Mike Yardley explains how he developed his successful Positive Shooting method and how you can put it into practice.
Some 35 years ago, I decided I wanted to be a shooting instructor. I had already been shooting since I was a kid on my grandma’s farm in Kent, at various target clubs and at Bisley.
I learnt serious shotgunnery in my teens at the Boss Shooting Grounds with Bill Lees, then with Michael (and later Alan) Rose at West London. Both meant saving up the pennies and long treks on the underground from my central London home.
I continued shooting in the Army, where I shot in both pistol and clay teams at Sandhurst. In the Army, QMSI Jim Cairns, a Commonwealth Games pistol medalist, taught me a lot about competition as well as physical technique.
With his help I was awarded ‘Colours’ for shooting at the RMAS – a bit like an Oxford Blue – and unusual because no similar award had been made for many years.
Studying the best
My interest in sporting shooting and its techniques led me to seek out many great shots and instructors after this – John Bidwell and Joe Neville amongst others.
I collected a very large library about guns and shooting. I watched the good shots, and tried to analyse just what they had in common. I also watched poorer performers and considered the pattern in their error.
My first goal was to improve my own shooting and make it more consistent, but this evolved into a mission to create a new way of considering shooting technique – a planned, modern and holistic approach to shooting instruction.
As an experimental psychologist, I had a special interest in visual perception first developed at university. I was particularly intrigued by the way we use our vision in the act of shooting. The natural mammalian response is to make a saccadic flick to any movement to assess threat or danger.
But it is not natural to sustain focus. Thus vision in shooting, which involves sustaining focus, is not purely a natural ability, but a skill to be acquired and practised.
I also made a special study of eye dominance and now acknowledge six categories: right, left, predominant right or left, central, and indeterminate. That’s a topic for another article.
There were essentially two main popular shooting methods when I began my quest: Stanbury and Churchill. They were not easy to reconcile. Stanbury combined an elegant upright stance – weight on front foot for everything – with a version of what we now call ‘swing-through’.
Churchill, however, promoted a way of standing that involved weight transfer right or left depending on the shot. And, perhaps more interestingly, a stare-the-bird-to-death and forget about conscious forward allowance approach to lead.
Churchill also had a much squarer stance, and, a very unusual and rather inelegant mount with the butt tucked in under the armpit to start, and barrels held horizontally rather than raised.
Both methods worked. So far as stance was concerned, they reflected the build of the two men – one tall and thin, the other shorter and more generously proportioned.
The two methods seemed to contradict each other, though. This intrigued me because both were used with some success and inspired a generation of instructors who tended to fall into one camp or the other.
There was also the CPSA’s ‘Method’ developed by Clarrie Wilson. Today’s instructors tend to be a little less dogmatic than Messrs. Stanbury and Churchill.
My usual approach now is to show the student the options – including my own favoured technique – and let them discover what works best for them. We are not all the same.
The perfect shot
In the meantime, let’s consider the elements of the perfect shot. Regardless of how you got there, there are certain things always necessary for success. Identifying these clearly is important. The components that I regard as critical are:
1. Visual contact – sustained focus on the bird and nothing but the bird throughout the process of shooting
2. Balance, especially as the shot is taken
3. Rhythm or timing, usually three beats – One, Two, Three – when shooting gun down
It is useful to think of these as corners of a triangle, with visual contact at the apex. Safety apart, this is the single most important piece of advice in shotgun shooting: Keep your eyes on the bird and nothing but the bird. Good shooting psychology is merely maintaining visual contact and avoiding the things that disrupt it.
I experimented with many shooting styles, and in particular the methods for applying forward allowance. The list includes, among others: swing-through, Churchill’s keep-your-eyes-on-the- bird-and-forget-everything-else method, maintained lead (which may be performed deliberately by measuring or less consciously as set out by John Bidwell in Move Mount Shoot), the CPSA ‘Method’ of brief tracking and pulling away, and spot shooting.
I sucked it all in, tested them, and tried to condense it all into a simple system, always acknowledging that a single technique might not manage all targets. There would be times with difficult presentations when swing through, maintained lead or spot shooting would be forced upon you.
After several years of condensed effort and much thought, I came up with the Positive Shooting method which began as a series of articles, later a book and a film – a clip of which you can still find on YouTube and which has been viewed 780,000 times to date. It recognises that in any shot there should be a preparation and a performance stage.
The Positive Shooting system
This is what I discovered, presented here as simply as possible. First comes preparation. Before you shoot you always need to gather intelligence, you must then apply that information methodically, creating your own personal shooting routine for each shot.
As for forward allowance or lead, I determined that the unconscious approach worked best in most situations, and with certain qualifications regarding range. A well fitted gun and and an understanding of your own shooting vision are essential – another topic for a future article.
- Consider the position of trap and its angle of elevation.
- Consider the target – midi, mini, battue, standard etc – and its speed and arc of flight.
- Consider where you want to break the target.
- Align your footwork and stance to the anticipated break point. My preference is for my rear foot to be at 90 degrees to it.
- Move the feet until the gun naturally wants to point where you are going to break the bird. I call this the point of minimum tension.
- Wind back, gun down just below the flight line, to the point of first clear visual contact with the target. I find it useful to think of my gun-down position as if I was hip shooting at the line of the bird.
- Direct your eyes, turning your head slightly, to the area where you can first see the target as a blur or streak – not to the trap itself.
- Imagine a smoked clay in your mind’s eye.
- Call for the target. Lock your vision on it.
- Start the gun moving as soon as you see it and your eyes have achieved hard focus – and not before.
- The muzzles of the gun will naturally start on or just in front of the target but naturally accelerate in front as the mount and swing progress. You will not notice this because your eyes will remain hard focused on the bird.
- Pull the trigger when you instinctively feel it is right to do so, keeping your eyes on the leading edge of the target.
- Finish the shot perfectly, following through well, keeping your head down on the stock and your eyes on the broken fragments of the clay.
- Relax and start again!
A few words on forward allowance or lead. After much experiment, it is apparent that it is not necessary or desirable to look for a conscious lead picture for the vast majority of shots inside 35 yards: natural hand to eye co-ordination will do the work for you if you maintain visual contact.
However, on long shots that are outside your comfort zone, as well as some unusual angles – dropping birds, for example – a more deliberate approach may be necessary.
I sometimes use a version of swing-through, which I have termed graduated swing-through, where I start behind the bird roughly as far behind it as I intend to go in front.
This is good for establishing line. I also use both instinctive and deliberate versions of maintained lead, as well as spot shooting, and ‘boxing’ targets.
The CPSA method of tracking the bird briefly and pulling away works too. I sometimes call it the ‘Get You Out of Trouble’ method. Another that can work is simply touching the bird and pulling away without any noticeable tracking phase, which I call ‘Point and Push’.
If you set yourself up according to the Positive Shooting system for most presentations, you will be neither swinging through nor maintaining a lead. The gun will come up on to the bird unconsciously.
However this can be made a more conscious, deliberate action in some circumstances. At the end of the day, it is all about flexibility and experiment.
I am, nevertheless, convinced everyone should have a core technique and a developed personal shooting routine. Avoid tension, keep the gun moving smoothly and your eyes locked on the bird every time you shoot and you will achieve success.
Clay shooting tips from professionals – read more here