Timing

Timing

Timing of your mount and the release of the shot

Author:  Luther Cutts, Head Instructor (NSCA Level 3), Competitor 

This article is directed at the shooters who shoot from the low-gun position and mount the gun after seeing the target.  In this article I will discuss shooting from the low gun position and obtaining forward allowance using sustained lead.  This is the particular technique that I use and teach – it is by no means the only way to shoot, but it is the way that makes the most sense to me.   At the end of the article, I will explore the timing of the shot using Pass Through and Pull Away, two other commonly used techniques used to obtain forward allowance on a moving target.

Presumptions

The use and success of this technique is based on a few presumptions:  

  • Improved visibility
  • Adaptability
  • Consistent and proper mount
  • Belief in the technique

Improved visibility

Sporting clays, and indeed, all clay target games and any sport involving hitting an aerial target, are games of vision. Those that see the target well and understand what the target is doing normally do very well, as opposed to those who have difficulty seeing the target or are tricked by the fight characteristics of the target.  One of the fundamentals of engaging any aerial target is to see it and being able to watch it for the purpose of understanding what the target is doing, particularly when it gets to the break point (the point in its flight the shooter intends to break it).

It is generally accepted that not having your cheek pressed against the stock of your shotgun will generally give you improved visibility of what is in front of you, as your mounted firearm will occlude your vision of anything hidden behind the gun.

Another aspect of this style of shooting is the use of various, pre-defined locations to be set up before calling for the target. These locations vary widely depending on the presentation, but they always include the Break Point, the Hold Point and the Visual Pickup Point.  Typically, your Hold Point and your Visual Pickup Point are not in close proximity to one another, and having the gun unmounted allows for these variances to be accommodated.

Adaptability

Having the gun unmounted when the target is produced allows the shooter greater flexibility, and therefore the ability to improvise should the target presentation be different than was expected. It also allows the shooter to have the muzzle of the firearm in one position while their eyes are somewhere else. If you start with the gun mounted and your head on the stock, you are necessarily limited with respect to where you can first see the target.  If, on the other hand, you have the gun lowered and your head not on the stock, you can position the firearm and your head quite independent of each-other, which can increase your chances of success, or, in other words, reduce the risks of a missed target.

Mounting the gun

Irrespective of which technique (pre-mounted or gun down) a shooter uses, mounting the shotgun consistently is an important part of consistent shooting.  The shooter must be able to mount the shotgun to the same position time after time. When shooting from the low gun position, an efficient mount is also required – there must be no part of the movement which does not contribute in a positive way to the final result.  A flawless and effortless mount is one of the most important aspects of shooting from the low gun starting position.

I shamelessly use the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who said, “Perfection is achieved, notwhen there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Absolute belief in the technique

The shooting technique that I advocate and teach, Move, Mount, Shoot, works only when the practitioner has complete faith that it works.  If there are doubts about the technique, the shooter will be thinking about something other than hard focus on the target, which increases the risk of a miss significantly.

This is the hardest part of shooting to get new shooters to buy into.  It is particularly difficult when the shooter comes from another discipline, particularly from rifle shooting.  Trust that by looking at the target and ‘feeling’ where the gun is will result in a hit is hard for many shooters to accept.

Move, Mount, Shoot

This technique, first articulated by John Bidwell, works by allowing our innate, hardwired abilities to determine the forward allowance required to hit the target while it is in motion.  In his book, by the same name, Mr. Bidwell suggests that the mounting of the gun is the last thing the shooter does before releasing the shot – the firearm is not required for most of the technique, but rather, only at the end of the technique.

The best analogy I have yet heard is one where the shooting of a clay shotgun was very similar to the actions of an experienced fielder in a baseball game.  Unfortunately, I can’t find the original article, but as best I can recall, the story went something like this:

In the major leagues of baseball, when a fly ball is hit hard, the outfielder knows almost immediately where the ball is heading.  Very quickly, the fielder will know where the ball will land, roughly within about a 200-foot radius, and he will start moving before the ball has left the infield.  He watches the ball intently, and as it approaches, the area of uncertainty of where the ball will land is constantly shrinking.  This is because watching the flight of the ball imparts a great deal of information to the fielder, and he is subconsciously able to calculate where the ball will land.  This information is fed into his legs, and he moves his body into position to intercept the baseball.  Only as the ball is about to be intercepted does the player raise his glove and, if he did everything right, the ball is caught.

