‘Swing through’ is the most popular technique used for driven pheasant shooting and most shotgun shooting. The main reason for this is that each and every bird you are likely to encounter during the day will be an individual and will perform differently. None of the birds will have taken flight from the same spot. Each bird will have its own ‘idea’ about how it is going to evade the beaters and the guns when they come across them, and will behave in different way although many will flock together for security.
Pheasants are not bright birds and I am not suggesting here they have complex thoughts but each bird will be different, those birds that took to the wing at the beginning of the drive will well be into the gliding stage of flight by the time they come upon you, but as the drive continues the birds will be climbing as they will have only just taken flight.
Keep both eyes on the target, mount the gun smoothly and track the birds flight path coming in behind it and following through after the shot in front of it
Most pheasants will only average 8 wing beats or so before they get themselves into this gliding stage of flight. Pheasants will only use flight for two reasons, 1. As a last resort to evade predators and 2. To fly up into trees at the end of the day to roost at night. Flying just uses too much energy for any other purpose for a pheasant. Both of these uses of flight are for self-preservation, for any other reason to get around pheasant nearly always use there legs. Partridges; grouse and other game birds on the other hand will manage significantly more wing beats as they are used to flying much further distances.
Unlike clays; a game birds has a brain and a complex flight control system which will enable them to bank away from a line of firing guns and head off in a more sensible direction (or not as the case may be). This is what makes driven pheasant shooting such a challenging sport and why it is becoming so popular in North America and elsewhere. Those participating in the sport want more of a challenge than they have been getting. Walk-up ‘hunting’ does not give the same satisfaction and is a somewhat lonely pass time. The speed of Driven shooting requires a much more fluid shooting technique and the swing through method fits this very well.
The swing through technique is very simple. Keeping both eyes on the target, mount the gun smoothly and track the birds flight path coming in behind it and following through after the shot in front of it. The trigger is smoothly pulled when the barrels reach the target, and as long as the follow though is completed the correct ‘lead’ will have been created and the shot stream put out in front of the target will strike home. If the bird is flying quickly you HAVE to track it quickly as long as you follow through the faster tracking will create the correct (larger) lead to hit the bird. As long as you follow through smoothly on the shot and smoothly pull the trigger as the barrels ‘reach’ the target the swing through technique will work.
Before we get into the guts of the swing through method lets just first have a look at what is happening in front of our barrels when a shot is taken.
…the chances of some of the shot striking the bird is increased…
The lead or substitute material making up the shot cloud comes out of the barrel in a staggered clump which then spreads out as successive leading layers of shot are sheared away by the air flow forming a long stream formation up to several feet long (the shot at the front of this cloud slows down due to resistance in the air and the centre of the cloud now becomes the front) of shot. This shot also spreads out to form the ‘pattern’ depending on which choke you are using. However at the moment we are looking at this long stream of shot and how it pertains to the swing through method of shooting.
As the string of shot travels, the follow through action of the shooter has in fact made this stream spread very slightly out over the flight path of the bird, so (for exaggeration purposes) the front of the shot stream will pass behind the bird; the centre will ‘connect’ with the bird, and the back of the stream will pass just in front of the bird. This is an exaggeration of what is really happening. In effect the moving barrel make a slightly oblique shot pattern which is more likely to strike the game bird.
By using the swing through method then, there is in fact a little bit more leeway with taking the shot and the chances of some of the shot striking the bird is increased compared with other methods such as the ‘maintained lead’ method.
swing must always be faster than the target
The real downside with maintained lead is that the whole shot stream could easily pass in front or behind the target if you haven’t got your lead right! You can see the lead for a high bird whilst pheasant shooting can be as much as 3-6 feet, therefore there is lots of opportunity to make mistakes!
The barrels (particularly long ones) have a certain amount of inertia built up in them because of the swinging action, if the bird changes its flight path or you haven’t tracked the flight path as well as you could have it can be more difficult to change the swing to suit the target. Nb. Issac Newton’s first law of motion; (inertia). This will lead to a bit of wavering up and down above and below the target as you track it causing you to miss above or below. However both pull away and maintain lead techniques have this issue too and the inertia of ‘pushing through’ the target helps to track the bird after shot is taken.
Practice makes perfect
Most shooters would suggest that the swing through method is really a method for those with a little bit of experience though and you have to have a bit of practice with this method beforehand on the clay ground with clays which are presented mimicking the flight of a game bird that you are likely to meet.
Swing through has a number of pitfalls though which must be overcome. The first is the knowledge of how fast to swing in relation to the moving target. The swing must always be faster than the target so that the shot is put out in front of the bird. Practice makes perfect in this regard.
The strengths of this method are that a bit more leeway on the target can be given as it is much more successful for most guns. It takes a few shots to get comfortable with and it is therefore by far the most successful field technique used in driven pheasant shooting. Most beginners to shotgun shooting are ‘told’ how much lead to give a certain clay and consequently they have difficulty moving on from what they were told and the experience they have.
Swing through is popular because it works both whilst driven shooting and at the clay ground.
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Look here for Mike Yardley’s excellent ‘Positive Shooting’ video which will help you put all this together