Top Holland & Holland coach Steve Rawsthorne gives his tips on how to handle some of the most mischievous of targets – rabbits
The humble rabbit target comes in many variations and is released from a number of different types of trap. Often seen at fairly long range, particularly in FITASC Sporting, and sometimes shot from platforms well above the ground, there are a variety of techniques that can be employed and elements of the shotgun that need to be understood in order to score well.
Starting with a basic left-to-right crossing rabbit, as with any shot you need to orientate your body to the break point, not where you see the target otherwise you will run out of movement before or at the point of taking the shot. From this point you can wind back to your hold point, around a third to halfway between where you see the rabbit and where you will break it.
The movement for a crossing rabbit needs to be generated from the hips, the whole upper body rotating horizontally, rather like a tank turret, not from the arms alone or you will tend to roll below the target and run out of swing. In the starting position, the gun will generally be held lower than usual; the butt just under the armpit and the muzzles low, so that the rabbit appears over the barrel – if it’s safe to shoot there it is safe to point the gun there. If you hold the barrel a little too high, the rabbit will disappear below the barrels and reappear out in front of your gun – you will have to pull the gun down and rush the shot, which generally results in a miss.
Many rabbits are missed over the top. A shotgun is designed to shoot slightly high, so you can keep a crossing target in view. When you shoot down onto a target, this effect is exaggerated. When a shooter has difficulty in shooting low on a rabbit I will often place the gun in their shoulder while I steer it from the side of them, to show them how low to shoot. The usual reaction is “but I’m miles below it”, which changes when they break the target consistently!
Your visual focus point is the front edge of the target throughout the shot and of course you need a good follow through, to properly finish the shot. If the rabbit bounces, don’t panic, keep focussed on the front edge and let your hand-eye coordination and the spread of the pattern take care of it.
Quartering rabbits can be a little more difficult. As with any quartering target, the lead is less than a crossing target. What appears to be a very fast rabbit can be easily over led. If the target is quartering towards you, you will have to shoot further below it, if quartering out (away) from the shooter, less so. Remembering that shotguns shoot slightly high, as discussed, this may mean you need to stay level with it rather than actually above the target, unless the angle is very sharp.
Rabbits can be thrown from the arm of a trap or rolled down and thrown by a bicycle wheel. The fixed arm type of trap is pretty much instantaneous but the wheel type has an inbuilt delay. If you have the opportunity to watch others shooting a stand in front of you, count in your head how long it is from when a shooter calls “pull” to when the rabbit appears, then when it is your turn to shoot, use this count so that it does not surprise you when it appears. If you are the first to shoot on an empty stand, try to get the scorer to show you a couple of targets, to get the wheel rotating at full speed or you may have inconsistent targets to contend with, usually it takes two or three targets to get up to full speed and the first couple can vary enormously.
One of the simplest ways to produce a rabbit target is to roll the clay down a wooden ramp on a bank across a small gap. This rabbit moves slowly and is usually missed in front. Often the shooter can hear the rabbit coming and knows the gap is small, which produces tension and hurry. Stay calm and shoot straight at this target and keep moving.
When shooting pairs of rabbits, the right-handed shooter needs to orientate themselves to the break point of the left-to-right target, they will then be turning in towards the body for the right-to-left target and have no problem maintaining the movement required on either target. The left-handed shooter needs to orientate themselves towards the extreme left break point for the same reason.
As with any target, good technique and structured practice is the key to success.