If we can think of the shotgun as the glove and the clay target as the ball, the concept of raising the gun only at the very end of the movement should begin to make sense.  The baseball player does not raise his glove and then run for the ball. He makes all his movements first, and only at the end, when everything else is in place and he has been watching the ball in flight for some time, does the glove come into play.

Watching anyone who is experienced and skilled makes whatever they are doing look easy.  Dancers, swimmers, runners, pilots, surgeons, martial artists – they make it look easy.  That is because they have refined their skills and dedicated themselves to perfect their execution.  All of these experts started out somewhere, with a lot less skill, and they evolved. Watch a young baseball player, new to the game, and you will see someone who has no idea what the ball is doing, and they will catch very few balls until they develop those skills.  Changes will occur with practice, and soon, they will be running down balls all over the field.  

The Move, Mount, Shoot technique has as one of its key underpinnings the requirement that the shot is released as soon as the shotgun is mounted.  Some advocates want the shot released instantly, while others allow for a very short delay. I was taught, and I teach, that the target should move no more than three metres once the gun is mounted, and sooner is better.  

A little more time is allowed on longer targets.  

This technique therefore requires the gun to be mounted to the correct lead, as there is no extra time built into the technique to make anything other than minute changes to the sight picture. Properly done, this technique allows for very quick shooting with relatively slow gun movement.  This is achieved by moving the gun with the target before the gun is mounted, allowing the gun to match the target speed.  The gun should never move faster than the target for the simple reason the gun is ahead of the target.

The reason for the quick release of the shot is due to the general tendency of shooters to look back at the gun if it is in the firing position for very long – with “very long” being anything more about a half of a second.  The technique pushes the shooter to get everything right before mounting the firearm, and not allowing for any corrections to be made after the gun is mounted.  In this technique, the vast majority of the work is done before the firearm is mounted – not at all unlike the fielder in baseball. He sees the ball, he runs to get into position, and right at the very end, when everything else is done, he raises his glove and makes the catch.

Other critical elements of the technique include the need to mount the gun to the cheek rather than the shoulder, and the need not to move the head down to the stock when mounting the gun.  Moving the head can visually disconnect the shooter from the target, whether it is a duck, a rooster or a clay target.  Ideally, you will want to keep your head, and therefore your eyes, still while the gun is mounted to your cheek.  If you get the opportunity to watch the best shooters at a large International Sporting event, where some of the best shooters in the world come to compete, one of the things that they all seem to share is mounting the shotgun to their cheek rather than their shoulders.

Pass Through Timing

For those shooters using the pass-through technique, everything thing is much the same except the gun is not mounted to the lead, but rather, it is mounted to the back of the target.  Once mounted, the gun is accelerated through the target and the shot released when the correct amount of lead is obtained.  This is also a very fast shooting method, one which involves faster gun speed, as the gun must be moving faster than the target.

Pull Away Timing

If you use the pull away technique, you will, much as the pass-through shooter, do everything much the same as the other two techniques we have discussed.  The mount is much the same in all three techniques.  With pull away, the shooter mounts to the front of the target, eases the gun in front of the target on the line and releases the shot.

Common Themes

In any of these techniques, the general principle is that the shot should be released when the correct sight picture is obtained. Riding the target – holding the sight picture after the proper sight picture has been obtained – is not a part of any of these techniques and most good shooters will advise against maintaining the sight picture any longer than the absolutely minimum period of time possible.

All three techniques utilize the same mounting procedure, and all three are used by some of the best shooters on the planet. Some shooters use one exclusively, others will use two and some will use all three.  All three techniques allow the shooter to engage the target and generate the correct amount of forward allowance to hit the target.The one that is the best is the one that works for you.  I struggle with pull away and swing through, but for some people, they are the only way to go.  Find the one that works for you and perfect it through dedicated practice and training. Getting into the habit of releasing the round as soon as you have the sight picture should improve your consistency and help with your singular focus on the target.

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