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Establishing Shotgun Lead

“The only way to learn how to shoot a shotgun is to shoot a shotgun.” That’s sage advice from a veteran wingshot, and it still rings true, but it might not be quite that simple. Establishing a proper lead on a moving target is no easy task, and it usually comes after a period of frustrating trial and error. Just as a quarterback must throw the football well ahead of his intended receiver, you must send your shot string to intercept the target, no matter if it’s a clay, rabbit or game bird.

The motion itself needs to be fluid, regardless of how you develop your lead. Follow-through is paramount when it comes to hitting a moving target. Once you get the gun moving with the target, you need to keep it moving after the shot is fired. If you stop the gun, you’ll invariably see the shot go behind the target, and miss is a four-letter word.

Shotgun lead can be broken down into three basic types, and you might need to experiment with all three until you find the method that works best for your shooting style.

Sustained Lead

The first–and possibly the easiest to envision–is sustained lead. The concept is rather simple: Establish a swing at the same speed as the target, keeping your muzzle at a specific distance (this is the lead) in front of the target great enough to have the two meet. Determining the necessary distance requires a bit of knowledge and even more experience behind the trigger. The speed and weight of your shot column, the speed of the target, and the distance all play an important role in determining exactly how much lead is necessary. You’ll have to practice often on clay birds at varying angles and distances.


The second method is often referred to as the pull-away. With this technique, the shooter swings with the muzzle directly on the moving target, and then pulls the muzzle forward just prior to pulling the trigger. Of course that pesky follow-through is required, but this method allows the shooter’s eye to naturally align with the target, and is probably a better means of establishing target speed. Like the sustained-lead method, knowing exactly how much to pull away will require the same level of experimentation with speed and distance.


The swing-through method of establishing shotgun lead is possibly the most difficult to master. The concept is to start your swing with the muzzle behind the target and accelerate the swing speed so as to cross the target. The trigger is pulled as the bead breaks the plane of the target, and the follow through will carry your shot string where it needs to go. This requires precision timing, and considerable amounts of practice. Yet, it is one of the preferred methods of successful trap and skeet shooters, and translates well into the game fields. If you intend to adopt this method, make sure you spend some time at the sporting clays course, as you’ll want to exercise your skills with as many different shot angles and directions as possible.

Becoming a good wingshot requires discipline, patience and most of all a regimented practice routine. Your motions need to be fluid, and you need to pick that shotgun up as often as possible to keep your skills honed. Clay birds and sporting clays will easily translate to mallards, partridge, pheasant and rabbits. Watch video of flushing ducks, landing geese, rising pheasants; while not actual field experience it will definitely give you an idea of the speed of the animal, and help you to mentally adjust your lead. But there’s no replacement for actual trigger time. The more you shoot, the better you’ll shoot.