Bryce Blandford-Corp explains how holding your gun properly will aid a good mount and swing, as well as reducing the effects of recoil
As a newcomer to clay shooting, or just shooting in general, there’s a lot to think about, and you’ll receive plenty of advice on your gun mount, swing, lead and so on. One subject that’s easily overlooked, though, is how you actually hold the gun.
It might seem obvious, but it’s one of the fundamentals that you need to get right at the beginning. It’s all too easy to fall into bad habits; then later on you’ll have a muscle memory that you need to unlearn in order to progress.
The key to a good gun hold is you should be comfortable and relaxed but in control. Beginners, wary of the recoil, sometimes hold the gun in a vice-like death grip. This stiffens up the muscles of the arms and shoulders so you can’t move freely.
Your aim should be to support, mount and swing the gun confidently, without excessive muscular effort. Your arms, wrists and hands should be comfortable, with none of your joints twisted into awkward positions.
Let’s break this down one step at a time, starting with the leading hand – if you’re a right-handed shooter that’s the left hand, in other words the hand holding the fore-end.
The fore-end wood rests on the slightly cupped palm of your leading hand, with the thumb on one side of the fore-end and three fingers on the other side.
The forefinger rests under the fore-end, pointing roughly in the same direction as the barrels. It’s important you don’t try to wrap all four fingers round the fore-end, otherwise your wrist will be cocked uncomfortably and it will restrict your arm movement.
Some shooters develop their own style of grip with the leading hand, consciously using the forefinger to point at the target. Others use something akin to a Vulcan salute, where one or even two fingers come round the fore-end to sit alongside the thumb.
With experience, you may find that a slightly unconventional grip works for you, but initially at least I’d advise you to stick to a conventional grip with your forefinger under the fore-end.
Next, consider exactly where you grip the fore-end along its length. Your hand should always be on the wood, not touching metal, unless you’re shooting an old fashioned side-by-side with a splinter fore-end.
The standard chequering on a fore-end is a good guide to where your hand should go, but even that leaves some scope for moving the hand up or down the woodwork.
The best leading hand position depends on several factors, including how the gun fits you, the distribution of weight between your hands, and even the angle at which you expect to take the shot.
Later on, when you have the experience, you may choose to shift your grip on the fore-end for those reasons. For now, however, it’s best to find a position that’s comfortable and concentrate on being consistent – placing your hand in the same spot each time you shoot.
Ensure that your elbow is comfortably bent, and you can swing the gun up and down freely without needing to move your leading hand.
As with the leading hand, with the trigger hand we’re looking to achieve a comfortable hold that allows you to move freely. The thumb needs to be wrapped around the grip, not on top pointing up the rib.
That would leave it directly behind the top lever, which could cause a nasty bruise when the gun recoils. The outside three fingers will wrap around the grip, opposing the thumb, to give a good hold. Your little finger should be near the bottom of the grip, but not hang below it.
All this should allow you to hold the gun comfortably in the shoulder, with the elbow held slightly out from the body and the wrist fairly straight.
Your forefinger needs to be able to comfortably operate the trigger with the pad of your finger – the bit that bears your fingerprint. If the trigger is too close, you may find you’re wrapping the first joint of your forefinger around it; too far and you may struggle to pull the trigger properly.
Many modern guns have an adjustable trigger, which you can move back or forwards to achieve the ideal position without the need for expensive gunfitting.
When you’re standing in the ready position, your finger should be off the trigger for safety. Many coaches will teach that it should rest on the metal of the action, above the trigger guard.
Some game shots prefer to rest it on the edge of the trigger guard, or even wrap it around the grip with the other fingers, until they are ready to mount and fire. Any of these are acceptable options; the main thing is to keep your finger off the trigger until you are about to shoot.
Cheek and shoulder
So far we’ve only talked about the position of your hands on the gun. When you mount and shoot, of course, there are two other points of contact to consider – your cheek on the comb of the stock, and the butt in your shoulder.
That takes us into the realms of gun mount and fit, however, which is a subject for another article. Look out for that one in a future issue of this magazine.
Bryce Blandford-Corp is a shooting instructor at Honesberie Shooting School and a keen Sporting shot, currently in A class