Kicking off a new tuition series, Ben Husthwaite explains his approach to breaking clays, assessing each of the most popular methods of tackling a target
I have been teaching for over 20 years and have also been winning for the same amount of time. In this time. the way I shoot and teach has had to change numerous times with evolving equipment and better technology – not just personal equipment, but firms like Promatic raising the game and making machines that push the target boundaries, and clay companies bringing in new targets like the 70mm. With these advances, the way we shoot has changed and the way we teach needs to change, too.
People’s takes on the three main methods are slightly varied, so in my first column I’m going to give you mine. Some things I may skip over, the reason being that they will be covered in detail in a future feature.
When trying to shoot any clay, I advocate that when the gun goes bang, the barrel should be quicker than the clay and we only want the correct lead once (unless the clay is stationary). We should also have made some connection with the clay, be it starting behind and swinging through the line, or going to the clay and then moving out to the lead.
If we connect at some point, then we have given ourselves two thirds of the
key components for breaking that clay: line, speed and lead. Lead we will always be guessing but, by connecting with the clay, we have learned the other two during the swing.
Before we discuss methods, we have to talk about hold points. While many coaches try to move the hold point around as an easy fix instead of teaching correct gun control, I use the same hold point routine for all shots. It is based around three major factors: kill point, view point and hold point (in this order).
The first thing on any target is to pick where you see the edges clearest and biggest. By this, I mean you see a specific big circular object, not a blur or atom-like one. After this, we’re looking for where we see the clay first in any form (flash, blur or streak) – this could be the trap. My hold point will be exactly halfway between these two points and on the flight line.
For me, the hold point is the most important part of the shot. The hold point needs to be a reference on the horizon that you can go back to over and over. If we move the hold point, we alter the shot in many ways. The reference for the hold point may have to be on a grid-like system – if you have a tower with nothing but sky behind the flight line, you may have to use an object on the floor and then go up to the target line.
In days gone past, this was the method of the great shooting legend John Bidwell. Though it’s my least preferred method in modern-day shooting, it is advantageous to able to shoot it correctly. A lot of bad course designers like to send some window shots or silly true pairs where there isn’t the time to shoot any other method (see below).
Maintained or sustained lead is when the gun starts in front of the clay (if done correctly, it starts and stays at the required lead) so you insert the gun on the lead required and hold that space trying to move at the same speed as the clay until the clay enters the kill zone.
Unfortunately, while holding speed and lead you have made zero contact with the clay and learned nothing about it, so the line has to be guessed. This is the flaw in the technique and the reason it has become less and less successful since the evolution of the new traps that can now throw clays in many different trajectories.
In the old days, most clays flew flat and straight and the space or lead in front was all you had to find. This is no longer the case and off line is now a common place to miss. And this technique is too vulnerable to be a go-to method – if the best in the world aren’t using it, there is a reason why.
A prolific method used by shooting great George Digweed, it’s superb for when the leads are relatively small – say three feet (lead is relative to the individual) and under – but it is one of the most misdelivered methods by shooters. First I’ll explain the correct way, then the faults.
The target must pass the gun at the hold point. When the swing begins, the gun must be fully mounted to the cheek. The negative lead is preplanned and is as important as the positive lead. At one speed, the negative lead is closed until we reach the desired lead, being directly on the clay or out to a positive lead.
The gun speed should be fractionally quicker than the clay’s and the distance you start the negative lead is dictated by the angle – the bigger the angle, the bigger the negative lead to a maximum of three feet behind. The quicker the clay, the quicker the swing (see below).
If the target requires a big lead like a crosser, I simply cannot find logic in starting behind. If the visual positive lead is teen feet and I start six feet behind, I now have to find 16 feet of lead – a lot of unnecessary work there.
• People varying the distance they start behind
• Not being mounted when they start the swing
• Swing is too fast or too violent
• Hold point too close to machine
• Changing speed when they connect with the target
This is one method I use to win my world titles when the target is crossing in front of me or needs larger leads. When done correctly, it gives the bird’s line and speed.
A big difference with pull away and swing through is that the former is a two-speed method – it’s the target speed, then a faster speed to create the pull away. Again, this isn’t violent – it’s a smooth transition in speed until we reach the required visual positive lead. The quicker the clay, the quicker the pull away.
When there is time, don’t be afraid to leave the gun and the clay together before pulling away. Remember: we only want the correct lead once and this needs to be in the chosen kill zone, not before (see below).
• Some leave the clay too soon, then hold the lead until the kill zone – this is for intense and purposefully maintained lead
• Moving the hold point and connecting with the clay in different areas, therefore effecting the kill point
• Leaving the clay at a speed too great and the symmetry is lost
To the right you can find the diagram I usually use to choose which method I will employ on the target presentation – you might find it useful. (see below)