Golfers vary their strokes and so should we when addressing different types of birds, says Michael Yardley. Take our advice to master forward allowance
FORWARD ALLOWANCE: PERFECTING YOUR TECHNIQUE
Possibly the greatest skill in using a shotgun is applying forward allowance – “leading” your bird to make due allowance for its velocity in flight. In the words of the late Ed Scherer, an American shooting instructor, skeet-shooting champion and fighter pilot, “If you are shooting and want to do the biz, shoot where the bird is going and not where it is.” Forward allowance has inspired countless less erudite comments, hundreds of articles (most of them foolishly partisan) and almost as many book chapters.
There are so many opinions given by “experts” trying to sell their way of shooting that forward allowance gets to be quite confusing. Most ballistic pundits suggest that one should “swing through” from behind in one way or another or that one must “maintain” a lead. Some advocate pointing at the bird and pushing or pulling ahead. Others (Robert Churchill and Major Ruffer) state that it is an error to think about forward allowance consciously at all. One should only watch the bird and leave the rest to a practised mount and natural hand-to- eye coordination. Lord Walsingham, one of the greatest of wing-shots, offered little advice on forward allowance but did say, “hold high and don’t check”, ie, hold high and don’t stop your swing prematurely (if you do, you will almost certainly miss behind).
The discussion of forward allowance has a remarkably long history. George Markland, a fellow of Saint John’s College, Oxford, gives practical hints in his book Pteryplegia: or the Art of Shooting Flying, 1727. He gives poetic advice for different situations but includes a special warning about crossing birds: The unlucky cross-mark or the traverse shoot,/By some thought easy, yet admits dispute./As the most common practice is to fire,/Before the bird, will nicest time require;/For too much space allow’d the shot will fly/All innocent, and pass too nimbly by:/Too little space, the partridge swift as wind,/Will dart athwart, and bilk her death behind.
FORWARD ALLOWANCE IN DIFFERENT SITUATIONS
My own shooting odyssey has included much thought and considerable experiment on forward allowance. I have explored the subject as a means to improve both my own shooting and my effectiveness as a shooting instructor. Learning to shoot competently has a great deal to do with learning about leading birds in different situations. I believe that most need to master more than one technique of forward allowance to be truly complete shots, though we are also likely to develop what might be described as a core technique.
For British driven-shooting, for example, most seem to fare best in my opinion (and that of most British shooting instructors) with one or other variation on the swing through. It has not evolved as the dominant game-shooting method without good reason. Maintained or sustained lead as mentioned – staying in front of the bird throughout the swing – also has its uses, especially for high birds and wildfowling, and is popular with clay-shots.
Pulling away is simple (and may be a useful default when the wheels fall off). Spot-shooting instinctively – shooting at a point in front of the mark without much or any lateral movement – may occasionally buy time at closer ranges when engaging live or artificial quarry. It is the way a significant number of self-taught guns shoot. Maintained lead also potentially buys time, but I think its main use in the field is for longer shots. At closer ranges it may result in over-leading, and it can be a poor technique for those with eye-dominance issues. Good for some, it can cause others to get into a dreadful muddle.
There is much subtle variation to be considered with forward allowance. Factors such as gun speed and acceleration must be taken into account (as well as flight speed and angle) in any sophisticated exploration of forward allowance. Some techniques advocate constant gun movement, others don’t. We all see lead in different ways. Some see it in inches (those who look at the muzzles, generally an error); some see it in feet; some may not look for a specific distance, instead, they are only aware of a gap the width of which may change depending on circumstance. Some claim not to see lead at all.