Lead 101....


Dave McCracken
January 14, 2004, 05:47 PM
I had returned most of a box of shells to the earth under my feet and had a pair of quarry pigeons to show for it. I was shooting with friends in a mined out hole big enough to hold a small shopping mall. It was hot as heck, no wind down there and I wasn't hitting very well. I was trying out a different way to lead them, more like pass shooting than the swing through method I used most in the uplands. I told myself to straighten up and started to swing on another bird.I stopped as it veered further away,past what I thought was reasonable range. The next pigeon came whirring by, surprising me a little. I swung the 870 in the classic butt, belly, beak, bang sequence out of habit and the bird folded. AHA, sayeth I, and continued with better success....

The Brits call it "Forward Allowance". We call it leading the target, and there's several different ways to do it. In any case, it boils down to placing the shot cloud or slug where it will intercept a fast moving target.

Here's a few of the most common methods....

The chanciest is called Spot Shooting. No swing to speak of, just shooting at a spot, hoping the shot and target will collide there. It CAN work, but timing has to be right to the millisecond. Best advice I can give is to forget about it.

Swing Through is the most widely used method for field shooting, trap and many SC shots. The barrel starts behind the bird, catches up and the trigger is pressed as the barrel passes the target. Since the barrel is moving fairly fast, timing is important but pattern spread will forgive small errors.

The Sustained Lead method has the barrel starting before the target.The target doesn't pass the barrel. Once the proper distance is established, the trigger is pressed. Skeet is a Sustained Lead game and it's also used for longer range pass shooting.

The Pull Away method has the barrel more or less right at the bird, then the speed of the swing's increased and the trigger pressed an instant later. Some SC and field shots use this in certain circumstances.

There's others, but you get the idea. The crucial part is the shotgun MUST be moving to hit a moving target.

I doubt anyone who solemnly intones something like "Teal at 50 MPH and at 35 yards should be led 2.13 meters for a true crossing shot" knows what they're talking about. I never know exactly how far a shot on game is,I can't tell it's speed to 5 MPH, and my guess as to whether the bird is at a right angle or 10 degrees off either way is worth what you paid for it.

The Rules of Thumb here are something like....

The further the target, the more lead needed.

The faster the target, the more lead needed.

The closer to a right angle the shot is, the more lead needed.

Of course, the reverse is also true.

I see a hand up.

"What do we use in a particular situation?"....

All of them.

Lead has something almost Zen about it. Calculation rarely works. One should go with instinct here, and experience. One learns leads by shooting. Try the different methods and see what works for you. As anyone who has seen me attempt Skeet, I do Sustained Lead not too well, but I do OK as a Swing Through shooter and sometimes do a Pull Away on a crosser.


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January 14, 2004, 06:26 PM
Interesting stuff Dave. I never really thought about it that way but wing shooting really is kinda a zen thing. You only know how to do it when you have done it.

I never thought about it until I read this but it sounds like I'm a Pull Away shooter. I snap the gun up, find the target, and then zoom ahead of it.

I'll pay more attention next time I shoot clays and see if that is what really happens.

January 14, 2004, 06:55 PM
Possibly Dave - one of the hardest ''knacks'' to aquire IMO.

I am better than once but have to confess to wishing on some skeet stations I had ''tracer'' shot!! Some means of registering in my miind the actual speed and trajectory .. the better to remember another time and so assess better the ''intercept'' point.

I have a prob too often on #1 .. High house ..... OK ... it's almost in line so no lateral lead to speak of but assessing the fall of the bird is a devil for me ... I tend to shoot a tad late and so bird usually falling a bit ... thus an ''under'' lead required. I think I find this harder than lateral lead.. and often miss ... particularly on the double.

I mentioned a while back somewhere ... one of the good shots at one club always says ... ''miss in front'' .... :) and it does help ... for instance at #4 .. where 90º on ... the lead is around IIRC about 4 feet . and oh so easy to hit behind! I found his advice helped on that one in particular ... well, sometimes!!:p

As for #8 ... I think that boils down to shere instinct!


