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Three Top Methods for Leading a Target

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Article drawn from Field and Stream

Mix up your methods for leading targets, and watch more birds fall

Three Ways

Most self-taught shooters use the swing-through method for all of their shooting (see fig. A). It’s easy and instinctive: You start the gun behind the bird and swing through it, “painting it from the sky,” as my dad taught me. Or “butt, belly, beak, bang,” as the English say, which reflects the fact that you pull the trigger as you pass the beak. Swing-through is great on flushing birds, for other shots inside 30 yards, and for trap. But as distances increase, it becomes increasingly harder to swing through and connect on crossing targets.

1. Don’t Measure

Everyone sees lead a little differently. What looks like 2 feet to me may look like 4 to you. That said, as a general rule, most gamebirds in good shotgun range can be killed by shooting just in front of their heads. If they’re farther away, double that gap. If they’re really far, double it again.

It’s more of a feel, however, than an exact distance. The more you shoot, the more your brain stores targeting solutions, and the more you can trust your subconscious to tell you when to pull the trigger. Measuring lead results in misses because it requires you to look at the gun, which slows it or stops it from moving, and you miss behind. Most birds are missed behind by feet, not inches, because the shooter checked the lead and stopped the gun.

2. Stay Focused

Keep your eyes on the target. The bird should be in tight focus while the barrel blurs in your peripheral vision. Narrow your focus as tightly as you can. Look at the eye, the beak, the green head, the neck ring, or the white cheek patch of the bird you’re shooting at. The more precise the visual information you feed your brain, the better job it will do of sending your hands and gun where they need to go.

3. Get in Line

Following the target’s line of flight is crucial. If you are not on line, you’ll miss, even if your lead is right. If you are on line, you’ll probably hit it, even if the lead is “wrong,” because you’re shooting a wide pattern, not a single bullet. As you swing, hold the muzzle slightly below the bird so you can keep the target in sight.

4. Move in Time

You must swing the gun more or less in time with the target, all the way through to the end of the shot. If you shoot maintained lead, you want to match the target’s speed. For swing-through and pull-away, think of swinging 1 mph faster than the bird. Don’t rush it. Going too fast destroys your feel for the target and draws your eye to the bead. Move in time with the bird and everything seems to slow down, like bullet time in The Matrix, and shooting becomes easy.

lead gun

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