Long Bird Technique Vs Short Bird Technique

Dear Technoid,

Does it make sense to say that the technique to go after a clay is different depending on how far the clay is?

I have sometimes this feeling that when the clays are in a close range (I would estimate roughly under 35 feet), the best way to break them is to go for it: Forget your barrel, concentrate on the clay only and shoot. When I follow this, I cannot remember my barrel at all in the picture or the amount of lead I used to shoot.

Does it sound right? Because if it does not, then I have the “other way” which is basically to be conscious of the clay and the barrel (and as a result of the lead) at the time the shot is taken. On long range clays (past 40 yards), I cannot use the first technique anyway.

As a result, I find that the difficult clays are the ones which are distance-wise just at the limit, right past the distance where technique one does not work anymore…

So, my question is: Do you feel the distinction when you shoot? And as a result do you use two different techniques to shoot?


Dear Francois,

Good question and one that has been asked for a long time. It would take a book on shooting technique to answer it properly. Though this isn’t a debate, debate rules do apply. The first thing that everyone has to agree on is the language. People describe leads and techniques differently. It’s like trying to describe a taste or a color. Different people use different words to describe the same thing. I’ll do the best I can, but if you don’t agree with me on something, look at my vocabulary first and my reasoning second. We may both be saying the same thing, but just using different words to describe it.

The use of the Churchill Technique points out the technique change needed for long and short target quite clearly. Well, at least as clearly as the Churchill Technique has ever pointed anything out. It’s always been somewhat vague.

Basically, Robert Churchill espoused a technique of shooting right at the bird with no apparent lead. It’s a swing through system where the speed of the gun and follow through provide the lead. No visual lead is used (so he said). He also espoused short barreled (25″) guns that lent themselves to this method. On the close stuff it worked really well. By close, I mean out to around 30 yards. Since most game birds are taken within that distance, the system was successful for most people most of the time. This sounds sort of like what you are describing on your short birds. You might call it a swing through technique or Churchill or something else.

Obviously, every bird requires lead whether the shooter perceives it or not. The Churchill method relies on a slight delay from the time that the brain says “Fire!” to the time the shot actually exits the barrel. The shooter is swinging rapidly through the bird from rear to front. He attempts to pull the trigger when the muzzle touches the head of the bird, but he keeps his follow through going. By the time the shot leaves the barrel, the barrel has actually moved in front of the bird to the proper lead. This system relies on human “lock time” to provide the lead.

That’s the theory and it works just fine for many shots. Unfortunately, this “see no lead, but swing hard” style poops out at distance. When the bird gets out there, you do have to see some lead. You can still use the same swing through technique, but instead of shooting right at the bird’s head, you do have to shoot in front. But it’s not as much forward lead as you have to see as when you use pull away or sustained lead. They need more lead because the speed of the gun is slower.

So, using the ubiquitous and poorly understood Churchill method as an example, yes, you do have to change techniques for the long birds or at least the degree of the technique. I find that this does not apply to the sustained lead method. There you simply insert the gun into space in front of the bird, adjust to the lead you want, all the time remaining in front of the bird, and fire. As the bird gets further away, the lead you see will increase, but the technique remains the same. The Pull Away method splits the different between the swing through Churchill style and the sustained lead system.

Of course, none of the drivel above has answered your question. You say that when you deal with a close bird, you just forget your barrel and “go for it”. Ah! So you use the “Go for it technique”. Me too. On the long birds, you sound as if you are starting to try to judge lead between the barrel and bird and be more precise. Yup again. Welcome to the club. Long birds do seem to require more precision and precision requires a bit of aiming.

“Aim” a shotgun! I can hear the howls of derision now. But that’s the case. If you don’t think that a 27 yard trap shooter doesn’t aim, think again. Ditto a good sporting clays shooter dealing with a 40 yard plus shot. Why do you think that both like those long, thin barrels? Because they help you aim and be precise, that’s why. People aim at short stuff too. Talk to the AAA American style skeet shooters. They shoot sustained lead and they flat out aim because they know exactly where they want to put that pattern. A club-level shooter may not think in these terms, but the pros do.

There is nothing at all wrong with aiming a shotgun if

1) you know exactly what lead you want, and

2) you are disciplined enough to maintain your swing and follow through (aiming encourages stopping the swing).

Most shotgunners can’t reliably do #1 and #2, so instead they use a lot of gun speed to as a substitute for follow through and lead. This isn’t quite as precise, but it works great on unknown targets at unknown (but relatively close) distances. That’s why most field shooters just “go for it” and don’t think about lead. Of course, you seldom get the same shot twice in a row in the field, whereas you do in most clays games. Once you get repetitive shots, you start to look for ways to repeat them exactly without using instinct. Enter aiming.

Bottom line: The difference between near and far targets that you are seeing is completely normal. Whether you choose to use a different technique on the long birds or just “more of the same”, is up to you. Whether it’s a change in degree of one technique or adaption of another technique, is up to you. Either way, there’s no question that long birds take more lead than close ones. How you arrive at that is up to you.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

This entry was posted in Shotgun related. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.