Kim Rhode: The Gun of a Champion
The Olympic legend breaks down her shotgun and choke choice, and reveals how she thinks about shooting.
Hopefully you’ve caught the first part of our interview with international champion Kim Rhode, The Kim Rhode Story: Shotguns and Family. We talked with Kim about her roots, how she got started in shooting, and what it takes to beat the best of the best year after year.
Here, Kim walks us through the shotguns and chokes she uses and offers some helpful hints on leading your target.
Kim Rhode’s Shotguns
Believe it or not, you can call up Beretta and get the same gun Kim Rhode uses in competition, more or less, from the factory.
She uses a DT 11 O/U in 12 gauge with factory chokes and the factory trigger. The only aftermarket addition is a stock built by Wenig to better fit her smaller frame. They have her measurements on file, so they can whip up a new set of furniture that’s within a “hair’s thickness” of the others.
Rhode says she has two guns she uses in competition now; one wears Turkish walnut and the other English, but both fit her exactly the same way to give her the consistency she needs to win trophies. But when it comes to fun, she says she’s yet to meet a gun she won’t shoot.
Rhode’s Choke Selection
Perhaps nothing has more of an effect on the pattern with which shot will disperse than the constriction on the end of your gun’s barrel.
Modern shotguns use interchangeable tubes of varying diameter to alter the width of the shot column. The more open the tube, the more open the pattern, and tighter tubes yield tighter patterns.
In a typical shotgun, chokes go from cylinder, which is the diameter of the barrel, to extra-full which is about 0.040″ smaller. Though we are only dealing with thousandths or hundredths of an inch, this has a major effect on the pattern downrange.
There are also a variety of specialty choke tubes on the market, designed to work in specific conditions. Examples of these are the ultra-tight turkey chokes devised to hold a pattern of #5 shot closely together out to 50 or 60 yards. Another is the skeet choke, which has just a bit more constriction than cylinder bore, and is designed to pattern optimally at the clay busting distance of 15 to 25 yards.
“There are a lot of people that don’t understand choke, and you find that when they shoot they’re either over choked or under choked. It really has to do with the distance that you’re intending on breaking the bird. How far away is it from you? That really is the determining factor as to which choke you’re going to use for what shot.”
“If you’re shooting American skeet, you should shoot skeet and skeet. In sporting clays, obviously you’re all over the place because of all the different shots. In trap, it depends upon what target you’re on as to what you should be shooting. Anywhere from a light mod to a full, depending on the yardage and how fast or slow you’re shooting at birds.”
In competition, Kim uses both skeet and light modified choke tubes, with the tighter constriction of the light mod necessary to hit the farthest clays. Skeet chokes have about 0.005″ constriction, so the pattern tends to stay pretty open. Light modified tubes tighten up about 0.015″ so they corral the pattern a bit more, which helps reach out on longer shots.
“Because I’m shooting international skeet, with reverse pairs on three and five, that’s a very long shot and we aren’t allowed to switch around. So we tend to have a slightly tighter choke than you would normally have in American skeet because in American skeet you would never get that target.”
Kim Rhode on Leading Your Target
I tried to get Kim to give me some tips on hitting various shots that arise while hunting or on the sporting clays course, but she informed me that there was no magical formula for hitting targets traveling in a certain direction.
Instead, a shooter is better served by understanding how to properly lead a bird or clay disk.
“You can’t just aim one way and hit everything.” Kim goes to the gridiron to explain the concept of leading your targets.
“It’s like in football, when you have a receiver running downfield and you’re going to pass him the ball. If you aim right at them, the ball will always come in behind them. You have to lead them, whether you realize it or not, in order for the ball to intersect with them at the right time.
“How far away the receiver is dictates how far you’re going to throw the ball in front of him. Lead really has to do with distance, so the further the bird is, the more the lead.”
And so, to lead a target properly, you must understand distances. This sounds simple, but if you start out with a distorted view of space you’ll always have a difficult time placing your shot where it needs to be.
“If you ask a hundred people to show you what a foot looks like, a hundred people will show you a hundred different versions of a foot. It doesn’t change, but what does change is people’s perspectives.
“That’s why, when I’m coaching someone, I actually show him or her, ‘this is a foot’. I need them to understand that so what I’m telling them and what they perceive are the same thing.”
So staying out in front of the target is the key to breaking clays or hitting birds, but how far?
“What people have learned in sporting clays is one foot is equivalent to one inch at your barrel. So one foot out at the target is equivalent to one inch at your barrel.”
Knowing that can help you adjust your lead, especially when you’re dealing with varying distances to the targets.
“Essentially, it’s better on a longer shot to lead in inches because you can be more aligned with the target. When you start looking 10 feet out ahead of the bird you start losing your ability to be in line with the target’s arc. But on the birds that are closer, you want to see the lead in feet because you don’t have the time to go back and forth from the barrel to the bird to see those inches.”
Kim also reminded me to think of targets moving on more than one plane at once, despite what your eyes may be telling you.
“If the bird is on ground level coming at you, you want to remember that they’re actually arcing and coming down at the same time. It gives the illusion that it’s coming right at you, and your instinct is to aim right at it—but in reality, you want to aim a little bit toward the bottom edge of them.”
But you shouldn’t be afraid to trust your gut, either.
“Your whole life you’ve been taught to point. When you look at some of the best shooters in the world, you’ll notice they put their finger out on their forend. They’re using their finger as an extension of the barrel to point at the target.
“When that bird gets up in front of you, your natural instinct is going to be to point your finger and barrel right at that bird. It’ll give you a better opportunity to hit some of those birds, especially if you’re caught off guard.”