Leading You On—Pull-Away
Pull-away is the third of the four conventional shotgunning lead methods that I am discussing. My first exposure to pull-away as a technique was with Roger Silcox, then the senior coach of the English Clay Pigeon Shooting Association. Roger was in the US holding some shooting clinics in the early 1990s. He was trying to get the Americans up to speed in the new-to-us English game of sporting clays.
Roger was teaching the “CPSA method.” This involved mounting the muzzle of the gun on the target and then pulling ahead to the correct lead before firing. I had been used to shooting swing-through in the field and maintained lead in International Skeet, so this was new to me. But it made a lot of sense.
Pull-away is sort of a golden compromise. It has the advantage of swing-through in that, by holding on the bird and then accelerating ahead, you can easily “take the line” of the target and initially match the target speed before accelerating away.
It also eliminates the constant shotgunner’s curse of slowing the swing. Even though we say it, none of us actually “stop” our swing. We just slow it down enough to mess up and shoot behind. With the pull-away method, accelerating away from the bird ensures that we don’t stop or slow our gun. If we are pulling away, the muzzle has to be moving faster than the bird. It gives us the follow-through that we need to ensure that we don’t stop the gun early. It also gets the shot to where the bird is going to be, not where it was.
As to timing, pull-away is also a compromise but a good one. With the muzzle on the bird for a moment, we equalize target and muzzle speed. Then, as we accelerate ahead slightly, we move faster than the target, which prevents slowing or stopping the gun. But we do not move so quickly that it is difficult to pull the trigger at exactly the right time. Thanks to moving only slightly faster than the target, the correct moment to pull the trigger is longer and more forgiving. In swing-through the gun can be moving noticeably faster than the bird if started far behind. That can make trigger-pull timing difficult.
On very long targets, I modify pull-away a touch by starting the muzzle an appropriate distance in front of the bird, not on it, and then accelerating ahead to take the shot. On closer targets, I start on the bird and then push ahead. It is vital to remember to fire the moment you have swung ahead to the right lead. If you hesitate at that moment, you will slow the swing and all is lost.
Another advantage of pull-away versus swing-through is that the pull-away muzzle speed is a little slower. This makes it easier to reposition the gun for a second target if you are shooting a pair. You don’t have to overcome the barrel and body inertia caused by swinging fast.
The disadvantage to pull-away will be obvious when the situation calls for a short, quick shot. Putting the muzzle on the bird and pulling ahead is slower than just sweeping the muzzle through the bird or poking at it. Pull-away makes more sense if you have a little more time, as in driven shooting. It also works well for many clays shots. There you know where the target will be going so you can start your muzzle in the right place along the flight path to easily pick it up.
As I said, it’s all a compromise; but so is life. Boots off. Beer open.