Man or woman, tall or short, large and small – Tom Payne highlights the areas that every Shot should watch to help improve their performance.
When it comes to teaching an adult to shoot, I always treat each person as an individual. I do not treat a lady Shot any differently from how I would a gentleman, for example. There are lots of things said with regard to lady Shots, such as eye-dominance problems, body shape and strength but these are factors affecting performance that should always be looked at, regardless of sex.
I would never begin a lesson with a woman thinking: “Well, my client is a lady so I must do this or that, because the rule book suggests it.” I will evaluate the client first. I teach many talented lady game Shots and never have I ever thought of treating them any differently.
To quote England rugby coach, Eddie Jones: “You play what is in front of you.” He is completely right. Trying to stick to the same game plan with everyone will only lead to failure.
I take this attitude with every client who wants to shoot game to the best of their ability. So in this article, I will explode a few myths and look at some key factors that, when taken into account and correctly addressed, will hopefully put every Shot on a level playing field.
The dominant eye is, as it sounds, the eye that is the stronger of the two. It normally corresponds with whichever hand a person uses. Your dominant eye should be the one you use to look along the centre of the rib and out towards the bird. This enables a shooter with a sound gun mount and technique to pick up the bird correctly, reading speed, distance and direction to make the shot. If the opposite eye is the dominant, you will miss the line of the bird and completely misread the shot.
There are lots of tests to check for a person’s master eye, but I tend not to get too carried away. I make the judgement on the way a client handles a gun by doing a few checks, making it obvious that I am checking their eyes. Simple is best.
For a novice Shot, regardless of sex, age or size, I will start them off shooting with one eye shut. This does create “tunnel vision” but it also enables the client to build a firm relationship with the gun, as well as a solid understanding of how the gun should feel against the face and shoulder during correct gun mount.
Having established eye dominance before someone starts to learn means that when I feel the time is right, I can move them on to keeping both eyes open when they shoot, if and when I feel it is right to do so.
Some clients may struggle getting their bearings with both eyes open when they first shoot, but an ability to trust your eyes with correct technique and gun fit will bring consistent results.
If, however, a client shoots well and consistently with an eye dimmed or shut and they are planning on doing relatively little shooting, I feel that there is no need to change their approach.
The basics of gun fit
Gun fit relates to the dimensions of the stock of your gun. A gun that fits you should enable you to mount the gun with ease, and the gun will shoot exactly where you look – if mounted correctly. It is the major factor in shooting accurately and consistently when technique is sound.
As with any sport, it takes time and effort to develop the correct technique. You would not head straight to Newbery Cricket Bats to have a bat made after your first nets session, nor would you approach Wilson to have a tennis racket made after your first lesson. Shooting is no different.
This is where, as a new Shot, you must bide your time. Learning to shoot should be enjoyed. It takes time to become a good Shot. What I mean by this is, becoming consistent. Having a structure to your shooting will enable this. But at the same time any good instructor will always make sure that the gun you learn to shoot with has a comfortable fit, enabling you to shoot in comfort and progress accordingly.
It should be said that gun fit is a very precise procedure. In order for your stock measurements to be correct and benefit your shooting, gun mount, stance/footwork and shooting technique must be constant and consistent.
Gun fit will not benefit you in any way whatsoever if you have not first learnt to shoot correctly. Gun fit is not a quick fix. There can be no cutting corners if you want to shoot well.
When selecting cartridges, think about compatibility and comfort. The cartridge you shoot through the season and during practice has to be compatible with the person shooting and their gun.
Not all cartridges will suit everybody and their gun. Shot patterns will vary with different guns, so testing a few on a pattern plate will give a good indication as to which cartridges and loads work well. Do not get hung up on these pattern plates, but they are worth a look. If the pattern plate is not your bag, then concentrate on the impact on clays when practising instead.
Being comfortable with your cartridges is important. Everybody feels recoil in a different way, and you will find that your gun will deal with recoil differently as well. Heavier-weighted guns will generally cope with heavier loads better than a light gun because they have more recoil.
If you are uncomfortable using a certain cartridge and load, this will only play on your mind and affect your shooting.
Gun fit and experience
I do not believe in the saying “if you can shoot, you can shoot with any
gun” — completely the opposite, in fact. The better the Shot you are, the more important it is that the gun fits you.
This is because for you to shoot to the best of your ability, the gun must shoot where you look. A minor movement, or a wrong fit at the shooter’s end, is hugely exaggerated at distance with regard to shot placement.
Anyone who shoots well is more often than not going to miss a bird off line as opposed to lead. A badly fitted gun will affect the way the shooter picks up a bird, resulting in misreading the bird, which will inevitably result in consistently missing.
This, in turn, causes great frustration which results in the shooter trying different techniques, moving away from their structured shooting and stepping into no-man’s-land. It is a vicious circle, all because of bad gun fit.
Not every experienced Shot shoots with elegance and finesse, but they can, nevertheless, be incredibly effective.
In cases such as this, if their style of shooting works for them, then I would not try to “fix it”. I would fit the gun to the way they shoot, especially if I know that they will never change. Of course, that said, I would never fit a gun to a terrible mistake, but this is a judgement that I make with every client when I see him or her shoot.
The gun that you choose to shoot with is a highly personal choice, but there are certain key factors that every shooter must take into consideration.
1. Is it well made and reliable? A good investment will be a gun that will not let you down if you look after it well.
2. Is it compatible to your size and strength? This will determine the gauge and the weight of the gun.
3. Is it a good fit? Style and technique aside, a gun must fit properly for you
to shoot to the best of your ability.
4. Length of barrels. The length of barrels is important. I would recommend 30in barrels across the board for anyone starting or who shoots a reasonable amount. Short barrels do not give you as much control as longer barrels.
5. Chokes. Ideal chokes would be half and half or three-quarters and three-quarters. Fixed. Very good, all-round game chokes.
Benefits of gun fit
The benefits of gun fit are simple. A correctly fitted gun will shoot where you look. It will
be comfortable to mount, allowing you to keep your eyes on the bird. At no point should you need to worry whether your master eye is correctly in line, regardless of whether you have both eyes open or one eye closed.
Your correctly fitted gun will be a joy to shoot with.
However, remember that a correctly fitted gun is reliant on your ability to mount the gun consistently. If your gun mounting is inconsistent, then the gun will never shoot where you look.
Observing all of the above leads to one major part of shooting well: confidence. With shooting, confidence plays one of the biggest roles when you want to shoot consistently and to the best of your ability. It is a lonely and frustrating place when a day in the field goes wrong.
The aim of everything mentioned in this article is to reduce any variables that could cause a dip in form, and a large part in helping to ensure this is the case is having complete trust in the way you have been taught, your gun choice, gun fit and cartridge selection. So long as these are correct for you, you will shoot to the best of your ability.