I forgot to add ... re trap .. damned if sometimes I can explain misses on straight-aways ... and yet catch one of those flyers to right or left just fine . and they DO need some lead.

So again probably ... ''vertical lead'' is the more irksome thing to get right - any thoughts?

January 14, 2004, 07:06 PM
Dave, another good one!

As a general rule, longer bbls lessen the apparent lead.

I'm a Swing Through shooter.
[or as Li' Bit called it "bellybuttonbang"] :p

I can shoot other methods , if need dependent on situation

For me, I quit trying to think.

I see cards printed with the amount of lead for a particular station showing the clay and the relation of muzzle. I believe once a shooter hits a bird on a particular station/afield - the brain will remember what was required and if not 'confused' but left alone the natural computer of brain/eyes/hand will be successful.

Yes this takes practice and repetiton. The more exposure to a variety of "conditions" if you will , the more data in the human database to draw from.

Simple stuff like shooting between the post 1&2 at trap or station 1 and 2 at skeet "changes" things, do it and you have just added another bit of info to the human computer.

Wobble trap, crazy quail, shoot skeet moving forward... take 3 or 4 steps fwd on sta 2 and call H2...my fun deal is see how close to Sta 8 I can walk towards. I can go a tad past halfway on H8, almost halfway in on L8...on a good day and shooting well. I like calling for doubles on 8 as well. Perfect for Dove practice, you nail the incomer and another gray rocket is going the other way.

Repetition becomes habit - habit becomes faith.

Or as Dave puts it...BA/UU/R

That is why I don't use Bradley or Hi-Vis sights but prefer beads...In Correia's game of 3 gun for example,... for ME I don't want a "sight" to cover a target. I want the human computer to calculate that steel downrange. Deer is one thing...running and gunning I try not to think but let my natural computer figure it out.

January 14, 2004, 07:58 PM
I am a sustained lead shooter through and through. VERY seldom do I use another method, and when I do deviate I like the "pull away" as an alternate. If surprised or "springing teal" sporting shots are needed I can do the swing through reasonably well but it is not something I do on purpose.

The most valuable tip I could ever give someone concerning leading a target is: If you miss, pull some more lead and shoot again, if you miss again keep pulling more lead until you hit the target or run out of shells!! VERY few targets are missed in front.

I have done quite a bit of long range shotgunning and the "apparent" lead can be amazing, we all see it differently but don't be surprised to need 15 FEET of lead at 50 yards.

Dave McCracken
January 14, 2004, 08:43 PM
Thanks, folks.

Corriea, after one passes an undesignated but important threshold, one shoots better when the forebrain is unplugged.Thinking is unproductive, using the unconscious abilities of the brain is much more fruitful.Just do it.

sm, love that Bellybuttonbang thing. "Out of the mouths of babes".Also, the more different shots one learns, the easier it is to learn new ones. The learning curve flattens.

H, we talked about that a while ago, maybe back on TFL. I think the reference I used for a shot similar to your present example was a lead between a Chevy Suburban and a stretch limo.I just don't take 50 yard crossers.

January 14, 2004, 09:16 PM
Try to miss in front.

When I was first getting the hang of sporting clays, the crossers really messed me up. I had read Brister's book, and started thinking about shot stringing, and decided what I needed to do was put that column of shot in front of the bird. The physics is not right for that, but the concept made me shoot in front more. The clays started breaking.

I liken it to golf. When presented with a putt involving break, try to err on the side of rolling past the uphill side of the hole. If you don't hit on a high enough line, then the ball never even has a chance. Shoot behind the clay, and there's no way the shot can catch up.

