Leading You On—The Spot-Shot
It is generally considered that there are four main methods of leading a feathered or clay target with a shotgun. They are spot-shooting, swing-through, pull-away and sustained lead. Of course when that grouse busts out from under a popple tree 10 feet behind you, all that lead stuff is hooey as instinct kicks in. You just do what you can and don’t think about it.
But if you end up dining on that grouse (dusted in seasoned flour, sautéed in genuine artery-clogging bacon fat and covered in sauce from the pan deglazed with vermouth and capers), you certainly led that bird in one of those four ways.
All four methods of lead produce exactly the same result if the target is hit. They have to. The target moves at X speed. The shot takes Y amount of time to get from the muzzle to the target. During that time the target has moved Z distance. Z is the lead no matter what method you use. It’s odd that you don’t actually see the same perceived lead using the four methods, but the result has to be the same.
In the next few blogs I’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each lead method. To be an efficient shooter, whether at game or clays, you want to be able to employ them all as the situation requires. And I should add that the terms I use to describe a certain lead method may not be the same ones you hear. The vocabulary in this area isn’t precise, but the techniques are well understood.
Let’s take spot-shooting first. It’s also called snap-shooting. In the spot-shot there is no barrel movement in relation to the target. It’s as though the gun were in a vise. You just pick a spot where you think the bird will be when the shot arrives, point the gun there and yank the trigger.
Examples might be a straight-away trap shot, skeet station Low 7 or dead-away pheasant. You just shoot right at the target with no calculation of any kind. A low incoming target would be the same.
You can lead a target using the spot-shooting technique, but there isn’t much room for error. I remember my wife and I were shooting sporting clays in Rochester, New York. A rabbit target was presented crossing between two hay bales. It was a very, very narrow window. I started my muzzle on the first hay bale and swung like crazy when I saw the rabbit zip out. But I never could catch it before it rolled behind the second bale. My wife was smarter. She simply aimed her gun on the right side of the opening and when the rabbit first appeared on the left side, she fired. It was the perfect dead-gun spot-shot.
The problem with spot-shooting is that we often do it when we shouldn’t. If it isn’t a straightaway outgoing shot or a direct low incomer where there is no apparent lead, spot-shooting can get tricky. On an angling target spot-shooting requires more apparent (though not actual) lead than any other lead method. That’s because the gun isn’t moving. The other three lead methods require a moving gun and are more forgiving but a little slower.
Here’s why: When our brain says Fire! there is a noticeable delay before the shot arrives at the target. Our thought processes are rapid, but it takes a little while to talk our trigger finger into giving things a yank. Add a little more time to have the hammer drop, shell ignite and shot to fly out the barrel. It all seems instantaneous, but it’s not. During the time the process takes, the target is moving. With the other lead methods, moving the gun with the target helps make up for that mental/mechanical delay. But in spot-shooting the gun is basically stationary, so it makes assessing the lead on a crossing target much harder.
That’s why when we spot-shoot by just poking at the bird, the results are often less than satisfactory. But sometimes that’s the only shot we have because spot-shooting is a little quicker on a small-window target than the other methods. If we have more time, there are more-forgiving ways to lead an angling bird, but if not, spot-shooting is a necessary tool.
Next time I’ll get into swing-through and the Churchill method. Until then, boots off, beer open.