Will my gun shoot steel? Clay Shooting Q&A

Let us know if you have any questions, such as will my gun shoot steel – we have the experts to answer them

Your clay shooting experts

Will my gun shoot steel?

The fleur de lys mark indicates that the gun has been proofed for ‘superior’ steel loads

Q: I own a Sporting O/U which I bought for clays; it has multichokes and 28-inch barrels. It doubles up quite nicely for the odd session of pigeon shooting with a pal when time permits. With the announcement that we are all supposed to be transitioning to non-lead shot for live quarry shooting, I am a bit worried about shooting steel shot through the gun. I’m wondering now whether I will need to buy another gun in order to carry on shooting both clays and live quarry. Can you help?

Stuart Farr says: You don’t say how old your gun is but, by and large, most modern guns are proofed to fire ‘superior’ steel shot cartridges and so there shouldn’t be an issue.

Since your gun has multichokes, you will be able to select the most suitable chokes for the job – you will probably find that you need to use slightly more open chokes when shooting steel to achieve similar patterns to what you’re used to with lead shot at equivalent ranges.

Older guns may have been nitro-proofed but not have the proof marks for steel – look for the word ‘steel’ and the fleur de lys mark alongside the other proof marks on the barrels. If your gun isn’t proofed for steel, you should still be able to use ‘standard’ steel loads.

As a guide, guns which are proved to ‘nitro’ (930 bar) will be safe to handle standard steel loads. To shoot ‘superior’ steel loads, your gun needs to be proofed to at least 1,320 bar.

Either way, you should be able to carry on using your gun for both clays and pigeons, with the right ammunition. As more people switch, a variety of steel loads will become more widely available.

If you’re in any doubt, take your gun to a reputable gunsmith or gun shop and ask their advice. They will check the proof marks and tell you what loads you can safely shoot.

Advice on loopers please

Becky uses a clock face system to explain how to shoot a looper

Q: I struggle with loopers, and wondered if you could offer any advice on the best method to approach them.

Becky Mckenzie: Whenever I’m coaching a client on loopers, I prefer to use a ‘clock face’ method in order to help the shooter visualise where they need to be. Imagine the clay looping around the outside of the clock face, with the peak of its arc as being the 12 o’clock point.

Don’t follow the clay along its curve. Instead, take a point on its upward path as your hold point, about 10 o’clock. As the target comes, swing in a straight line across to 2 o’clock.

The precise hold point and kill point will depend on the speed and angle of the target, but I definitely recommend this method rather than trying to follow the clay around its curve. 

Which choke to use?

These two patterns show the difference choke can make – both shot at 20 yards, one with a Skeet choke, the other with full choke. At this range the more open choke would be the sensible choice

Q: I have been shooting a couple of years now, after originally having a few lessons with a friend at a clay club. I hear talk of using different chokes from various other shooters and, although my gun is fitted with interchangeable chokes, I don’t really change them much. Of course like all of us I’ve been unable to go shooting recently, but whilst stuck at home I have been reading up on chokes and patterns. I understand the general idea that chokes affect patterns, but I am no nearer knowing when to use which choke. Is there a simple way to work out which chokes I should use?

Richard Atkins says: The subject of chokes and patterns is probably the most intriguing and frequently misunderstood aspect of shotgun shooting. The debate has been running since choke boring was invented, so I don’t expect it to end any time soon! The answer to your question is easy: No, there is no simple, single correct answer that covers all situations – but that’s not very helpful!

There are some simple guidelines that will help you get started. Once you understand the basic principles, you can build from there with practical experience, which in turn will give you greater confidence in making the right choices.

The key thing is not to become too bogged down with thinking about chokes. Overthinking it will only distract you from the important aspects of your shooting technique, and cause more problems than it solves.

Entire books have been written about patterns, chokes and cartridges, and the subject is too big to cover fully here. However a few fundamental principles will give you a good starting point:

  • It’s pellets that break targets, not chokes
  • Adequately dense patterns ensure enough pellets in pattern to consistently break targets 
  • Choke helps produce a sufficiently dense pattern at a required distance
  • Select the choke that provides adequate pattern density for the target’s distance 
  • Too much choke at short target distances gives overly tight patterns with spectacular breaks but reduces room for aiming error.
  • Too little choke at long range can mean that some targets will slip through patterns unscathed
  • Premium grade cartridges will tighten patterns and break longer targets but are not essential for the majority of shorter to mid-range targets
  • Some time spent testing cartridges and chokes, at various distances, on a pattern plate will prove enlightening and help you understand what is going on

To keep things simple, open chokes (like Skeet and Improved Cylinder) are good for closer range targets – Skeet is good to around 25 to 30 yards; quarter choke takes you another five yards and half will comfortably take you to 40 yards, with quality ammunition and full size clays.

Today, with top grade cartridges, you are unlikely to need three-quarter choke and above on a typical Sporting layout. When you do see a midi target a long way off and quartering away then that’s the time to think about going tighter.

But such targets are the exception and can be difficult to read anyway: concentrate on the target and its flight! Concentrate especially on making life easier for yourself on the vast majority of Sporting stands you will encounter; the tougher ones will get easier as your shooting technique improves.

UK No.8 shot (Italian 8.5) will break the majority of targets up to 40 yards too (as I have recently had chance to confirm again). Go up to 7.5 shot for longer targets. All that remains is for you to put your patterns in the correct place! I hope this brief synopsis helps – enjoy your clays when you can get back to it!

Contact lenses not cutting it

Prescription shooting glasses can be a better solution than contact lenses

Q: I use monthly contact lenses and have found my vision gets less sharp as the month goes on. I also seem to see better in my glasses than my contact lenses, but the frame gets in the way of my vision when I mount the gun. All in all, neither my contact lenses nor my glasses are really ideal for shooting, and I wondered what you could suggest. I’m using Purevision contact lenses, with a prescription of -2.00 in both eyes, and I’ve been told I have astigmatism too.

Ed Lyons: Pure vision is quite an old lens design, and being a monthly disposable may also suffer from protein and lipid deposits as the month goes on, not to mention general handling wear and tear. There is also an enhanced risk of infection with this type of lens which is why the vast majority of my patients are using daily disposables now.

The astigmatism is interesting – your current lenses do not correct this at all, which is why your glasses give you sharper focus. There are daily lenses for astigmatism but the fitting of these is very important – if the lens rotates on the eye, which is a common problem, then the vision in that eye may blur.

All in all, you may find that a pair of prescription shooting glasses is a better option, as every aspect of the prescription can be corrected. Daily contact lenses will be a more cost-effective option, however, so you may want to try that route first.

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