Some champion claybirders spite of their bad form mounting. Our European shows the way to better the fundamentals of good bust ’em well in and worse gun smoothbore editor shooting via stance and style.
As in other aspects of life there are many shooters, including some top-flight competitors, who shoot well in spite of having basically bad stances and gun mounting techniques, rather than because of good ones. As the success of each shot is largely determined by these two factors – before you even call for the target – they are of vital importance. Under “normal” conditions such faults can be got away with, but in bad weather, bad visibility, or when heavy competitive pressure is on, these faults can begin to tell – with disastrous results. If, however, you have a firm base in these fundamentals such additional strains will have far less adverse effect.
Most new shooters develop their stances and mounting forms in two ways: untrained observation and through a muddle of hopelessly conflicting advice. They watch the local hotshot and assume (understandably) that because he hits more targets than anyone else, he must be doing something right! Then they try to emulate his “style”. Thereafter they ask for – and are offered – endless advice by shooting ground friends. Most of it is well-intentioned, of course, but it’s completely personalized, and the shooter giving the instructions is usually without any basic knowledge of or mastery of the fundamentals. Such a “coach” has stumbled onto his own way of hitting more than he misses, so he wants to impose his style (even supposing he’s capable of correctly assessing and describing what he does!) on the unfortunate and gullible novice. Many shooters have little or no idea of what they really do. It can be amusing, listening to them telling how they shoot, when a glance at them on the line shows that they do something quite different!
Some shooters have been forced by physical infirmities to adopt stances and techniques that vary considerable from any sort of norm. If they reach the top they are slavishly followed by countless fancied would-be champions – men who have never investigated what lies behind the master’s idiosyncrasies. A classic case in that of Ennio Mattarelli, Olympic International Trap Gold Medalist and twice World Champion. Mattarelli has avery pronounced forward lean, which causes him to raise his back foot; he also has a somewhat unusual grip with the right hand. When he was a young man, staring to shoot, he weighted very little and he suffered from recoil – to counteract this he learned far forward into the gun. His unusual grip was caused by a broken wrist. Both abnormalities persist in his style to this day, because that’s how he learned to shoot and it was successful for him. However, vast numbers of shooters in Italy, and a good few elsewhere, conscientiously ape his unorthodox style, fondly believing that it will make them champions, too. They have no idea of the handicaps they face in their paths to hoped-for glory.
Fundamentals of Form
The shooters’ stances we’ll examine in this article are, all of them, styles used by famous European International Trap contestants. However, what they do must be relevant to American trapshooting, as they have to cope with targets going twice as far, twice as fast, through double the lateral angulation and with heights variations as well. Before looking at these shooters and their methods, let’s try to establish some fundamentals on which to base an assessment of their styles. I’ve observed their shooting form closely for years, attempting to discover and analyze the reasons for the various idiosyncrasies shown. Then I tried to distill the essential factors and blend them with my own practice of being as natural and comfortable as possible on the shooting line.
Our bodies are built in a certain way: the nearer we stick to the way nature intended us to be and the less we distort our bodies – in any sport – the more successful we are likely to be. One should only depart from a simple, natural stance if physical peculiarities or discomfort necessitate it.
Some shooters stand full square to the trap, which favors swinging to left-hand targets; others stand at right angles to it, favoring right-hand targets. Each drastically restricts the ability to swing to the opposite-side target. At any stand, you know the maximum angles through which your target can be thrown – or you should. If you place your feet, which position your body, to the center of these two extreme angles, then the body can swing equally to either side, instead of favoring one and hindering the other. An easy way to find this position is to hold the gun loosely between your hands, your arms hanging down by your sides. As you gradually move your feet right or left, the muzzle of the gun will move too. When the muzzle is pointing at the mid-point between the two extreme angles, your feet (and body) are properly aligned. This will bring the feet to an angle of about 45 degrees to the target exit point from each stand.
I have never found a valid reason to space the feet any wider or closer than one would as he stood naturally, talking to a friend. But some shooters virtually do the splits, as if digging in to take the recoil of a cannon; others place their feet closely together, wobble in the slightest breeze and sway back under recoil. Some shooters raise the back foot – we’re not storks, designed to roost on one leg! We’re better balanced with both feet on the ground, so you might as well leave them the way nature intended them.
An astonishingly large number of American shooters go into an exaggerated double knees bend at the moment of firing. I believe this comes from hunting styles, but that still doesn’t provide me the slightest clue as to its purpose – what on earth does it achieve? Other shooters emulate the Prussian aristocracy and march to the firing line, click their heels and remain stiff and unbending, with their knees tightly locked. Not surprisingly, this makes it hard for them to swing onto angling targets. Just break the lock on the front knee: so it – and therefore the body – can have fluidity of movement to swing sideways. Some people, then, suggest placing the body weight forward, onto the front leg. I find this can cause slight imbalance, and I prefer to gently incline my body forward, from both ankles, but retaining my weight squarely distributed on both feet. I feel this gives more stability in movement to targets.
