Vic Harker investigates the big three that should be in every gun cabinet…
How many guns do I need? The traditional response to this is to say, ‘only one, if you can use it’. This, however, is not true so far as clay target shooting is concerned if you aspire to be an all-rounder. I am inclined to believe there are rather fewer of this versatile breed than there used to be, but it is likely they have more fun than those that follow a single discipline with a monastic fervour. This is of course a heresy if you aspire to greatness in one of the Olympic disciplines, but what if you don’t? One of the benefits of this is that you can with some justification acquire more guns, not for its own sake or desire to be a collector, but for the fact that you need them. With this requirement comes the necessity to gain a broader knowledge of their characteristics in terms of specification and gun fit as it relates to Trap, Skeet and Sporter guns, and with that comes an extra dimension to your chosen sport that is indispensable to success.
Before the first Sporters were introduced in the 1970s, those who competed in Sporting events very often equipped themselves with two or three guns. A popular choice was to use a Trap gun for the long birds and a Skeet gun for those at closer range. The game gun was an alternative, but guns of that kind were usually too light. Instead it was a common sight to see the Sporting shooter using his 30″ Trap gun at long springing teal or targets above 30 yards. For closer targets of any kind, the Sporting shot relied on his Skeet gun. With barrels as short as 26” and often no longer than 27” with only a whisper of choke in each barrel, this kind of gun was a popular choice. What didn’t seem to faze these shooters was the difference in stock dimensions. The Trap gun invariably had a drop at comb of 13/8” and at heel 17/8“, length of pull 14½”. The Skeet gun would usually measure 1½” drop at comb, 2½” at heel and length of pull 141/8“.
The first dedicated Sporter shotguns were manufactured by Fabrique Nationale in Belgium with a barrel length no longer than 28″ with fixed chokes. It incorporated a Schnabel forend and a full pistol grip stock. To identify it as a clay target gun rather than a game gun, it also included the same rib as those for the B25 Trap and Skeet guns.
Similar to a game gun in that the Sporter stock dimensions should allow the shooter to get on terms with targets at differing heights and angles, they are inevitably something of a compromise. Drop at comb determines the elevation of the aiming eye above the rib and therefore the percentage of the shot charge above and below the point of aim. Around 60/40 is a good starting point, though those who like a good view of the target above the rib may prefer something a little higher. Drop at heel – when you mount the gun the first contact should be between the comb and the shooter’s face and at the same time supported at the heel by the shoulder. The amount of drop at heel from the line of sight is determined by length of neck and shape of shoulders. These measurements can also be influenced by how much the shooter drops his head forward to meet the comb and to what degree he raises his shoulder to meet the butt stock. For the best results, whatever the shooter’s physical characteristics his technique should be consistent.
As to barrel length, the Sporter has got longer over the decades since its introduction in the 1970s. At that time 28″ was the norm, but with the success some Sporting shooters achieved with barrels 30″ or longer, this is now the preferred choice.
This category of competition shotgun has been developed over a longer period than other clay target guns. This is simply because Trap shooting as a clay target discipline precedes Skeet and Sporting by several decades. That Trap targets are usually taken at distances of more than 30 yards dictates that barrels are longer and heavier than those of other shotguns and choke constrictions are also tighter. The latter puts a premium on accuracy and therefore gun fit is a preoccupation for most Trap shooters. Visual aids in the form of ribs adjustable for point of impact are also popular, and are usually complemented with stocks adjustable for height and cast. Many of the most elaborate specifications designed for improved visual target acquisition have been designed for American Trap shooters who compete in handicap by distance competitions with targets thrown up to 27 yards from the trap house.
In contrast, the Olympic Trap shooter who competes over much faster targets and with a greater variety of height and angle usually prefers a simple flat-ribbed gun. It should be added that Olympic Trap shooters place great importance on accurate gun fit and so a custom-made stock is usually considered essential.
Originating in America as off-season practice for the game shooter, Skeet was devised for the all-round shot who looked for some enjoyable out-of-season practice. Not that Skeet competition in any of its forms is easy; for the all-rounder, however, the domestic discipline in the form of English Skeet is likely to be the most rewarding. As with all forms of clay shooting, excellence is the ultimate objective. The best Skeet shooters represent some of the most skilled gun handlers in the world. An example of this is the great George Digweed, who was a noted Skeet shot long before he turned to Sporting. As for the Skeet gun, all the qualities of balance and accurate gun fit are as important to the Skeet shooter as to the devotees of Trap and Sporting. What is not required is a gun with a lot of choke. With a barrel length of 28″ and nowadays sometimes longer, stock dimensions will usually be similar to those for a Sporter gun. With that in mind, a Sporter with interchangeable chokes can fulfil the role as well as a Skeet gun.
So, we return to the question of how many guns does the shooter who aspires to be an all-rounder need. It would seem to be three – a Trap, Skeet and Sporter – or alternatively only two if the Sporter has a set of interchangeable chokes. Hardly an arsenal, but quite enough to cope with every discipline clay target shooting has to offer.