Also, when practicing, try to learn as much as you can about each different type (pull-through, sustained lead, shooting at a stationary spot, etc...). Certain presentations lend themselves to certain kinds of shots. For example, with certain hunting partners, I'll typically shoot only after they've taken a shot (or two). Sometimes, I'll mount the gun and follow a sustained lead, so that as soon as I decide to pull the trigger, I can. On springing teal shots, I'll often just pick the very top of the arc and "spot shoot" there. Some say that's not ideal, but I very rarely miss them. For the most part, I use a pull-through method.

This past weekend, I had two opportunities at a single chukar. The first, it was going away from me, with the slightest of curls to the right. I had mounted the gun a little too early, and the straight and level flight fooled me into almost a rifle shot... very little swing. I missed behind. It should have been a piece of cake. Fortunately, the bird landed within 75 yards, and the dog reflushed it a couple minutes later. This time, it was moving fast, at a 90 degree angle to me, screaming behind some scrub and trees to my left. I swung very, very fast and shot in a small window of less-dense brush. The bird dropped to the ground DRT. Replaying that shot, I used very little forward allowance, but the gun was moving really fast. I'd missed the previous shot because I'd used NO forward allowance and held the shotgun almost totally still.

January 14, 2004, 09:20 PM
Can anyone make any observations re my earlier post ....... re the ''vertical lead'' .... for want of a better term!:)

January 14, 2004, 10:00 PM
For me, I quit trying to think.

...About the only way I can drop those fast west TX dove. :D

Ever have one of those days that the birds are just not falling? You've shot up a box and a half of shells and only have 3 or 4 birds? Then one surprises you..he's blazing fast...ducking and diving around the Mesquite...you snap the gun up and drop him in a spectacular shot!

It's because you weren't thinking about it. The mind can do really complex calculations if we quit trying to force it to do something else.

Feel the force, Luke. :D


January 14, 2004, 11:14 PM
Smoke LOL
Q. " who is the fella with the wood/ blue/leather light saber"?
A. " Oh that'd be Smoke...kinda has his own way of felling doves..." ;)

HSMITH I remember a time when I could see 50 yds without my glasses..., give it time , give it time...:)

TR Yep - gotta agree- best to miss in front. More shots are missed because shooter shot behind and/or over target. I still believe style points should be given for missing...I worked really hard on some of my "misses and excuses"...ought to count for something, don't you agree? :)

P95Carry ( Chris). This is for you my friend, and anyone else. I can't take credit, credit goes to Mssrs Misseldine, Brister, and some personal mentors.

In skeet the most most frustrating misses are High 1 and the second shot on L8. Read: you just blew a straight no matter how you figure it.

Very important to see how the birds are flying. Even when set to reg's, wind, rain, sun...you need that brain pic first. I also watch the grass...anything to catch wind. I always shoot 2. I want to know my safety is off, the gun runs, and if anything is affecting my shot.

Skeet gremlins are invisible...ninja just wish they could be this stealthy...ninja ain't got a prayer against a skeet/trap/5 stand/SC Gremlin.

Stance is Critical, after getting the proper stance, point at the center stake an get a “hold point”. Now it differs “just a bit” if shooting mounted or low gun. IN both one focuses out “general area” over center stake. DO NOT ONLY focus directly over the center stake - clays can and will run to either side. May be wind, rain, snow…gremlins.

Eyes are focused in “general area” over stake, gun bbl is directly in line with stake. DO NOT hold high. Easier to come “up” to target than to “come down “ to target. Varies with shooter experience, you will have to try, but start at ~ 15* - 30* angle of bbl to ground angle.

When the target is still rising and you “see the target sitting atop the bbl with a line of daylight between” , pull trigger, follow through.

I can better "advise" and "why" folks miss High 1 :D

Shooters have butterflies, safety still on, did not see how the target were flying. Careless, or believe it or not “lost” on the first bird ( yes they miss on purpose) to remove anxiety, and not gonna have the anxiety of running a straight. Seriously folks do this, will run 24s and 23s…they don’t want to make it to next level and the pressures.

