By ‘The Smooth Bore’
Looking back over thirty years of teaching the art of the shotgun, I find myself watching for a whole set of mistakes in shooters of all skill levels. When I first started out, it was the obvious and simple that I had to deal with. But with experience, I have added a catalogue of seemingly small errors that, added together, can dramatically reduce even an experienced shot’s effectiveness.
The way in which the gun is held and handled when shooting is an example. I try to impress on pupils the ‘Law of Minimum Movement’, in other words reducing to a minimum the total movement of the gun through the cycle of target acquisition and destruction. Firm and accurate control of the gun is part of this ‘Law’.
The gun is controlled mainly by the trigger hand, the forward hand providing support and direction, of course. But it is the trigger hand that ensures the correct mount of the stock to the cheek and shoulder to give the correct placement of the eye along the barrel, as well as timing the firing of the gun.
The first stage is to ensure the gun is held correctly. Placement of the hands should be consistent with holding the gun vertical, not canted to one side or the other, and in such a way as to maintain full control of the gun. The trigger hand, and this applies equally to either left- or right-handed shooters, must encircle the grip as far as possible, with the thumb firmly over the top. I have seen a good few shooters leave the thumb along the stock giving, in effect, an open handed grip. The result can be a partial loss of control for the second shot as the gun can lift from the hand. At the same time the hand must be as far forward so as to place the second finger of the hand comfortably in the curve of the trigger guard. The index finger now engages properly with the trigger, rather than just the finger tip which can lack strength for a decisive, crisp trigger pull. In the further interests of safety, this grip allows the finger to span the trigger guard and rest comfortably on the forward curve of the guard. With the hand too far back, the index finger has no support and tends to curl onto the trigger at inappropriate moments.
The forward hand, on the fore-end, again must hold the wood in a firm manner, thumb and fingers deployed around the grip. I have lost count of the shooters I have seen with the fore-end resting on the thumb and index finger of a virtually closed hand, giving support certainly, but offering little or no control of the barrels’ tendency to ‘flip’ with recoil making the second shot difficult to bring off successfully.
The other common fault is to hold the gun too far forward with the arm stretched out, almost parallel with the barrels. I describe this as ‘lever arm’, when what is desired is ‘piston arm’. By holding the gun with the hand closer to the hinge point the arm is bent and as such acts as a piston to control the vertical and horizontal movement of the barrels. This is even more relevant when addressing a fast, incoming, driven target. With the arm outstretched, movement in the arc from pick-up point to the chosen killing area, is noticeably limited when compared to a bent arm.
People frequently ask if the index finger of the forward hand should be bent to hold the fore-end or straight out to act as a pointer. My answer is that everyone is different and every brain ‘sees’ things differently. So, if a straight finger works for you, use it.
Once mounted, with the eye correctly aligned with the barrel, the gun is held in place by the triangle of the trigger hand, the cheek and the shoulder. However much the forward hand or body move during target acquisition, the triangle must remain in a constant relationship. If any movement away from the correct line of sight is permitted the shot will be missed.
So, correctly positioned hands are a basic for shooting improvement.