Judging Distance

Dear Technoid,

In reading about the Choke Chooser (of which I have ordered a couple, sounds like an excellent product), I have discovered that the only variable I’ll have trouble with is the clay’s distance. Other than sheer guessing, is there a special “trick” to judge how far away a clay is? If not, are there any distance measuring devices you would suggest?

Am I also correct in assuming that if the clay travels away from you on a particular station (i.e., launched from behind you), then you want to try to shoot it at the same distance/position every time, to best keep the distance between you and the clay constant?


Dear Damon,

There are all sorts of ranges finders on the market. The recent laser ones are extraordinarily accurate and easy to use. In spite of that, I have never seen them in use by top rank sporting clays competition shooters. The better shooters have learned how to estimate distance well enough. Shotgun shooting isn’t all that precise a sport, so your distance estimations do not have to be exact. Being within five yards is usually plenty, even for a long crosser.

You can learn a few tricks in estimating distance. First of all, make SURE that you know what size target you are shooting. The whole point of using a 90 mm midi is to make the shooter think that the bird is further away than it really is. If you see a 90 against the sky and think that it is a 110, you will overestimate the lead. The course designer knows this and will try to use it against you.

If the bird is low to the ground, you will find it easier to judge distance to some stationary object, perhaps a tree or bush, that the bird passes near to at the point at which you wish to break it. This is much easier than judging the distance to the moving bird.

The hardest distance estimations are when the only thing near the bird is blue sky. When there is no frame of reference, then you have to “work back”. Judge the distance to the trap on the ground. That usually isn’t too hard. Then base your guesstimate by adding in the angle of the flight and the time the bird is in the air. It sounds complicated, but most people can do this pretty easily once they are given the distance of the machine. You don’t have to be exact, just in the ball park.

You can easily practice judging distances when you are out walking. First of all, measure your stride exactly and learn to pace a yard. Most people think that they can pace off a yard, but might be surprised at how far off they are. Once you can pace a yard, it is simple to practice estimating distance to objects when you are out walking and then confirm it by counting the paces. After a while, you will become surprisingly accurate.

Just remember that clay targets are flying through the air, so you have to add in extra for the hypotenuse due to the target elevation. A teal that goes straight up 40 yards high from a machine 40 yards away is actually over 56 yards away.

As to an overhead clay (similar to a “larger” skeet High One), it would be ideal to take the bird in the same place each time IF you hit it the first time. The whole idea of English sporting is to find what works and duplicate it. That said, I personally find that I tend to take each overhead outgoer earlier and earlier as I get into the tempo of the shot. I probably shouldn’t do this, but it really isn’t the most difficult presentation so I can get away with it. It is hesitation which kills you on this one, not shooting a bit too early.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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