Acquiring The Target

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Shot!

Successful shooting depends on your ability to “acquire” the target.  Once you “have it” then your chances of breaking the target are much increased!  

To do this well and consistently, firstly your set up must be correct.  We’ve discussed all this in previous blogs: Ready Position including feet, stance, grip, balance, pick up and hold points; knowing your break point and the method of shooting you want to use.  

Secondly, you need a systematic way of responding to the target in order to make the all-important connection.  Just chucking the gun up with no logical process won’t give the result you’re after.  Once the connection is made, it provides all the information you require about the target in order to hit it ie speed, direction, angle and distance.

The following components will optimise the likelihood of breaking the clay through the target acquisition process.  I’ve made the assumption that you’re shooting “gun down”.  If you shoot “gun in” ie pre-mounted, your process will be slightly different. 

1: Knowledge of the Target

It helps to know what target you are dealing with; a standard, midi, mini, rabbit, battue, or chondel, say.  What is it is going to do?  Is it on its edge or do you see the full face of the target?  What is its direction of travel and height? When does it drop and how quickly?  Does it turn and when?  Is it wind affected? Etc.

2: Seeing the Target

You must know exactly where the target is coming from to pick it up early.  If you don’t, you either won’t see it at all and miss or you’ll take too long to find it and probably miss.  The background, weather, light and your shooting lenses can all affect how well you will see and your ability to focus on the target.

3: Connection with the Target

To connect with the target once it emerges, move the barrels in a smooth and controlled manner to the target at the same time as mounting the gun to the cheek and shoulder.  Keep the nose in line with the rib as you turn, rotating from the hips.  The forend hand has an important job to do in terms guiding the barrels with precision to the correct place.

4: Speed of the Target

The process of moving the barrels to the target and the gun to the face must match the speed of the target.  Too slow and you’ll be beaten by the target and shoot late; too fast and you’ll end up too far ahead with no connection and will probably stop the gun. Both may result in a miss.  Be guided by the target.

5: Acquisition of the Target

A brief moment moving with the target reinforces the “acquisition”.  Without conscious thought, the brain is able to process all the information it has received about the target up to this point.

6: Acceleration from the Target

Armed with the above information, smoothly and instinctively accelerate away.

7: Focus on the Target

Look at and be aware of the target while bringing the barrels to the clay and mounting the gun.  Once that connection between target and barrels is made, intensify your focus as you accelerate away.  Don’t aim, line up the target with the bead, look at the barrels or look for lead or measure the distance; focus on the target only.  Take your eye off the target and you’ll lose the connection.

8: Timing 

Having made the connection, reinforce this by having a brief moment with the target.  Then make the final adjustment at the break point by accelerating ahead to create the lead.  Pull the trigger when the correct lead picture is established.  This is a fleeting moment, not a measured distance, so timing is essential.  Hanging on to a target to “make sure” is not usually the best policy!

9: Follow Through

As you are pulling the trigger keep the gun moving for a short while along the flight line as you watch the target shatter!

10: Control

Control of the barrels throughout the shot is vital.  Whilst mounting the gun, keep separation between the target and the barrels ie keep the barrels below the target; when the gun is fully mounted there should still be a gap, allowing a clear view of the target at all times. This is to prevent the barrels being too high on the target, at which point there is nowhere to go and it’s hard to correct.  The final part is the small adjustment at the end of the shot, when the barrels are accelerated to establish the correct lead.

11: Balance

It is important to keep your balance throughout the shot keeping the weight over the front hip.  Any leaning back is fatal; transferring your weight to the back foot results in bringing the barrels too high and/or taking your head off the stock, resulting in a miss.

The above should be executed as one fluid process, which is efficient, controlled and precise rather than laboured and involving excess body or gun movement.  Go and have fun acquiring your targets!  Concentrate on the process not the outcome!