Wisdom of the greats
Shooting Times & Country|January 13, 2021
Tom Payne reveals the tricks to great shooting he has learned from watching some of the true masters of our sport in action
Tom Payne

Looking out of my window at a big cock bird picking his way down a hedge, just beyond my garden, it strikes me that I shot fewer days this season than in any other since childhood. In truth, it showed. Rather than getting into my stride, I frequently found myself feeling rusty.

For the first time in a while I found myself having to really focus to shoot with any consistency, purely because I wasn’t getting enough time in under the birds. Missing, as is often the case, made me think about the truly great Shots I’ve seen over the years. Certainly, these old boys have put the practice in, but watch them closely or get chatting to them on the Gun bus and you’ll soon realise they have a few tricks up their sleeve to minimise the sort of misses most of us make.

Every once in a while, we find ourselves driving home after a day where some stranger has shot impeccably. They may have got lucky or they may have been shooting strategically. If it’s the latter, there’s a few things they might have been up to. I’ll give a few of them away — not all, but a few.

Shoot on a wing beat

Pheasants are interesting flyers and are relatively big birds. It is amazing how much a pheasant can suck up the impact of shot, especially a gliding one and a gliding cock bird even more so.

This may sound extraordinary, but I was told this years ago by one of the old greats: to box pheasants up, if you can, always shoot them on a wingbeat, never gliding. The latter part is well known; gliding birds are usually moving in a way that isn’t obvious, not just on a straight trajectory overhead, but are also likely to be sliding, which make them very hard to shoot.

The part about wing beat sounds crazy, but this guy’s theory was about the increased lethality of shot. He was adamant that a gliding bird can take shot because its muscles are tense. However, a bird beating its wings ends up with the shot driving through its less tense muscles and into the vitals, dramatically improving the kill. He even said to concentrate on the downward beat.

Hens only at 40-plus yards

We always talk about distances, the importance of knowing your own ability and reading what is killable. This next gem, told to me by one of the greats, was very interesting to see in action. When you are shooting with well-known Shots — especially household names — it’s difficult not to watch them. In fact, it’s impossible not to have a quick peek. I often end up watching intensely, because that’s how you learn.

On this day, years ago, in my 20s, I had the privilege of watching and learning from a legend. After the third drive I was chatting with him and complimenting the way he shot.

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