People ride the target too far out. Now the clay is below the muzzle, they shoot over the bird…that bird falls fast! Some shoot too quick ( more rare) “can’t miss with all them pellets at such a short distance” Wanna bet ? Just some folks are just plain afraid. Afraid of gun, missing, getting embarrassed…Stage fright.

Not following through. Huh…it’s a “straighatway”…90 % of “straightaways” missed I dare say are because folks look away as soon as trigger is pulled. Always Always see “ the bird broke” then worry about the second shot.

You cannot shoot what you do not see.

You can and I’ve done it, keep head on stock, proper stance, and eyes focused beyond flight line, and with the target ALWAYS sitting atop bbl with that thin pc of daylight…break that H1 anyway on its path…even with it 3” from hitting the ground at the end of path.

Practice and repetition, my friend, skills improve and targets get shot quicker and more efficiently. Let the shot pattern work for you . When you “see it” and its good…take ‘em down.

I have to be careful, even with low gun I tend to shoot too fast by some standards. One should not get hit by powdered clay from H1 while on H1 station pad…oops!

Remember them clays are EVIL, more evil than a bad mother -in-law, worse than the IRS or an ex wife. EVIL , more dangerous than mutant zombies taking bear sterioids...then you got the Gremlins, not the same EVIL, Mr.Murphy trembles at the mention of Gremlins.

Focus folks, BA/UU/R...its a tough thing we must do, but hell, somebody has to do it. :p

January 14, 2004, 11:26 PM
Chris, if you can't see the H1 target you can never hit it. I suspect if you are missing over it you are covering it with the barrel or nearly so. For me I see a little space between the bead and the bird, maybe 2 thicknesses of the target, and that is all the "under" lead I need. I ALWAYS shoot H1 before the midpoint of the field too, probably 10-12 feet inside of halfway. The angle to you is such that the closer to you that you atempt to break the target the more lead you need to hit it. Pick a spot, halfway or just inside of there, and hit it there every time. Don't change your cadence to the call, swing and shot. Skeet is "easy" when you groove it, but you must do it the same each time on each target on each station.

There is one more thing that comes to mind when someone has trouble with H1, and that is stopping the gun. GUARANTEED to miss over the top when it happens also. Focus sharply on watching the target break over the top of the barrels next time out, to get the follow through that keeps you in front of the target you must continue the swing until it breaks. That is a good rule for all targets no matter what, and is a "key" thought for me as I step on station.

The last tip I can think of is don't hurry. Even on station 8 there is a ton of time to get the shot off, lots more time than most people realize. Hurry the shot and it will miss, swing smooth and follow through and they will break.

You asked for someone to take a stab at it, I hope this helps. If I could shoot a couple rounds with you it would be a piece of cake to walk you through it and see why certain targets give you a hard time but this media makes it much more difficult.

EDIT: if I had seen your post up before I started typing I could have not bothered Steve! Well done! I need to type faster or get interrupted less!

January 14, 2004, 11:52 PM
sm - Regarding misses and excuses... I have noticed a rather humorous phenomenon over the past couple of years. Most of the time when shooting trap, my wife is shooting on the station next to mine. She's petite and very cute, but also knows her way around guns pretty well.

Anyway... if I blow a round, it is entirely up to me to come up with the excuses. If she has a bad round, almost without fail other (male) shooters will offer up all sorts of excuses for her as we head back to the clubhouse:

"Gee, it sure is windy tonight."
"Those birds just aren't flying normal."
"I don't think the angle is set right on that thrower."

Blah, blah, blah....

She normally just smiles and says "I don't know. I think it's just because I'm shooting for [censored for Art's Grammaw]!"

BTW, what's everyone's opinion about patterning and lead? By this, I mean that with a shotgun throwing a slightly high pattern, you can more accurately gauge the lead (since you are seeing the bead and the target, and not "blotting out" the target with the end of the barrel.

