The phrase “internal contradictions” was very popular in academic debates in European universities in the 70s.

I was reminded of this phrase of my student days when reviewing some aspects of shotgun shooting. I will present some of these baffling conflicting positions without offering solutions. Their mere existence is interesting in itself.


The well fitted shotgun sends the shot where you look.

Focus hard on the target, so hard that you can see the molded rings on the clay, say the experts.

In order to hit a moving target there must be lead, ie the shot sent ahead of the target, this is straightforward Physics.

So, how do you stay hard focused on the target, with a well fitting gun that sends the shot where you look, ie the target, and also establish lead?

The celebrated shooting coach Peter Blakeley discusses this conundrum on page 58 of his book “Wingshooting”. It is worth a read.

The late Roger Barlow was a frequent contributor to gun publications. In addition to being a keen wing shooter Barlow was a prize winning cameraman which is to say an expert on vision and optics. In a Gun Digest article Barlow describes how he beat the lead problem by forcing himself to imagine birds having long beaks.

It might sound odd, but before judging Barlow’s approach look up “empty field myopia”. The phenomenon is well known to pilots and basically it means that our eyes cannot focus when looking at an empty featureless background, something like the sky in front of a flying target. Something we must do if we are to establish lead in front of a clay or bird.


Related to the above is leading the target with a rifle. In rifle shooting with open or peep sights the technique is to focus on the bead, the rear sight and target are out of focus. It is a biological fact that our eyes cannot focus on three different distance at once. Try it for yourself and you will see that focus is specific to length.

Additionally, in rifle shooting there is no general pointing at the target. The bullet must go to a specific vital area of the target.

So, when shooting let us say a running deer or boar silouette with a rifle, where do the eyes focus?


The hallowed shotgun makers used to recommend barrels that fit the height of the shooter. It was an aesthetics choice, to make the gentleman look good in the field. Back in those days shooting was a social event and there may well have been onlookers to impress.

The barrel length most often recommended for a man of average height was 28 inches.

Fast forward to today and barrel lengths of 30 and often 32 inches are gaining in popularity. No, the average shooter height has not outgrown the old 28 inch barrel length. The usual reason cited for extra barrel length is that it puts weight up forward and promotes a better swing.

However, the old shooting coaches, people like Lancaster and Churchill, Rose, Davies and others, say that the swing is given by the feet. Footwork is a major part of shooting coaching.

If the swing is given by the feet and legs, with the shotgun firmly locked into the shoulder, muzzle weight tends to become irrelevant. Our leg muscles being the strongest muscles in the human body are fully able to swing with no need of a few additional ounces on the muzzles.


Teaching theory says that you learn by gradual mastery of increasingly complex tasks. Learning to ride a bicycle is a case in point. You start with a balance bike, learn the basics of balance and then move to a pedal bike, where you gradually master more complex manouvres, like turning, doing figure 8s and so on. A dedicated pupil can learn to ride a bicycle safely in about a week of such graduated teaching. Doctor friends tell me that bike riding is a much more demanding skill than shooting.

No one in his right mind would give a non cyclist a full race bike and release him into 30 mile per hour traffic on his first lesson.

Yet that is how most people learn wing shooting. At the range they are shown the safety basics, shoved onto a stand, told to shout “pull” and take their first shot at a clay launched at full speed.

With few exceptions that is how most coaches teach clay shooting. A notable exception is Leon Measures, who starts his lessons with a detuned BB gun and gradual progression till the pupil can hit flying targets. Then he goes onto a shotgun at slow targets before moving to a full speed launch.