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Sporting Clays: Tips for Mastering Your Positioning

By: Earl Mclean

The following tips for mastering your positioning while shooting sporting clays may seem complicated and a little overwhelming at first, but it is really quite simple after you start practicing it.

Bear with me, and be sure to check out “Tips for Practicing Sporting Clays On Your Own,” if you haven’t already.

Four Types of Targets
There are basically four types of targets: 1) Going away 2) Incoming 3) Quartering (targets are moving diagonal to the shooter) 4) Crossing

Going Away
Let’s start with “going away.” These are generally easy to hit with good position.

Remember to always start with a “view target,” which allows you to see a target before you shoot. Coming off the trap, the bird is a blur. You should be facing in the direction the bird is going, your feet about shoulder-width apart. For right-handed shooters, the left big toe is pointing in the direction of the bird’s flight, the right foot at about 45 degrees to the right, slightly behind the left foot.

This stance keeps your upper body facing the bird. This is VERY important. The tendency is to put the right foot to the rear at about 90 degrees to the left. This causes the gun to mount on the arm instead of in the shoulder pocket, which not only causes an erratic and inconsistent mount, but it’s painful, too.

Since the bird is going straight away, you want to be careful not to block your view with the gun. The bird, even if it hugs the ground, is rising somewhat. Where the bird becomes clear on the line of flight is generally your hold point, and here you are presented with two choices: Either drop the gun underneath and bring it up to the break point, or look around the gun. I prefer breaking my cheek from the gun, bringing it down to see better as the bird emerges, cheek the gun on the bird, and BANG! Dead bird.

Quartering Away, Incomers
Quartering targets are flying diagonal to the shooter, and in this instance, getting farther away.

Place your feet in much the same as you did for the going away bird, pointing your forward foot near where you intend to break the bird. Your muzzle should be on the flight line where the bird starts to become clear.

As you cheek the gun, you should be moving slightly ahead of the bird, then triggering the shot. Trust your eyes and instinct about how much length of lead (the lead being the distance in front of the target the muzzle has to be at to break the target) you give the bird. Starting with the target at a slight angle, start moving to a wider angle, every few feet shooting the target. Do this right to left, then come back and repeat going left to right. As you do this, you teach yourself the picture necessary to make the shot. Stepping back a few steps and repeating will increase your picture vocabulary – the pictures your subconscious remembers when you find success.

Each time you break the target, your brain works like a computer and remembers the success. Your mind subconsciously remembers the picture, just as it does a new word.
Do this same exercise with incomers. Incoming, straight at you, blot it out. For quartering in, it’s the same as going away, except you will notice the lead is getting longer as the bird comes by, instead of it getting shorter as it goes away. Notice that the shot is being triggered well before the target passes the shooter. As the target gets closer and starts passing the shooter, it appears to speed up the lead, getting longer much faster.

Practice the shots moving in and backing away at different distances, if possible. Remember the picture vocabulary?

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Crossing Birds
Birds crossing at or near 90 degrees to you need the most lead. Start practicing closer and back up a few yards at a time, right to left and left to right. Some clubs may have a practice field where this is possible, but if you have a back 40, it’s better. If not, try to utilize different fields on the course, and be sure to let management know your intentions.

Again, work on building your picture vocabulary. The bigger your vocabulary, the more success you’ll have.

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Ways to Obtain a Lead
There are three ways to obtain lead:

  1. Sustained: Starting at a point in front of the target and maintaining until the shot is triggered.

  2. Pull away: Pointing at the target and pulling out until the picture is correct, then triggering the shot.

  3. Swing or pass through: Starting behind the bird, going through to the front, lead obtained, trigger the shot.

I don’t usually put too much emphasis on these three methods, because the brain has a way of doing it for you. I have seen people get so wrapped-up in what kind of lead to use, that they get to the point that they look as if they are swatting flies.

Simple is better. It doesn't really matter which method you use, because they all work. The important thing is, you can’t hit your target from behind. Learning the pictures and adding to your vocabulary is the magic, and sometimes a deliberate move helps.

Remember: Keep your front toe pointing at the target with two-thirds of your weight on the front foot, cheek on the gun, eyes on the target, and bang! Orange everywhere.

Earl Mclean is a coach and target setter at Drake Landing and is the owner of Heads Up Shooting System LLC, writing from Fuquay Varina, North Carolina.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.