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#3 LEADING THE BIRDS
There are three main options for obtaining the correct lead on your target bird. The “sustained lead” method requires swinging the muzzle in front of the bird and maintaining a calculated distance ahead of it, both when you pull the trigger and, importantly, after you make the shot.
The “swing-through” method, on the other hand, entails starting with the muzzle behind the bird, then pushing it toward the front of the bird and pulling the trigger just as the muzzle swings past the target. You then continue with the follow-through swing at the same speed.
“Spot-shooting,” meanwhile, is simply pointing your shotgun to a stationary point ahead of the bird and pulling the trigger. This requires accurately judging the speed and distance of the bird, which takes a lot of experience, but it’s the fastest of these three primary techniques.
Which is best method? The fact is, one approach isn’t inherently better than the others, and many experienced shotgunners use all three, depending on what the situation calls for. That said, most top wingshooters prefer the sustained lead, which is the method generally taught at shooting schools.
Still other competent shooters actually prefer a version of the sustained lead that incorporates aspects of the swing-through method. That is, they start with their muzzle behind the bird, push it out ahead, then find and hold a sustained lead, continuing with it after they’ve pulled the trigger. To find which lead works best for you, experiment and practise at a clays range whenever you have the chance.
As for determining how much lead is required, you can do the math for yourself. For example, if your shot travels at 1,400 feet per second and the mallard you’re trying to shoot is 40 yards away flying at 35 miles an hour in a crossing pattern, you need to lead it by about four and a half feet. A mallard is only about 18 inches long, so you don’t have to under-lead it by much to suffer a complete miss or to see a waft of tail feathers floating down. And remember, that four-and-a-half-foot lead only holds true if you maintain the lead through the follow-through; if you stop your barrel movement as you squeeze the trigger, four and a half feet won’t be enough. The math may be a little confusing, but the shooting fundamentals are decidedly not. They just take practice.