Personally, I like a slightly higher pattern for trap and SC, but prefer more like 50/50 for game. I can't tell you why, but that just seems to result in better scores and more kills.

January 15, 2004, 12:12 AM
I never shot much trap, I have, but I'm "oh you are one of THEM "

Misses and excuses, you do make a viable point. Men have "excuses", quick to quote to "excuse" themselves or a lady. Another guy they usually say something Art's Grammaw won't allow.

I generally have my guns shoot 50/50. I did have one with high rib shooting 60/40 , did use for trap , mostly shot some live pigeons, and sporing clays.

I decided to keep simple and have most everthing do the same thing. Sporting Clay configurations I like, many in the old days were just a tad more modified than a field stock. I decided to stay with the field ribs and stock configurations. I don't compete anymore, but even when I did, I shot pretty much stock configurations and 50/50 or 55/45.

I know the high pattern is an advantage for trap. I decided not to confuse what little gray matter I had and just input data from one type of set-up.

I had some folks have trouble adapting from one clay sport to another. Like used to a "crutch" and without it threw a lot of stuff off base. Kinda like a rifle shooter having to adapt to moving targets.

I'm probably the only fuddy-duddy that keeps things so basic. Heck I can still mess up by not doing all 5 things right at the same time as we are supposed to do.

"Heck you try hitting That bird with a stock gun and configuration"
[Excuse #89, your are welcome to use it] :p

January 15, 2004, 05:13 AM
I pretty much use a sustained lead on skeet targets, but can and do pass through shot and spot shoot on occasion. When I just go out and play and shoot from the hip, its all instinct and knowing where the gun is gonna shoot.

When I shot tens of thousands of shells a year I was figuring lead on everything I saw, whether I was shooting, or driving down the road. Thats a little extreme, but the human brain can figure things out without you thinking about it, and with enough practice.

Dave McCracken
January 15, 2004, 06:24 AM
IMO, rookies oughta print out this thread(Little credit to me, the brain trust here is awesome) and refer to it periodically. Maybe I ought to also.

High 1 at skeet is almost a gimme for me. I still have to focus and keep a little daylight between my barrel and the leading edge of the clay. Since I like a pattern slightly higher than POA, like 60/40, I have to allow a little more on targets with drop.

High 8, I can hit most of them, but the gun has to move very fast and I take them almost straight overhead. I think time will fix this one. Stations 3,4 and 5 are where I've the most trouble. More skeet will fix, my scores were climbing.

Smoke, the latest mantra I use for concentration is "Use the Force, Luke". This nmemonic replaces "Just shoot the thing". Good for reminding myself to stop thinking and just do it.

Both skeet and trap tend to groove in the right leads for THAT shot. I'd be a better shotgunner if I could make non standard shots more consistently. This is where SC has an advantage. More presentations, more unconscious calculations of trajectory and vector, more hits all around.

January 15, 2004, 06:43 AM
damned if sometimes I can explain misses on straight-aways
When it happens to me it's because I shot over top. I shoot too soon and lift my head.

In trap I don't see lead and shoot swing through. In skeet I shoot a combination of swing through and sustained lead. In sporting, I use whatever works on the specific target. Pull away tends to work for me on very high tower shots and falling targets.

There is no such thing as spot shooting IMHO. Even if you think you are shooting to a predetermined point you will move your gun even if only a little. At our club there is a tricky little settling incomer and when I shoot to a spot I miss every time but with a little movement I can break this target even though it's close to a 50 yard shot.

Asking another shooter how much lead a target requires is often futile. Swing speed dictates lead. I adjust swing speed to the target and I might see little or no lead on a shot that sustained lead shooter would need to see four feet.

I do my best when I can see the target early. The presentations I hate are those where the bird appears in a very short window. Even if it is coming through the trees I will cock my eyes back as far as I can, same with skeet. You can't hit what you can't see and the sooner you see it the longer the time you have to shoot it.


