Reading Breaks


I have been shooting skeet for a number of years and do ok at it…..well enough to keep trying anyway. I have often seen a target obviously broken toward the front or the rear and heard a comment from someone that the shot was either in front or behind, i.e. a comment on the lead.

I’ve made those comments myself too. But the more I think about it the less certain I am that we can tell. If you hold an edge-on target against a random test pattern from the patterning board, it seems obvious that there are many locations throughout the pattern where a hit on the front or the rear of the target could occur. I know it is occasionally possible, under perfect lighting conditions, to see the shot string in the air; but that doesn’t occur often for most of us.

I also believe we can usually distinguish a well centered target from one that has been fringed. But when a target has been fringed and only a few pieces come off of the front or the rear, can I really count on the bulk of the pattern having been in front of or behind the target.

Maybe this is a case of probabilities….What think ye?


Dear Don,

I really don’t know what to think, now that I think of it. Like you, I had always assumed that when you blow the front of the target off, that you were a bit in front. One of the reasons that I shoot slightly tighter chokes than most people do is so that I can “read” my breaks. I have heard many other better shooters tell me that this is why they shoot full choke at 16 yard ATA trap.

When shooting skeet with my Beretta 303, I have always obtained my best scores using a measured .010″ choke. This is a bit tighter than most people use for skeet, but I really can read my breaks. I can definitely see that I am in front when I take the nose off the bird and I can take corrective action or just back in the glow of another job well done. The break just confirms what I have already realized.

I have fooled around a lot with cylinder bore at skeet, but find that I am frustrated by the inability to achieve a harder break when I know that I am dead center. Consciously or unconsciously, I seem to need to read my breaks.

When I fringe a target and a piece comes off, say, the front, I still consider that pretty good feed back. Since I am on the fringe, if the front-of-the-target side of the pattern is barely good enough to pull off a piece, it stands to reason that the rear, 5″ further to the edge of the pattern, is less likely to produce a hit. It can happen, as you suggest, but it is rare enough so that I can ignore it- just as I ignore my bad scores and seem to remember only my better ones.

Bottom line: breaks and patterns are random events, but not all THAT random. Occasionally you will get the wrong information by reading a fringe break, but generally it tells the truth. At least, that is my take on it.

Best regards,

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

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2 Responses to Reading Breaks

  1. Ed Sybert says:

    Neil Winston, who applied scientific principles to testing shotgun chokes and patterns, published many of his findings on He used high speed motion picture photography to illustrate how clay targets “really” break when struck by shot. In my opinion, these extensive studies prove that you really can’t tell if you were high, low, in front or behind a target by “reading the break”. Do a search for his name and the phrase “reading the break”. You’ll find some very interesting viewing. -Ed


  2. Andy Wilson says:

    Interesting views above.
    I was also interested to read that Bruce uses a .010 (IC or a 1/4) choke for skeet. I have also played with cylinder, skeet, IC and even improved skeet and kept coming back to an IC (1/4) choke as for me it seems to give me the best results.
    More and more I am just leaving a 1/4 (or IC) choke in and then just enjoy my shooting.

    Keep up with these excellent topics


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