Bryce explains why correct foot position is the foundation of good technique.
I frequently hear shooters talking about the amount of lead a target needs, as if that’s the only thing that matters. Watch them shoot, though, and there’s often an underlying problem that means lead is quite literally the last thing they should be worrying about.
Gun fit and gun mount can be an issue, but let’s leave those aside for now. Assuming your gun fits you and you are mounting it consistently and correctly, let’s think about technique – specifically, your stance and swing.
In clay shooting, unlike game or rough shooting, we have the advantage of knowing where our targets will be. We can watch the previous shooter’s targets, or call to ‘see a pair’. That allows us to choose exactly where we want to shoot them, and set ourselves up accordingly. Many shooters fail to do this properly, making things much harder for themselves.
When you mount your gun and swing in any given direction, you can only go so far before your body runs out of movement – the joints and muscles reach their limit of travel. If you try to keep the gun going beyond what’s comfortable, then your nice, smooth swing will start to break down. As your movement becomes more and more restricted, your gun will increasingly pull off the line of the target.
In an effort to keep up with the target, you may find yourself taking the gun away from your cheek, or tying your legs in a knot and losing your balance. That’s an extreme case – but you can see it every day of the season on game shoots where guns are reaching for birds that have flown past the spot they were set up to shoot.
In the case of a game shooter, the answer is to pick your bird, decide where you’re going to shoot it, then move your feet before mounting your gun. As clay shooters, with the luxury of seeing targets in advance, we have plenty of time to make those decisions before we step up to shoot – so take full advantage of the opportunity.
When you reach the stand, take a good look at the shooting position, the surrounding landscape, and the flight of the targets. Look for any clues that will help you judge the clays’ distance and angle. We are better at judging distance at eye level than looking up at an empty sky with no reference points, so pay attention to where the clays land, as well as any trees they pass behind or in front of.
Once you’ve got the lie of the land, consider where you plan to shoot each of the targets – your ‘break points’, also sometimes called ‘kill points’. Watching how the shooter ahead is doing it can be a rough guide, but the exact spot will vary from one shooter to the next, as we’re all different when it comes to things like how quickly our eyes can pick up a clay against a particular background.
Make sure to identify landmarks to help you to quickly relocate your planned break points, perhaps above a distant fencepost, or in a gap between two trees.
Remember to allow for the different angle of view you’ll get when you step into the stand. The targets will change relative to the background, owing to the change of angle. When watching someone else shoot, it helps to stand so you’re looking directly along the shooter’s gun at the target, which may mean crouching slightly to get the correct view.
Once you’ve established your break points, you can decide where to place your feet. For a typical pair, you won’t have time to move your feet in-between shots, so your foot position will need to be a compromise that will serve for both. If the target setter has been kind to you, then your break points might end up being close together, so you can comfortably shoot both targets with little movement in-between.
On other occasions the course setter may decide to stretch you by making it difficult to reach both targets without moving your feet, and cunningly ensuring that there isn’t time to do so!
The general rule is to set up for the harder of the two targets, or the one that will stretch you the most, ensuring you can still reach the easier one. Don’t just follow that rule blindly though; think outside the box and ask yourself if there’s a better way. If it’s a simultaneous pair, perhaps you could shoot them the other way round, or take one target later or earlier than your first instinct tells you to.
Watch what the targets do when they aren’t shot – perhaps you have longer than you think. To take an extreme case, you might be very short of time to shoot a springing teal target on the way up – but wait long enough and it could slide back towards you, offering you all the time in the world to make a relatively easy dropping shot.
When you’re setting up your feet for a stand, remember to allow enough freedom of movement beyond your break point so you can follow through freely without reaching the limit of your natural motion. If your break point is too close to this limit, you will unconsciously start to slow down, and quite likely find your gun being pulled off the line of the target’s flight.
Once you’re in the stand, mount the gun and check that you can swing freely along the line of each target to your break point and beyond. If necessary, adjust your foot position and check you’re happy with it. Then – and only then – are you ready to start shooting.
Now we’re into the realms of mounting, swinging, pulling ahead and taking the shot… but that’s a subject for another time. For now, at least we’ve got the foundations right, and you’ve given yourself the best chance of making a good job of it.