will assume you are a shotgunner; otherwise, you would not be taking the time to read this article. The editor and I are old friends and have had many discussions on topics pertaining to shotgunning. One has taken the form of an ongoing and often amusing argument having to do with which technique is best for obtaining the proper forward lead on aerial targets. We have had this discussion in gun clubs, restaurants, my home, his home and just about anywhere we happened to halt our combined travels and take up the argument anew. On more than one occasion, we have drawn into the discussion one or two generally innocent bystanders, much to their chagrin.
Of the several more popular and accepted methods for attaining lead on a flying target, the one that seems to receive the least amount of praise and acknowledgment is the humble swing–through technique. I have for many years felt this method is very likely the most used, natural and least recognized technique in the world. How can that be, you might ask. Well, before getting too much into that, let’s look a little closer at this method.
Swing–through is known around the world by many different names: pass–through, come–from–behind, the paint–brush method and other monikers. In simple terms, it’s the method in which the shooter allows the target to fly past his or her barrels and then catches the target with good barrel acceleration and touches off the shot as the bead reaches the front of the bird. There is normally virtually no lead picture seen ahead of the bird when the shot is made.
Some practitioners of the swing–through technique display it in a grand form, allowing the bird to pass their barrels significantly and coming from way behind with a briskly accelerating barrel to touch off the shot as they catch the bird. The trigger timing of such a technique has to be spot–on, with no hesitation at the moment the bead meets the bird. This is swing–through in genuine form, and some coaches and competitive–level clay–target shooters envision swing–through in their minds to be used this way. But I feel swing–through is normally used with a much milder barrel acceleration on the bird.
Earlier I mentioned swing–through was the most used, natural and least recognized technique in the world. There are thousands of hunters who have never had any formal training from a coach, just what they picked up from their fathers, brothers or uncles, and these same hunters have become successful in the field taking birds with a swing–through method. Most have probably never pondered or realized what technique they use, they just swing the gun through the bird and shoot as they get to it. It “just happens.”
I suspect the major users of swing–through in the field are hunters of fast–flushing quarry, like quail or grouse and other birds capable of exiting the immediate area with missile–like acceleration. If I had to make a guess, it’s likely many duck, goose and even pheasant and dove hunters have taken many a feathered fowl using the time–honored swing–through technique. I have been after quail many times and always came away thankful I was familiar with this method, even if my efforts were not always fruitful. You may be wondering if any clay–target shooters use this technique. Indeed, many do. Although it may not be as prevalent with the clay–target fraternity as it was in years past, it seems many skeet, trap and sporting clays shooters take a good number of their clay targets with a swing–through method.
Years ago, skeet shooters were probably the greatest proponents of swing–through, as it is quite useful on targets of relatively short to medium range. Nowadays, coaches guide their students in skeet toward the use of the sustained–lead technique. Nothing wrong with that, and many a great skeet champion has used a sustained lead. But sometimes your sight pictures just aren’t there or don’t feel right and your shots aren’t connecting. That is a good time for a sustained–lead shooter to make use of the good ol’ swing–through until he gets back on track with his regular game plan.
Trapshooters normally do not make much claim to using swing–through, but many do. As you watch trapshooters on the line, watch closely their method of taking a hard right or left–angle target. Trapshooters tend to want to cover all the possible angles given to them with a hold point that allows them the greatest chance of obtaining the correct lead picture on each target without losing much time. With this as their intent, they normally do not hold too far away from the edges of the trap bunker. Hard right and left–angle targets can, and often do, get past their barrels. Swing–through comes in very handy when that happens.
Sporting clays shooters often take advantage of the swing–through method, as they have many varied presentations on any course. Some birds may be in a clear, hittable window for just a moment or two, while other targets may have a longer visual time in the air but are presented with sharp angles that require good barrel speed. Sporting competitors make good use of the pull–away and sustained–lead methods on many of the shots they see around the country, but they can often use swing–through to get onto the first bird of a true pair with a little better acquisition speed. This, in turn, gives them a moment longer to evaluate and take the second bird of the pair in their comfort zone.
