In sporting clays, establishing proper starting points for your body, eyes and gun before calling for the targets is critical. In this article, Don explains why a well-planned ready position makes a dead pair more likely…………………………………………….
By Don Currie
Most intermediate sporting clays shooters and competitors who have had a few lessons and are steadily punching their way through the classes understand the importance of selecting a hold point, i.e. the position along the target’s anticipated flight path to which the shooter rotates his body and gun just prior to calling for the target. They understand that the proper selection of a hold point can mean the difference between a break and a miss.
How far back toward the trap should the shooter’s hold point be? The variables are endless so the answer is not always immediately clear and requires good pre-shot planning. For a crossing target moving at a 90° angle to the shooter, the hold point should generally be placed about two thirds of the way back from the planned break point along the target line to the visual pick-up point (see Figure #1). For a 45° or quartering target, the hold point should generally be placed about one third of the way back from the break point. For a trap-like presentation, the hold point should be just below or slightly short of the break point. There are certainly a host of exceptions to these very general guidelines but these are the basic principles of hold point selection.
The rotation of the body, gun and eyes to the correct points on the horizontal flight path is only one element of a shooter’s starting position as he calls for the target. Instead of thinking of the shooter’s starting position as merely the hold point, we will expand our definition and understanding of the shooter’s starting position, to what I refer to as the “READY POSITION”. In addition to the horizontal rotation of the body and gun as one element of the ready position, we will include three other critical variables: stance, barrel orientation and “draw length”. As an instructor, I have had the privilege of observing tens of thousands of target pairs being engaged while standing behind my students. I am convinced that, in addition to the hold point, these additional elements are every bit as critical to the success of the shot.
READY POSITION. The term “ready position” was first coined by Robert Churchill in his 1958 book “Game Shooting,” of which the first edition and all of it’s succeeding editions are now out of print and relegated to the used book section. Churchill’s concept of ready position was then, and still remains, one of the key elements to mastering the art and science of engaging flushing birds. Churchill defined the ready position as the starting position from which the shooter’s movement and mount is initiated once the bird is visually acquired. Since flushing birds like quail and pheasant typically emerge from the ground and fly up and away from the dog and hunter at about shoulder height, Churchill suggested that the buttstock of the gun be tucked underneath the arm and that the gun barrel be held parallel to the ground. This results in a gun barrel that is oriented just slightly under the anticipated “engagement point” of the bird. If we further dissect Churchill’s concept of ready position, we find that, knowingly or unknowingly, it addresses all four critical elements of a proper starting position from where the mount and movement begin: 1) rotation – the positioning of the body and gun such that the shooter can rotate and synchronize with the target along the target line to the break point, 2) stance – orienting the feet such that there is little or no tension in the body at the anticipated engagement point or break point, 3) barrel orientation – the intentional orientation of the barrel onto the line-of-flight of the target, and 4) draw length – the distance between the comb and the shooter’s cheek. In fact, Churchill’s concept of ready position is so appropriate for engaging flushing birds that it is still taught today at the Orvis Wingshooting Schools and most other reputable wing shooting schools. As we turn from flushing birds to sporting clays and FITASC however, a strict interpretation of Churchill’s ready position doesn’t work for a large percentage of target presentations. With some adjustment and extrapolation however, Churchill’s concept of a ready position, a starting point for every shot, is no less relevant to today’s sporting clays targets than it is to engaging game birds.
STANCE. The purpose of a proper stance for a given target presentation is to minimize bodily tension at the break points. While proper stance is individualized to a degree, a shooter’s lead foot should generally be oriented on the break point of either the most difficult target of a pair or the left-most target of a pair for a right handed shooter (or right-most target of a pair for a left-handed shooter). Some shooters may choose a more open stance, with their belt buckle facing the target line, but a more closed or oblique stance is not recommended as it limits the shooter’s range of rotation. When the shooter acquires the target and swings the gun from the hold point along the target line, his body will essentially “unwind”, reaching the point of least tension when moving through the break point.
BARREL ORIENTATION. The best way I have found to explain barrel orientation is as follows: Imagine that you have a laser device at the muzzle-end of your barrel that is aligned with the bore. The laser beam will always point where the barrel is oriented. In order to achieve a smooth, efficient movement of the gun, the angle of the gun barrel (or the laser) should intersect with the target line at the hold point. The barrel/laser should maintain constant alignment with the target line throughout the mount and movement to and through the break point regardless of whether you start from a low-gun or high-gun position. If the barrel is oriented too high at the ready position, the shooter tends to wobble or “see-saw” the barrel through the break point. The best way to practice barrel orientation is actually indoors using the LaserShooter and LaserPro from Robert Louis Company. (For drills and practice tips on barrel orientation and mount, contact me here.)
DRAW LENGTH. The draw length is defined as the distance between the comb of the buttstock and the shooter’s cheekbone when in the ready position. Just as we select the hold point, or horizontal rotation of our body, based on the character of the target and the window we have to engage it, we should also select the vertical position of the gun in the same way. Essentially, the draw length can range anywhere from the “standard ready position” with long draw (Figure 2), sometimes referred to as a “low gun” position, to the fully pre-mounted position with no draw (Figure 3), or anywhere in between (Figure 4). As with horizontal rotation, draw length should be determined by the character of the target as observed during pre-shot planning. Regardless of the draw length used for the ready position, the proper orientation of the barrel to the target line should be maintained. In a standard ready position, the comb is parallel to the forearm with the heal of the stock on the nipple line or FITASC line. The standard ready position is best used when the shooter has a very comfortable amount of time to engage the target as in a 30-yard crosser or a slow lobbing incoming target. For a quartering target, the draw length should be about halfway between a standard ready position and the fully pre-mounted position. For trap-like targets, a fully pre-mounted or near pre-mounted position should be considered (minimal to no draw length).
Your READY POSITION, the starting point for your mount and movement to the target, is just as critical to your success as the execution of the shot. If you start in the right place, with the correct stance, rotation, orientation and draw length for the given presentation, it is more likely that your muzzle will end up in the right place when you pull the trigger. Intentionally planned and faithfully employed, the ready position will inject greater consistency into our game and cause your scores to rise.
(For more information see “Shot Planning” and the four-part series on “Focus-Movement-Faith” previously published in ClayShootingUSA and available at www.DonCurrie.com).
© 2011 Don Currie – All rights reserved.