We have discussed lead, or forward allowance, in these pages previously. It should be a subject of abiding interest to clay shooters.
The basic skill of our sport is to shoot where the target is going – to make due allowance for its forward movement.
In this context, we have talked about methods such as swing through, maintained lead, point and push, and pull away (there being a subtle difference between the last two mentioned, just as there are variations in swing through and maintained lead too).
But, thus far we have not really considered lead other than in one plane or direction.
One must master the basic techniques of forward allowance in order to determine the specific style that suits you best, especially in different situations.
There are circumstances when one must not just consider being in front of a target, but allowing space above or below it as well.
Depending on the presentation, one may need to combine forward allowance with an allowance above or below the intended target.
Sometimes, no forward allowance is required at all but a vertical axis correction is. Occasionally, a situation arises where shoot directly at a bird, or its bottom or top edge, will suffice.
A big part of the skill is reading the bird well and noting its line. Is it being deceptively presented? Or rising or falling faster or slower than the norm? Distinctions can be very subtle and this can prove to be quite complicated.
Once I have taught a student the basics of shooting one method, I get them to try a few others and apply them to specific situations. Swing through is good for finding line, maintained lead can buy time, and point and push and pull away can get you out of a muddle.
Once the essential lessons have been learnt with each technique, one may graduate to tougher stuff. Let’s illustrate it with some specific examples.
At my home ground we shoot quite a lot of crossers from high towers. These tend to drop, and one will often need to come under line a little to connect with them consistently (over shooting the line seems much more common in clay shooting than game).
The fatal mistake is to raise the head or roll off line because of poor body rotation. Excessive or wild gun movements can also be a problem – most top performers have a very economical style, which reflects their control.
One important principle is to keep the barrels of your gun perpendicular to line (that is, not canted relative to line).
I often find myself saying things like, “hand up-head down,” meaning that the upper body and gun must remain as one.
On targets quartering away, shooting the front bottom edge is often a good idea. When shooting teal, mount the gun to the intended break point and, assuming you shoot both eyes open, bring the mounted gun back down the line of flight to the halfway point.
Call for the bird and lift the gun to it without any hesitation or perfect visual contact. It works on all teal presentations including those angled away. I call this the ‘halfway’ method.
If you shoot with one eye I usually advise going back about three-quarters of the way on teal. On vertical, double presentations another simple tactic is to shoot the first bird slightly above, and the second bird just under.
However, this is only as a starting point as there is a vast amount of variation, as you will appreciate when you become more lead aware. Experimentation will be required.
For droppers, one may need to shoot below, but occasionally side-to-side as well. This is a big deal. Watch the bird very carefully as it comes in.
Is it really straight, or are the low scores on the stand just a consequence of a slight angle being misread by the majority?
On the double at Skeet Station 4, if you shoot them in deliberate Sporting style, I find the first bird needs plenty of lead and should be broken by the halfway point, but the second does not require as much and will also require a slight allowance under.
I always advise shooting rabbits on the bottom front edge as well. If you are still having particular problems with clay bunnies after applying that advice, and are shooting with two eyes open, try squinting an eye – it can be a magic cure for the bunnies and the second bird of the pair.
Conversely, many make too much of an allowance underneath battues and loopers. I find most people fail to give them sufficient lead and fail to trust themselves; they do not always give a generous allowance underneath.
Although there are exceptions, I have observed that most people on these presentations need to think about the forward lead element and their unconscious mind will do the rest.
On a true chandelle, I often impose an imaginary grid over the bird made up of imaginary, foot-square boxes. If the bird is top left (assuming a left-to-right crosser) I shoot bottom left.
There are some other oddities. When you shoot down onto grass, I have found there is often a natural reluctance to ‘dig out’ the target sufficiently.
Pointing the gun towards the ground flicks a switch on some psychological mechanism for many shooters, and prevents them from going far enough.
One must over-ride this and push on. Missing over the top is generally common as are wild gun movements, which impede subtle control.
In nearly all cases I like to keep my shoulders level with the line of the bird if possible; I like to assess it with reference to the horizon and other markers, and I never forget that pre-shot preparation is vital.
Where do I first see the blur, where do I see the target clearly, and where do I want to break it?
No article is going to teach you how to deal with complex presentations, but it can make you aware of some the things that some advanced shots must factor in.
Nothing will replace practice or developing your own ‘library’ of pictures for different presentations.