January 15, 2004, 08:31 AM
When someone is having trouble with high 1, I take them over to low 7 to practice. At center stake the two birds are the same height.

Low 7 seems to be easier for most since, I think, low 7 starts out low, meaning the shooter has the bird in sight the whole time. If they hit them there, back over to high 1. I have them start with a "high" gun so they can see the bird quickly and shoot just under it or right at it. With enough practice we usually can find a "middle ground" where the bbls are not too high or too low, but the eyes see the bird quickly...while not raising the head. Hopefully, it's not a windy day. :)

When they become somewhat comfortable, I let them know(opinion) that this is one of those stations where time is not your friend. Pull the trigger when you are on it and a center stake hit is generally late.

January 15, 2004, 09:09 AM
Steve, HSMITH ...... I much appreciate your trouble responding to those queries .. all input is as ever more than useful. Sometimes someone mentions something ... almost seemingly trivial .. and I think ''Ah ..... try that'' .. and just a small change works wonders. of course - the ever elusive Holy Grail is consistency!!:)

H1, once I see it . I tend to let it ''fall onto the gun'' .... but with a small amount of down swing at same time ... sometimes I should be shooting under it! One of those things tho .... needs practice . simple as that! Sooo easy to get wrong.

I shoot way less than I'd like and so much is down to practice . I hope this year will see a bit more shooting time on this ... of course shotties are 3rd in priority order . after handguns and rifles ... so never give it the dedication I maybe should!

Thx again.:)

January 15, 2004, 09:49 AM

You are very welcome.

Tell you what, just for you...invite H and I up your way and we will give lessons and instructions. Heck, give us time and we will snap you in shape for the Redneck Cup.

You do have a barn with a loft to shoot from - right? We need a jeep or pickup to better instill the technique of shooting and moving targets...truck moving, target moving...well you get the idea. :D

Yep , gotta feeling H and I could really import some data into your human computer database.

January 15, 2004, 03:46 PM
Late reply Steve .. had to go pick up a Colt Sistema!! Damned chores!!:D

Tell ya what .... you and H .. and Dave, Trapper .. anyone ... more than welcome and we'd have a blast! Pity about the distance factor.

Mind you - if we ever did do such a thing .. I'd guarantee it would finish up not being just shotties gettin the excercize!!:p

January 15, 2004, 06:12 PM
P95 - I've got a sister over near Philadelphia. I don't get out there too often, but this summer there's a strong possibility that I will. If so, I'll PM you well in advance and see if we could get a little shoot together. Anymore, it's rare for my wife and I not to bring our shotguns and bags along, just in case we find a nice clays course along the way.

January 15, 2004, 06:25 PM
Trapper ......... do that very thing! Should your travel allow you to traverse PA using the TurnPike then .... you would be but a mere 13 miles from me at one point. Guess it might depend on day of week etc re range availability .... but sure something could be worked out.:)

Dave McCracken
January 15, 2004, 06:42 PM
Let's see if we can do something in South Pennsyltucky later this year. Just give me some notice as to when and where...

January 15, 2004, 07:24 PM
Give me a shout , if something comes up after the spring semester ends. ( May 31). I don't think I'll be taking any extended summer classes...don't see any at this time available that pertains to me.

Depends on some stuff , but I've been known to take a road trip a couple to three states away. Being In AR and with multiple CCW tickets...TN, KY ( need to skirt Ohio) but I really liked TN and KY...gotta go back to KY. I'll jsut head more east, WVA I liked real well...you folks know how to do BBQ , boy do you...great ribs!

Gotta a feeling I'm gonna need a road trip by the time this semester ends...

I may not shoot well...I eat real good tho,and have a lot of fun. :p

January 15, 2004, 07:34 PM
I eat real good tho,and have a lot of fun Hey!! Who says it's ever all about only shooting eh!?:D :neener:

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