Shooting crossing targets, the swing through method

Nov. 30, 2013 @ 08:02 PM

Taylor called, “Pull” and I pushed the button. It was his first shotgun lesson and he was figuring it out, in spite of having to change shoulders when I found he was cross eye dominant. I explained that people are eye dominant just like they are hand dominant. Usually, the eye and hand dominance are the same. Unfortunately for him, he was cross dominant, meaning his right eye was his master eye but he was left handed. Since he had no shotgun experience, this was less of a problem than if he’d been shooting for a while.

We switched the shotgun over to his right shoulder and he began shooting better. We began with straight away shots, no more difficult than shooting a can on a fence post, and progressed to a quartering away shot. Quartering shots require some lead, and after a few shots as he learned how to smoothly track the gun, he was breaking more than he was missing. When he did miss, he instantly recognized why, a great sign that he was really beginning to figure out the process of wingshooting.
Wingshooting, or shooting flying targets, requires an understanding of the principals, practicing enough to develop the muscle memory needed to mount the gun the same way every time, and learning how to compensate for the delay in time between firing the shot and the pellets reaching the target.
Understanding the principals is fairly simple. Shotguns fire multiple projectiles that begin to disperse as soon as they leave the muzzle. The dispersion causes a pattern of individual projectiles that cover an area of about 30 inches with a density that won’t allow the target to pass through without getting a few hits. Individual pellets can kill birds and break targets, but it’s normally agreed it takes several pellet hits to assure success. The distance where the pattern develops to it’s ideal potential is determined by the choke in the shotgun barrel. Choke is a constriction in the end of the barrel that can be changed to make the ideal pattern happen either at the closer ranges of shotgun effectiveness or the longest.
The proper mount of the gun is a little more complicated, but basically a good gun mount is one that allows the shooter to see directly down the barrel of the gun so it points where he’s looking when he sees the bead at the end of the barrel. The mount must be repeatable every time so the shooter doesn’t have to check and reposition. It should come automatically, and without conscious thought. The shooter must also be able to maintain the mount through the time of the shot and follow through. Without a consistent gun mount, no one can ever master wing shooting. It is of paramount importance, but it isn’t hard to learn, and only requires the discipline to spend the time practicing it.
The third principal a wingshooter must understand is that there is a slight delay between the time the shooter decides to fire the shot and the time the shot gets downrange to the bird or target. This means you can’t shoot at where the target is; you have to shoot at where it’s going to be when the pellets arrive there. This is called lead, or perhaps more accurately, forward allowance.
Crossing targets are, for some, the hardest of all wingshooting shots to master because they require the most lead. This is because the amount of lead varies, based on the distance and speed of the target. Long distance shots moving fast might require six feet of lead and the shooter must not only know how much lead, but how to accurately estimate it and keep the gun pointed there as well.
There are three ways to shoot a crossing shot. The hardest way is to spot shoot. This involves pointing the gun at the predicted trajectory of the target and pulling the trigger before it gets there. I simply can’t do this, though I’ve seen folks who can. It will work every time with a straightaway target, since the target doesn’t move relative to the shooter. With most targets, it’s more of a trick than a standard way to shoot.
You can also use the maintained lead method. Maintained lead means the shooter moves the gun ahead of the target at the same speed and estimates the amount of lead required.  This is the way most skeet shooters shoot the middle stations in a round of skeet. Those guys shoot skeet a lot better than I, so I won’t argue with the method, but remember they’re shooting a target that’s traveling the same angle, speed and distance every time. Most wingshooting doesn’t happen that way.
In my opinion, the best method for establishing lead is to allow the speed of the target to do it for you. It’s the method many of the best shooting instructors use and the one I teach. It’s called the swing through method and it’s the easiest to learn, unless you’ve spent your life doing something different.
Using the swing through method is simple in description. Come from behind a crossing target at a speed greater than the target using the same path as the target. The speed can be fast or slow, depending on the speed of the target, but the idea is to exceed the speed of the target with the swinging gun. When the gun intercepts the target, pull the trigger. If you continue a smooth swing in the path the target is taking, the delay between catching the target and the gun actually going off will provide the proper lead for you.
Of course, this works best when the target is moving in a straight line. Targets with a lot of arc or drastic changes in speed muck up the process. For this reason, shooting quickly, when the target or bird is flying relatively straight will improve your success levels.
Provided the shooter has a good gun mount, and keeps moving the gun at intercept speed through the trigger pull, the target will be hit almost every time.  The trick is to establish a swing speed that intercepts the target smoothly and keep the gun moving. I’ve been teaching this method for several years and I believe it’s the fastest way to develop good wingshooting skills.
My shooting lesson with Taylor this week reminded me of just how important it is to start out right in wingshooting. Taylor did everything right. He was willing to switch shoulders for a better result, he paid attention to his gun mount and realized how important it was, and he worked through the process of shooting the swing through method. At 17, and having never shot a shotgun before, Taylor was soon shooting crossing targets with regularity. I knew I was seeing a new wingshooter experience the fun of shotgunning. Before he and his dad left, they were planning a game preserve hunt with my Lab, Larry and me, as dog and dog handler.
Learning how to hit flying birds and targets can be a daunting quest, but starting out right and with the right methods makes all the difference in the world. If you have trouble with crossing targets and establishing the proper lead, try the swing through method. It worked for Taylor, it will work for you.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at or