I am interested in your thoughts on the most effective low gun starting position for different types of shots. John Kruger starts with the gun just off his shoulder and as a result there is very little gun movement. By way of contrast, Andy Duffy starts from a position that is lower than even FITASC requirements.
I like starting from the FITASC position but have found that it only works for me on shots that have a very slow tempo. On faster paced shots I don’t get on the bird quickly enough and thereby often deprive myself of a shot in the optimum window.
At my local sporting club they throw a lot of true pair trap style shots (going away with a moderate quartering aspect). On these shots, I do better by starting with the gun in a higher position just off my shoulder. This position allows me to get my first shot off much quicker. On crossers with a longer time window, I start with the gun tucked in my armpit a la Ken Davies. On slow incomers the FITASC position seems to work just fine.
Is it better to learn to start from the same place for all shots or is my mix and match approach OK?
Good question. For me, your mix and match approach is the right way to go.
Like most other things in sporting clays, there isn’t only one correct way to start the gun. When I have shot with Andy, I haven’t noticed him hold as low as you mention, but he could well do it for certain slowly developing shots. I would be surprised if he held that low for trap-style shots. He certainly doesn’t mind shooting a mounted gun when he shoots pigeons.
In sporting, I use two completely different gun starting positions. On very quickly developing shots, like some trap-style shots, some quartering and some teal, I use a fully premounted gun just like trap. For all the other shots (about 80% it seems), I use a starting position where the gun butt is tucked under my armpit and pulled back about 1″. I have tried a modified skeet start with the comb just an inch below my cheek for certain fast developing shots, but I just never felt completely comfortable. In FITASC, I start my gun just below the line, but pulled back a little bit more along the side of the chest, rather than straight out front.
Like many shooters, I came to sporting from “somewhere else”. In my case I shot International Skeet exclusively from 1972 to 1986 and even achieved some success, though I did have to sit as a spectator in the grandstands in Montreal and Los Angeles while I watched the guys who beat me compete. As you know, in Olympic skeet the butt is started touching the crest of the hip bone, well below the FITASC line. I mention this only to make the point that I am perfectly comfortable raising the gun from waist to shoulder on short window shots- but I also know that it is something to be overcome, not used as an advantage.
The bottom line to it all is that every extra motion you have to make is a source of a potential error. This doesn’t mean that it is always wrong, just that it opens the door to “wrongness”. The more time you have to properly raise the gun to the shoulder, the less chance there is for error, but it does exist.
Then why don’t I always shoot a fully mounted gun for sporting? Why doesn’t everyone? The reason is that a fully mounted gun does two things: 1) it interferes with vision, and 2) it encourages “riding” the bird on slow developing shots.
When the gun is started “off the face”, vision to acquire the target is far better than it is when a mounted gun obscures the sight picture half way up the master eye. You simply see better without the gun blocking part of your vision.
When you start with a fully mounted gun, you are ready to shoot only a fraction of a moment after you first see the bird. If the bird starts at some distance from you, you may prefer to wait a while before taking it. If you start fully mounted, this means that you will have to wait out the bird by “riding” it. Riding a bird and still taking it successfully requires tremendous discipline. For most shooters spending too much time on the bird leads to stopping the gun or lifting the head. It can be the kiss of death for a newer shooter.
So, personally I am more inclined to use a fully premounted gun on shots that require a very fast reaction time. Teal is a good example. Generally I prefer to take my teal on the way up when possible. I often start my gun right on the top of the trap or just above it and take the bird with a rapid vertical move by sweeping up through it. Yes, I know that there are other proven ways to deal with teal, but that is how I do it on certain presentations. When I shoot teal this way, I generally use a mounted gun. Trap style shots are another time that I use a fully mounted gun. I also generally use a fully mounted gun on a straight incomer.
I use a low gun for just about everything else. By low I mean just under my armpit and pulled back an inch so that I have to push it forward as I mount. I like to push forward just a touch because a straight vertical mounting move seems to be less stable for me. In theory, it is quicker, but I have found it to be more erratic. Besides, I don’t worry about speed of gun mount. If speed is a consideration, I use a pre-mounted gun.
The big advantage to starting with a low gun is that you can follow the bird with your barrels as the shot develops while the gun butt remains under the armpit. This guarantees that the front of the gun will be moving BEFORE the rear does. It prevents “boxing” the bird (raising the rear to the shoulder before moving the muzzle) and enables the shooter to proceed in the efficient “move, mount and shoot” sequence, rather than the “mount, move and miss” manner. I cannot emphasize how important it can be to get the muzzle moving with some targets before the gun is mounted. Once the muzzle is moving with the bird, then as I see the lead develop I raise the gun to my cheek and fire.
I have shot with Ken Davies (and Rex Gage before him). Like them, I firmly believe that the under-the-armpit start is the right way to handle most sporting targets and most upland birds. Not always, but most of the time. It gives you a sense of “pace” and keeps you from rushing into doing anything stupid- as I am prone to do all too often.
That said, I have also found to my chagrin that when I start with a low gun, the longer I spend with the gun on my face after it is mounted, the better the chance of a miss. The whole idea of shooting a low gun is to take your time mounting it as you follow the target, but when it is up, get it over with. This is as true (or even truer) on dove (or similar “long sight line” birds) as it is on slow developing clay targets. With slow developing clays, take your time with the unmounted swing, but fire the moment the gun touches your cheek.
Now if I could just always practice what I preach…
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)