Arms and hands
Some shooters place their left hand back by the trigger guard, which gives wonderful fluidity of movement, but a minimum of control over the pointing of the gun. Others (the stiff Prussian junkers again) fully extend the left arm, straining to reach beyond the gun’s forearm, which gives fantastic pointing control, but makes it almost impossible to get the barrels moving at all! In conjunction with this, some wave the left elbow about their heads, while others snuggle it down into their bodies. It depends to sole extent whether you favor the theory of left arm pointing or not. While the left arm can do the pointing, it can also act as a brake. I’m inclined to let the whole body do the pointing. The left arm/hand position is best determined by holding the gun between your hands, the right hand in position on the grip and trigger. Assuming you have a properly balanced gun, move the left hand up and down the forearm until the gun has no tendency to tip forward or back, but so that its weight feels squarely between the hands. Then shoulder it and let the left arm drop into a position that feels comfortable and natural, not too high, not too hunched in. Cradle the forearm firmly in your palm, with the fingers wrapped round it, possibly with the index finger more or less pointing the way down the barrels.
Right arms also find themselves contorted through a wide arc of angles from above the head to down by the side. The position of this arm affects the position of the hand and therefore the important grip and placement of the trigger finger (this is also affected by the thickness and slope of the pistol grip). The trigger should be pulled from its lowest point, otherwise it becomes progressively harder to pull as the finger slides upwards – and if the right arm is too high up in the air, it is difficult to pull the trigger from the bottom. Together, the arms should look, from the front, roughly like a slightly off-center inverted V.
Shoulder, neck and head
The position of the right arm is governed largely by the position of the right shoulder, and this is where slight body “distortion” can be legitimate, especially if you have a long neck. If you mount the gun with your right shoulder in its natural, down position, you may find that the stock is some distance from your face, and you have to bend your head and neck down to it. This is a no-no! The stock must always be brought up to the cheek, so, by raising the right shoulder, as you lift the gun, you’ll find the stock then comes into your face. At the same time as you raise the shoulder, also raise the right elbow. This opens up a hollow pocket for the gun butt to fit firmly into – if you leave the elbow down, a hard bunch of muscles will defy entry to the butt. Once the butt is in position, allow the right elbow to drop into whatever position and level is comfortable and natural to it. The butt should be placed as far in from the shoulder as possible and comfortable, so as to bring the rib under the eye. If you mount the gun way out on your shoulder, your head is going to have to lean over to the stock, to get the eye behind the rib.
If you mount the gun so hight that half the butt is visible from behind your shoulder, your neck will probably be stranded backwards. If you mount it so low that it is almost sliding out from under your armpit, your neck, head and eyes will be strained downwards – naturally, at the first movement to the target, they will attempt to return to their normal positions, result: missed target. All strain is bad, because the affected body part will always try to revert to its natural state. A good norm is to have the top of the butt roughly level with the top of the shoulder.
Some heads are hunched so far back on the stock that you wonder why they bothered to have a Monte Carlo comb; others are strained so far forward that you wonder why they don’t get bloody noses! Neck length, face length and the height of the shoulders, all affect the distance from shoulder to eye. The short-necked shooter is the luckiest, as the gun will come naturally into place against his face and under his eye; it’s us ostrich-necks that have problems. Holding the head a bit forward, rather than back, is favored. This position gives a better view down the rib and a better muzzle-to-target relationship. Obviously stock length is of prime importance here and a rough guide is: don’t shoot a stock any longer than you have to – all that does is bring your head back along the comb, taking the gun balance out of your hands and into the muzzle.
Cheek pressure to the comb can be vertically from the fleshy front of the cheek, under the eye; from the back, nearer the top of the jaw bone; or laterally against the side and bottom of the jaw bone. The most likely to cause head-lifting is the first, as the fleshy portion gives no stability from gun movement or recoil (when a second shot is required). The third is probably the best – it should eliminate head-lifting as there’s no vertical pressure and, provided you don’t have too much (or too little) lateral pressure, you should eliminate the problem of the head coming away from the stock on right-angling birds.
The above factors also affect eye alignment. The eyes should be able to view along the rib at as near their natural viewing level as possible. Again, the short-necked fellow wins out. For the long-neck, who has to lower his head some, avoid the first of the cheek-pressure possibilities like the plague, for it also causes the eyes to cant down. They must then peer up through the eyelashes and obviously try to return to normal viewing level when the target appears and the gun starts to move. Result: another lifted head and another untouched target. Don’t forget to ascertain, preferably through an oculist or optician, which is your master eye. If you have frequent or even occasional equal-strength vision, don’t hesitate to close one eye. My scores improved a lot after I did, for I found that occasionally my left eye was as strong as the right and took over the guidance system.
