I was in a shotgun slump. My normal scores on the five stand and sporting clays were about a third lower than their old levels. I tried to focus more on the target, I changed guns, I tried more or less lead and somehow, I just couldn’t get a consistent good score. In desperation, I went back to an old practice of leaving my gun out and picking it up every time I walked by, doing five or six gun mounts. I realized my mount was inconsistent and focused on getting the gun properly mounted and my scores went back to normal within a week.
A shooting slump happens to everyone I suppose. I’ve never talked to a shooter who didn’t admit suffering a slump of some sort. Of course, there are also those who never quite get a handle on shooting a pistol, or a rifle, or a shotgun. It’s been my experience that those folks fail to master some fundamental part of the process and fail to recognize that shortcoming. Both the slump and the failure to master the technique are terribly frustrating.
With a pistol, the problem is generally a failure to master the trigger. With a rifle, it’s either a problem with flinch or, with iron sights, a failure to get a reasonable sight picture. With a shotgun, it’s almost always a failure to get the proper gun mount.
Gun mount with a shotgun is so important because the way you put the gun to your shoulder in relation to where your shooting eye is determines where the shot goes. Most of the time there‘s no rear sight on a shotgun, so in order for the gun to be aligned with your vision, your eye must be in the correct place. Issues with master eye can easily be cured by switching shoulders or occluding vision in the left eye, but you can’t remedy an inconsistent gun mount.
Much has been said over the years about gun fit, and fit is an important factor in wingshooting, but gun fit means nothing if the shooter can’t consistently mount the gun. A proper gun mount depends on muscle memory and like all other forms of memory, gun mount is improved with repetition. The best shooters shoot the most, almost without exception and there is no doubt that shooting is the best practice for shooting.
Most of us simply don’t have the time or the means to shoot two or three hundred shotshells a day and the really good shooters shoot more than that. We do have the time to pick the gun up on a regular basis and work on muscle memory. To get the most time from this process, you must take it seriously and focus on what you’re doing. If you shoulder the gun repeatedly without any interest in whether you’re doing it correctly, you will gain nothing.
To properly practice gun mount, begin with a very deliberate mount making sure you shoulder the gun in the same place every time. The butt of the gun should contact your body between the round part of your shoulder and your chest. There is a pocket between the chest and shoulder and that’s where the butt needs to be. This will mean you are shooting with the gun extended, not across your chest, but projecting from your chest/shoulder. I’ve heard you should be pointing your belly button in the same direction as the gun, but few successful shooters achieve this. There is angle, but it is less than most novice shooters tend to achieve.
Begin the mount with the butt of the gun below or near where a shirt pocket would be on your shirt. The front bead should be on the same vertical plane as the target point or the trajectory of your target. As you bring the butt up, the gun should move forward to clear your body slightly without taking the bead off the target or trajectory of the target. Whether you shoot a spot target or a moving target, the gun mount is the same, because successful wingshooting demands that the body remain stationary above the waist. Any swing or lead should be accomplished below your waistline with your hips and legs.
As the gun comes to your shoulder, your shoulder should rise to meet the gun. The gun should rise to meet your face without you having to lower your head or roll it over the comb of the stock. Your face should be in firm contact with the comb, and the butt should firmly nest in the chest/shoulder pocket. With a proper gun mount, you should be able to close your eyes, mount the gun, and be looking squarely down the rib. If you have trouble doing this, you may have a problem with gun fit.
To accomplish a reasonable mastery of gun mount, this should be done without thought or adjustment. To find out how well you’re doing, pick a spot and close your eyes. Mount the gun as described and open them. If you’re looking straight down the rib and the bead is on the target, that’s a good gun mount. Otherwise, it would be a target you’d miss.
Much has been said about looking at the bead when shooting a shotgun. All focus should be on the target. The barrel(s) and bead should be in your peripheral vision. That ghost image of the barrels and bead are a reference point without which you would not hit the target, no matter how well you mount the gun. Many writers have said you shouldn’t see the barrel or bead at all but all competition shotguns have ribs. The rib and barrel are a reference point but not sights as on a pistol or rifle.
Once you’ve developed a good gun mount, finding a stock configuration that optimizes your gun mount will improve your shooting, but developing proper gun mount has to happen before you are a truly successful wingshooter
Image by Bernie Heath