Every year towards the end of August, my hunting buddies start the email chain encouraging each other to shoot some clay pigeons. I have a thrower and a shooting location, so the event revolves around my schedule. Since we’re practicing for hunting we use a few different sized clay targets, and even though it costs a bit more we shoot the loads we’ll use for hunting, too. I’ll run a dozen shells through the old 10-gauge side-by-side. The duck hunters get a little shoulder stress from their heavy loads, too.
Inevitably, everyone has some issues from not shooting for eight months or more. The most obvious is poorly mounting the shotgun. The shotgun mount is the foundation for a good shot and the most important aspect of shot-gunning, but often the most poorly executed. I’ve been fortunate to have trained under some amazing shooters, and they always stressed the fundamental importance of a properly mounted gun.
The bad mount almost always consists of the shooter bringing the gun up to their shoulder, then looking over the top of the barrel for a better view of the target. This causes them to raise the barrel and shoot over the top of the clay pigeon.
The remedy for this bad mount is to get a snap cap, put it in the gun, and dry fire a number of times at stationary objects while keeping the cheek firmly planted on the stock. Know what it feels to maintain a solid mount during the trigger pull.
Once you get the gun mounted properly and you know what it feels like and can maintain it through the shot, get an accurate sight picture of the barrel relative to the target.
Remember, when shooting a shotgun you want both eyes open when swinging on a target and the sight picture is important to making sure you pull the trigger at the right time. So, throw some clay birds straight out in front of you. These are lay-ups that will allow you to see where the barrel needs to be positioned to get the most load on target.
Some guns have a sight picture that puts the target above the barrel. Some have the barrel cover the target. I have a .410 side-by-side that needs the target just to the left of the barrel. Once you figure out the sight picture, then you work on your swing and lead.
On targets moving from left to right or right to left you have to lead them a bit. The toughest clay targets to hit for me are the dropping-quartering targets. I work on those last. I like a rising target best, but everyone has their preferences. I can only say that grooving the lead means practicing.
The other trick I learned from a world-class sporting clays shooter who taught me to always run the index finger on my left hand – I’m a right-hand shooter – along the barrel. Then point at the target with that finger as you set up the sight picture and swing. It has helped me hit many more target over the years.