Shotgun Target Leads – Four Techniques Explained

When you pull the trigger on a shotgun you are almost always moving, especially when you are shooting a moving target in the air. How you hit the target, is based on how much and what kind of lead you put on a target. Lead is the amount you must shoot in front of your target in order to make up for its speed. It is important to keep your barrel moving during a shot. Think of the barrel as a garden hose, if you keep the barrel in the same place and pull the trigger all of your shot string will go to that point. If you keep the barrel moving, the shot string will be spread over a larger area, allowing you a greater chance of hitting the target.

There are four types of lead that can be used in shotgun shooting in order to break a target or hit a bird, they are; Spot Shooting, Swing Through, Pull Away, and Sustained Lead. Each one of these can be effective given the right situation. In this piece, I will go over what type of lead is best in each situation and clay target game as well as which one provides the most consistent results.

Spot Shooting

Spot shooting is most commonly used in a hunting situation. When a hunter is surprised by a bird flushing, the first reaction is to bring the gun straight up pick a spot in front of the target where they believe that the target is going to be and pull the trigger. This type of lead is also referred to as ambushing. This is because the shooter gets out in front of the target and waits for the target to approach the barrel and pull the trigger. This can also work in some clay target games. In skeet, it can work on stations 1, and 7, and in sporting clays and trap it can be used on straightaway targets. The downside of this technique is that it requires perfect timing and is not very dependable or repeatable. If the shooter has made the slightest mistake there is no room for correction, which often leads to a missed target.

 Example of spot shooting on a straightaway target

Swing Through

h lead, the gun starts its move from behind the target. In clay target sports this could be used in skeet, trap and sporting clays. Simply by letting the target pass your hold point before making your move. This sets up for a perfect shot because the speed of the target is compensated for with your gun speed. The gun speed lets you catch up to the target, swing through matching speed and pulling the trigger all with the lead built in. This works great on hard angles because it allows you to establish the angle before you move. In hunting, this type of lead would most commonly be used in a crossing shot on an upland game bird or a duck passing through the decoys.

Example of how to shoot a swing through lead

Pull Away

In pull away lead, the shooter starts moving with the bird the moment it crosses the hold point. The barrel and the target are together for the entire duration of the shot. This allows the barrel to match the speed of the target almost instantly; once the speed is matched the shooter will recognize the correct moment to pull the trigger. At this moment the shooter will pull ahead of the bird slightly, using the barrel speed to put the correct amount of lead on the target and break the target. This type of lead is very consistent and keeps the gun moving through the entire shot process, minimizing the chance of the stopping the gun.

 Example of how to shoot pull away lead

Sustained Lead

During sustained lead, the shooter starts the shot with the correct lead already factored in. The barrel starts in front of the target and stays in front of the target for the entire shot. The shooter looks for the correct lead for just a moment and fires. The benefit to this is that the barrel and target are already matched in speed; this allows the shooter to see the target for the longest amount of time compared to any other type of lead. The downside of this is that you must already know the exact lead for each specific target, and if you don’t this will cause the shooter to check the relationship between barrel and target and will cause you to stop the gun. Sustained lead is very effective in skeet and sporting clays, where the flight path of the target is known. It is much more difficult to perform this type of lead in a game with random targets, like trap. This type of lead takes a large amount of practice to perfect, but once you learn it well it is very consistent. In the field, it is almost impossible to use when shooting birds due to the random nature of hunting.

Example of how to shoot sustained lead

 In my opinion, the two most consistent types of leads are swing through and pull away. These two leads already have the gun speed and lead built into the shot and it is much easier for the shooter to recognize the angle and placement of the shot. They both work very well across all of the clay target sports as well as in the field. These also require the least amount of practice, which allows the weekend warrior and everyday outdoorsmen to have great success on the range and in the field. Regardless of which lead you choose to use, with practice, you can become great at shooting whichever one you like.

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About the author: Jake Wallace was introduced to the shotgun sports after breaking his hips when he was 11, which forced him into a wheelchair for 23 months. He saw a shooting program on one of the outdoor networks and thought that it was something he could do from a chair. Jake started shooting ATA from a chair and progressed to international when he was able to walk again. He loves being in the outdoors because nothing clears his mind like sitting in the woods or on a boat. Jake was part of Lindenwood University’s history of success having graduated from there in 2012 after being a part of four ACUI National Championships for the Lions from 2009-12. He currently resides in Colorado Springs where he’s a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete. JAKE WALLACE: Hunting for Trap Superiority Competition Highlights • 2018 World Cup Gold Medalist, Mixed Team • 2017 Fall Selection, Silver Medalist • 2017 World Championships Team Member • 2017 Qatar Open, First Place • 2016 Fall Selection Match Champion • 2015 Shotgun Team Selection, Silver Medalist • 2014 USA Shooting National Championships, Gold Medalist • 2014 Championship of the Americas, Silver Medalist – shot a perfect 125 in qualification to tie World Record • 2014 Fall Selection, Silver Medalist • 2014 Spring Selection, Bronze Medalist • 2013 Granada World Cup, Sixth Place • 2013 World Clay Target Championships Team Member • 2013 National Championships, Bronze Medalist • 2013 Spring Selection Match, Bronze Medalist • 2010 World Championships Junior Team, Silver Medalist (w/ M. Gossett) • 2010 World Championships Junior Team Member

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Lonnie Pomar September 25, 2018, 8:51 pm

    Have to agree with Alan,the garden hose analogy is not a good one!

  • JoshO September 24, 2018, 4:53 pm

    Butt. Belly. Beak. Bang.

  • Davidb September 24, 2018, 12:51 pm

    Techniques vary from one shotgun shooter to another. I used to shoot a lot of skeet. Solely skeet. I learned you
    have to pre-cock your body per station first. Acquire the target once it left the window, it’s speed & path
    (for me) meant stock off shoulder & lowered: international. See = acquire the target, swing thru it, establish
    your lead, pull trigger, keep SWINGING! I have a right master eye & always keep the left one closed. There’s
    all kinds of decent advise out there but as we all know practice makes perfect. Just no substitute for practice.

  • Bob September 24, 2018, 9:26 am

    What about the diminishing lead, Mike McAlpine showed me this technique many years ago. Also, some would argue that spot shooting isn’t a lead, hence the term ‘spot’ as in stationary. Good article though!

  • Alan September 24, 2018, 9:19 am

    Sorry Mr. Wallace, I had to read your first paragraph twice as I really couldn’t believe it. Squirting a garden house and firing a shotgun are two different things. With a garden hose you have a continual stream, hence you get a shot string effect. Even though you are “Swinging” a shotgun barrel you do not get a spraying effect of the shot as it is down range in milliseconds. You do have shot stringing from the “slower” pellets in the shot column dragging behind.
    Try swing your barrel past a large sheet of cardboard and pull the trigger. You will have a round pattern. Shoot at that piece of cardboard being towed on a trailer at 40 mph and at 40 yards and you will see the effect of shot stringing. Pick up a copy of Bob Brister’s book, The Art and Science of shotgun shooting, good read and very informative.

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