No lead is right for every target, and neither is one swing technique. Here are three techniques you should master if you want to become an expert shooter; each is useful in different sporting scenarios.
The Sustained Lead: Mount the gun with the muzzle on the target and then move it ahead of the target to achieve the required amount of lead. Once the correct lead is established, the target speed is matched and the shot triggered without slowing the swing. This is an excellent technique for skeet, since the target speeds, distances and required leads are known. A shooter familiar with this technique can actually be told how much lead to use on each skeet target and break a lot of them the first time he or she ever shoots the game.
Swing Through: Mount the gun behind the target, accelerate the muzzle quickly through the target and trigger the shot when you calculate the required amount of daylight between target and muzzle. Since the gun is moving faster than the target, the leads are shorter than with the sustained lead. When done in one fluid motion, the shooter is literally painting the target out of the sky. This is one of the most useful all-around techniques and deadly on the trap and sporting clays fields.
Pull-Away: Mount the gun directly onto your target, match target speed for a split second, then accelerate the muzzle rapidly ahead of the target until the required lead time is determined to trigger the shot. This was developed to reduce the amount of lead required on long-range targets. For comparison, realize that a duck crossing by at 40 mph and 40 yards out will need 10 feet or more of sustained lead and about half that with fast swing through. The rapid muzzle acceleration of the pull-away can cut that lead to just a few manageable feet. It’s a valuable skill to have when targets are distant and also handy for sporting clays.
Putting it All Together: To watch a master wingshooter turn a speedy aerial target into a puff of smoke or a ball of feathers is to see true artistry at work. And there is also a fair amount of science involved in the task. Unlike a rifle, a shotgun is not aimed at the target. Some say it is pointed, but that’s not completely correct either. You will hit very few aerial targets by pointing the shotgun at them and pulling the trigger. That’s because they won’t be there when the shot charge arrives. Experts know that they have to trigger their shot at some point ahead of the target so that target and shot charge will arrive at the same spot together. Given the staggering array of speeds, angles, and distances presented by the various game bird species and the differing clay target games, there is no one correct “lead” that works for all. In other words, a master wingshooter may look like an artist, but the computer between his or her ears is working overtime on every shot.