and off line) far moreof­ten than many ex­pe­ri­enced guns might imag­ine

Above: most driven birds typ­i­cally pre­sented are missed be­hind but as range drops misses in front be­come more com­mon. Be­low, in­set: a loader or com­pan­ion can of­ten spot a miss in front, a rev­e­la­tion to the gun. Right: the is­sue is al­ways lead and line

Left: miss­ing in front may be­come more com­mon with ‘main­tained lead’ tech­niques. For most, swing-through will serve best on long birds

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.