Shotgun 101 – Driven Shooting Challenges

Every year we configure our training area to accommodate shooters who are going on driven shoots around the world.  Whether in the UK for pheasants, partridge or grouse or in Africa or South America on passing doves or pigeons, the incoming presentation offers its own special list of challenges that, when understood, empower the shooter to become more consistent and successful. 

Game shooting offers up its own unique challenges when compared to clay shooting. Not the least of which is that the game bird has a brain and can change its line, speed and angle with a mere flick of a feather on a wing or tail.  The clay target is decelerating when it leaves the trap and is on a fixed line. The game bird is maintaining its speed and this, combined with the ability to change their line, makes for some specific techniques to be consistently successful in the field.

One of the first things our shooters learn in shooting driven type clay targets is that the wind has a lot to do with the speed and line of the target. The same is true for the driven game birds.  A 15-20mph tail wind will give the game bird a tremendous advantage, as it gives the bird more speed with no more effort on the bird’s part to maintain it, which increases the lead necessary to hit the birds.

The more wind the bigger the challenge and when approaching a new area, our recommendation is to take a few minutes to gage the wind and the expected directions of the birds.  In some situations you might find yourself in a valley or cut in the woods where you are sheltered from the wind, but the wind could be howling above your shooting position, so look at the tops of trees or hedges along the crest of a cliff for clues to wind speed and direction.

We were hired to go to Argentina with a group of YPO executives several years ago when one such experience with the wind created a unique situation for the group.  On the first several hunts, we worked with them and got them to begin hitting the doves on a much more consistent basis. On the last hunt we were off by ourselves shooting a few birds on our own when out of no where the wind picked up to 12-15 mph, gusting to 20mph.  It was not ten minutes after the wind picked up until one of their bird boys came to get us, so we gathered our stuff and went over to the group to see what was happening.  There were lots of perplexed and sad but determined faces on the shooters. We asked what the situation was.

The answer came that they had been shooting well on the incoming birds until the wind came up and now they could not hit anything.  We stopped and watched the birds and to us they appeared as straight incoming birds, but with the strong left-to-right crosswind the birds’ speed had not changed, but they were being blown to the right by the crosswind.  Vicki was the first one to figure this out while observing over the shoulder of one of the shooters.  It was then that she told all the shooters to hold their empty guns, muzzle up vertically, at arm’s length in front of their face so the barrel would give a true vertical line and keep the barrel still and watch the birds through the barrel.  The light came on instantly for all the shooters!  While the wind did not affect the forward speed of the birds, they were drifting to the right, so instead of coming through the birds at 12 o’clock the muzzle needed to be more right at 1-2 o’clock to intercept the birds.  The thing that surprised almost everyone that day was the birds’ back bones gave them the illusion that they were flying straight. It took putting the vertical barrel in the picture to show the drift that was causing the problem.  The wind can be your friend if the birds are flying into it and it can be your foe if strong cross or tail winds give illusions and speed to flying driven or passing birds.  Remember speed creates lead, and when the wind blows over 10-12 mph in every instance but one it is an advantage to the birds.

There is another big illusion that occurs on driven shooting or pass shooting incoming birds and that is the birds’ forward speed seems to accelerate as they get closer even thought they are flying the same speed.  The engineers call this angular velocity but let us explain in simpler terms.

The birds are first seen as a dot on the horizon as they are flying toward you and while they are flying the same speed as they approach your position, they don’t appear to be moving very fast.  At distance they are incoming and will have very little discernable movement, but as they approach your shooting position the angle begins to widen and relative to you, the more they get overhead, they become 90-degree crosser and the bird seems to double in speed.  It is at this point that most incoming birds are missed behind or sometimes off-line to the right or left because the bird crowded the gun, getting inside the lead. The gun is in the way of the brain seeing the line of the bird and the shooter is left with just a poke and hope shot.

Two things must be mastered when preparing or practicing the incoming high driven target, painted or feathered. First, take the birds farther out in front. The higher they are, the front hand must be moved back toward the receiver and the feet must be closer together.  If you will simply observe the birds when they begin to fly, there will be a point in their pathway that they begin to speed up as the angle begins to change from incoming to crossing.

It is just before that point that the gun should be inserted just under the bird and once the speed is matched, push the muzzle through the bird and take the shot in front of your peg.  The indecision and late mounting of the gun that occurs here is the leading cause for missing driven shots, because there will be a spot where the birds’ acceleration will be extreme. A late shot in most instances is a poke and a hope and anything but consistent in desired result.  In the first few birds to come in as the shooting begins there will be a place where the birds’ speed will begin to slowly increase and that is were the shot should begin and not long after the shot should be taken.  At this point the birds appear to be slower and the necessary lead to hit them is much less than when almost directly over head, not to mention, when hit in front of the peg it is extremely satisfying in seeing your bird hit the ground in front of you or just to your side.

“Hands together, feet together” is something that most shooters who have never really tried to shoot incoming birds have ever really considered, but we will guarantee you that the higher the birds are, the closer the hands must be on the gun and the closer together the feet must be.  On really high birds you will be taking the shot off the back foot and with the front hand much closer to the action of the gun, it takes less movement of the hands to make more movement with the muzzles!

On our trip to El Campo to shoot white-winged doves this past September we had occasion to both shoot high incoming birds and share with several hunters in our group both the sight picture and the techniques we teach on driven shots.  They were amazed at how easy the shots were once they understood the sight picture and implemented “hands together, feet together.”  The birds we were shooting were flying over some high power lines before they got into range, so they were at least 40 yards high. We put in full chokes and shared some of our Fiocchi 20 gauge one-ounce #6’s with everyone, which made a world of difference.  Most there had never used 6s on high white-winged doves before, but after the first afternoon, seeing our results as well as theirs, it didn’t take a lot of convincing to get them to make the switch to 6s and to take those incoming birds early!–Gil & Vicki Ash

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