In normal circumstances, and at normal ranges (sub-35 yards), your primary consideration should be to watch the target well with perfect sustained focus and keep the gun moving. This will take care of forward allowance unconsciously for most people if you can really learn to trust yourself and assuming your gun fit and shooting vision are sorted.
If you search Positive Shooting on YouTube, you will see my basic method as briefly described above demonstrated. There is conscious pre-shot preparation (where do I first see the target as a blur, where do I first see it clearly, and where do I want to shoot it?) followed by an unconscious, but visually disciplined, approach to actually shooting it. I still like my ‘Positive Shooting System’, but I acknowledge that it does not work in all circumstances, or for all people. So, in recent years, I have introduced the close swing through technique into my own shooting and instruction a lot more.
Here one brings the unmounted gun to the back edge of the target, and pushes forward without hesitation firing as a gap develops, without measuring. With some people, I just say begin on the bird rather than the back edge as I prefer myself (I am very big on creating an early barrel-target relationship). Too many people start miles behind the bird and swing wildly at it, an almost certain recipe for inconsistency when clay shooting.
Now, as this is a practical article, and I want you to be able to transfer what you read to the shooting field, let’s consider something that happened to me this month. I was with a client and we were facing a challenging midi presented as a crosser off a high tower. It had the wind behind it, and was about 40 yards out. The first two methods mentioned did not result in consistent results, so I reverted to something more like the CPSA ‘Method’. Mount on the bird, move with it a moment, then push ahead. Happily, this whacked the bird decisively again and again, and made the point that one often needs more than one technique of forward allowance to get round a good course. I do not use this technique routinely because, for me, it slows down the process of shooting, but it certainly has its uses and it can be an excellent way to teach beginners. I call it the ‘get you out of trouble’ method in such circumstances as just discussed.
Sporting shooting is especially challenging in the respect of reading targets. At Skeet, all the birds are fixed, and as you know how far away they are and their angle (more or less at least depending on weather conditions). They may all be shot deliberately, often with a conscious form of maintained lead – and this is probably the way to go if your main interest is 100 straights. But, as ever, the odd complication may arise even then.
On the middle peg in domestic Skeet, I always tend to shoot the first bird of the pair with a form of maintained lead but the second with a deliberate picture. I note this bird is often shot in front and high so, my ‘picture’ is bottom front edge, or, just in front or just below depending on conditions.
This brings up several issues. First, a pair of targets may require two methods if you want consistent results. Second, that we all – or most of us at least – develop a library of pictures that seem to work. And third, that sometimes we must consider lead both in front and up or down. Missing clays over the top is a very common malady and I am always surprised just how many presentations benefit from a slight allowance under as well as the right forward allowance.
Although I have just mentioned an exception, most targets are missed behind, usually as a result of hesitation, over-think mid-swing, or, very commonly because the shooter just has not sufficient experience of the vast range of forward allowances that may be required in shooting. Often when I am instructing, I am effectively making people braver about applying lead. For example, a friend and I were shooting a midi-type clay pigeon. It was rangy, some 60 yards away, a true crosser and still fast because the spring was wound up.
Many of the shooters before us were clearly having big problems. I watched them miss behind again and again. Because I could see their shot, I could see they were most in the range of two to three yards behind. I determined not to make the same mistake. Even so, it still took me a couple of shots before I had the courage to get sufficiently in front. To break that target, I had to see something like 20-25 feet ahead (as I saw it). Though I got onto it by observation and experiment, it was hard to believe that it needed so much. My rational mind was just reluctant to accept it. The forward required just seemed too much. Few of us are used to shooting such long targets, and that inexperience leads to reluctance.
My disbelief of the lead required in that situation reminded me, however, of similar comments from clients when I am trying to stretch their limits. Once the target is more than 30 yards away, whether it is a clay or a rocketing pheasant, many people just do not appreciate just how far forward they need to be to kill it cleanly. They simply do not understand the extent of the lead required. As far as average shooters are concerned, most misses are undoubtedly behind. This may be because they stop the gun, or because they just don’t understand, have never felt, the lead required.
There is a natural, and perfectly understandable, reluctance to shoot into blue sky. But to succeed on long birds, that is often just what you have to do.
Here is a practical tip to end on. Try the ‘briefly track and push away’ method as described on a long crosser, and also try swinging through from well behind from the back edge. Then try leading the bird deliberately, with a foot, a yard of lead as may be appropriate. Don’t be afraid of missing to learn about these long birds. And, as noted, don’t go away thinking all birds are missed behind, they’re not.