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Churchill’s Axiom

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Churchill’s Axiom …. The timeless truth about forward allowance (aka, “lead”)

When I first started shooting sporting clays, I read a bit about The Churchill Method. At first glance, and for a number of years thereafter, I couldn’t understand the concept of trusting the subconscious to apply lead or how a shooter could consistently hit clay targets without consciously and visually steering the gun to engage the target.  From the age of 8, when I first started competing in NRA small bore, through my tenure in the US Army as both an instructor and an operator, I had employed, taught and nicely perfected the technique of lining up the sights of a firearm to meet the center of a target. So, like many other neophytes to the world of sporting clays that stumbled across Churchill, I summarily dismissed his method as impractical and illogical. It wasn’t until years later, that I experienced my epiphany under the watchful eye of an instructor. I came to understand that sporting clays targets, as with game birds, must be engaged in a wholly different fashion than a stationary target. We point a shotgun. We do not aim it. We intercept or engage a clay target much like we do a baseball, with the target being the sole object of our visual focus.  Any awareness of, or focus on, the mitt or the gun barrel diminishes our focus on the object being intercepted thus reducing the quality of the data reaching our eye, optic nerve and cerebral computer.

Since my conversion, I have tried to understand why Churchill’s Theory of Allowance and his method are not more in the forefront of current thought. A quick on-line search of “Churchill Method” will turn up a number of “experts” that summarily dismiss the Churchill Method because of what I would classify as misperception about the man and his method. The two distinct elements of The Churchill Method are 1) his Theory of Allowance, and 2) his method of mounting and moving to the bird. While it is not possible to mount a comprehensive defense of The Churchill Method here, it is critical to differentiate his personal style of shooting from The Method. I will concede that Robert Churchill employed a stance and foot position that was quite open with weight evenly distributed over both feet. While his stance was indeed unconventional, it compensated for his stout build and enabled him to swing to a target better than almost all of his contemporaries. In “Game Shooting”, Churchill himself acknowledges that stance should be adjusted or customized to the shooter. While I am a strong advocate of a consistent “ready position” or starting position, I will further concede that Churchill’s recommended “ready position”, with “gun stock pressed tight under the right arm…and barrels on a line with the right shoulder, and at a right angle to the torso” might not be appropriate for many modern target presentations. It was however, and still remains, the gold standard for engaging flushing birds, which was Churchill’s primary orientation. Most who reject The Churchill Method do so because they have not delved deeply enough into his work. To discard his method on the grounds of his style is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. His “Theory of Allowance” and detailed instruction on mount and movement are his greatest gifts to posterity. I employ and teach my students a stance that is more oblique to the target line than Churchill’s, with the lead foot pointed just off the anticipated break point, more akin to the style of Percy Stanbury, a Churchill contemporary. This seems to work better for most shooters although, an mentioned earlier, stance should be individualized to a degree.

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