I have seen and attempted many a true pair where the first bird had to be taken rather quickly in order to provide good acquisition time for the second bird. The slight mental problem that often occurs here is the shooter wants to shoot the first bird too quickly and, therefore, makes the second shot’s timing rather awkward and incorrect. Swing–through can come in handy here, but you have to know when and how best to use it.
Swing–through is a very natural technique for most shooters, and not just new shooters. Many veteran clay–target shooters and bird hunters make good use of swing–through because of the barrel speed it requires and allows. Barrel speed with this technique helps the shooter make a better shot in many situations.
How does barrel speed help? By letting you make the shot in the flight path of the target almost anywhere you decide. I have demonstrated this many times over the years to shooting students and friends. Imagine yourself on a skeet field on, say, Station 2 calling for a low–house target. You can swing–through the bird with a minimal barrel speed that allows you to catch the target on your side of the field near your position. This is one example of what minimal barrel speed with regard to the swing–through technique can do for you.
Take the same shot on the same bird with the barrels accelerated about 25% faster and touch off the shot as you reach the bird’s front edge. You’ll find you hit the bird sooner in the flight path, likely near the center of the field. Make a third attempt with even faster barrel movement through the image of the bird, and you’ll see you can hit the target on the other side of the field. Barrel speed can help you make the shot where you want to, as long as you can see the bird. I’m not saying other techniques do not make use of barrel speed; I just want to relay how it works with the swing–through technique.
Another advantage this method has for new and more experienced shooters is it requires almost no apparent lead acquisition on the bird. How can that be? Everyone knows you have to be in front of a bird when you shoot. Yes, but the swing–through method once again uses the aspect of barrel speed to allow the shooter to shoot almost directly at the bird, as long as they keep the barrel speed they’ve attained.
I tell my students to shoot at the nose of the bird as they reach it in their swing. Many times a student looks at me as if I am a bit daffy after hearing my advice, and I see smiles often. After they take the leap of faith and shoot at the nose of the bird and it breaks with a solid hit, however, the smiles are bigger. Keep your gun barrels moving as you reach the bird and touch off the shot as you see you are at the nose.
I mentioned earlier the editor of this fine magazine and I have often argued in a friendly manner about the benefits and detriments of the popular lead–obtaining methods. He has many times told me he does not use swing–through much, but I always come back with, “How about a High 2?” He just smiles and nods his head.
It seems many years ago Johnny was having some trouble with High 2 at skeet, his main game at the time. He asked the legendary Grant Ilseng for advice on this bird, and Grant showed him how to hit a High 2 by shooting right at it. Johnny was a bit skeptical at first when Grant advised him to shoot at the bird, but he soon took Grant’s advice and made the shot time after time with a good, attacking swing–through, touching off the trigger when on the bird. The targets were smoked, much to my good friend’s satisfaction. He now claims to shoot all his High 2s with a well–established swing–through method.
Are there any disadvantages to swing–through? I will not be so bold as to say there are none. The most widely accepted disadvantage to swing–through is its general lack of effectiveness on targets farther from the shooter. Because of the time lag from when the shot column leaves the muzzle to the time it hits the target, it is commonly accepted shots beyond 30 yards will require an actual lead picture, even when making a swing–through attempt with good barrel speed. The farther the range to the bird, the greater the time lag and, therefore, the more real lead has to be seen. There is a gent across the pond, however, by the name of George Digweed who has done pretty well for himself using a swing–through method almost exclusively. (Editor’s Note: See George Digweed’s instructional DVD.)
If you have never attempted to shoot an aerial target with a true swing–through technique, I invite you to give it a try. Many shooters all around the world use it with success. Perhaps you, too, can make good use of this often–overlooked shooting style.