Some shooters advocate moving from the hips, others move only their arms. I believe the body should be considered as a tank, with its usual turret-mounted gun: our “tank” is our feet, and our turret-gun is the rest of the body from the ankles up. I move my whole body laterally to a target, along with a slight forward movement – bodyflow – out in the direction of the target I’m pursuing. When you swing laterally to a wide-angled target, don’t lean over from the waist, but pivot on an even keel.
Some shooters mount their guns with the muzzle pointing to the heavens as if beseeching a blessing on their coming effort; other start so low that you wonder if they’re invoking other than divine assistance! While mounting the gun level with the shoulder and eyes is a good norm, it’s worth considering mounting the gun angled slightly upward. This insures that the gun is brought to the head, not vise versa; then, once head and gun are locked together in the correct position, the whole body inclines forwards and slightly downward to the target exit.
Gun fit and clothing
Both are obviously vital to the successful employment of any of the above-suggested fundamental techniques of stance and style. We’re not going into either here, but just remember: alter the gun to the man – just as you would with clothes – and not the man to the gun.
Stances and Form
Now let’s take a look at some Europe’s top International shooters, all of them are members of their nations’ International Trap Teams. The pictures were taken at 1970 European Championship in Bucharest, Romania. I used a telephoto lens, so as not to disturb the competitors – hence the imperfect quality of the pictures.
1. Mattarelli, Italy: Olympic Gold 1964, twice World Champion, European Champion. Note his forward lean and lifted back foot-for reasons explained earlier. The gun seems mounted slightly low in his shoulder. The unusual left-hand grip and special forearm are the result of an accident in which he lost part of his left hand. Shoots a Perazzi.
2. Rossini, Italy: Olympic Gold 1956, Silver ’60 and tied for Silver ’64. Very normal, natural stance, and only surprise being the lifted back foot. He comes from a family of shooters which has long shot for Italy, so he was trained in stance and style from an early age. Shoots a Beretta.
3. Carrega, France: Twice World Champion, 1970/71, European Champion. He gets my prize for best style, notable for its simplicity and naturalness. He just stands quite normally and puts the gun to his shoulder, no nonsense. Head is erect, so his eyes view on a level plane; the gun is mounted well up in the shoulder, right arm height is not exaggerated, left arm extended, but not too much; body erect, but fractionally inclined forward; feet spaced apart normally and angled about 45 degrees to the target exit. It’s hard to tell from the picture if his front knee is bent. Shoots a Browning.
4. Braithwaite, Great Britain: Olympic Gold 1968. Head is well forward, and correctly angled to the line of sight. With both knees slightly bent, he appears a little crouched, otherwise this is good style. Shoots a Browning.
5. Senicev, Russia: Olympic Silver 1964, tied for same 1968. Style seems similar to Braithwaite’s, but his head and neck are even more forward, and his gun is mounted strangely low. This appears to be the result of Russian schooling, as other Soviet shooters also favor the same style. Both Braithwaite and Senicev consider nearness of the eye to the rib an important factor, and this style is also common among American military International Trap shooters. Shoots a Merkel.
6. Basagni, Italy: European Champion 1971. With his head forward and seemingly down, the right arm close in to his body and the left arm well back, he seems slightly hunched. However, he is a very fast and a consistently good performer. Shoots a Beretta.
7. Leibinger, Germany: One of the handful of shooters who have broken 200 straight at International Trap. Textbook style, but with the right arm level with shoulder. Not only is he the one International Trap shooter I know who holds a high gun muzzle, as do American trapshooters (other Internationals generally hold the gun below the ground level exit point), but his head has hardly any contact with the stock. His nose and mouth (arm covers mouth in this picture) are always clearly visible above comb. I think some of his style comes from the German expert, Walter Gehmann. Shoots a Browning.
8. Renard, Belgium: World Champion 1967. Jovial, roly-poly Renard holds his left hand so far back that I find it hard to understand how he supports and moves the gun – he must have to shove around much gun weight out front. Also, his feet are very close together. Shoots a Browning.
9. Alonso, Spain: Here we see the absolute opposite to Renard’s short left arm, with Alonso’s left arm extended as far as possible!
10. Bina Avrile, Italy: Ladies World Champion 1969. Another fan of the far extended left arm. Other unusual features of her stance are very high right arm, hunched over body, almost central positioning of stock (to avoid hurting her breast), and an almost square-to-front body, with straight legs. She originally took up clay shooting as therapy to recover from an illness which left her bed-ridden. Like Mattarelli, who won his second World title when she won her first, she shoots a Perazzi.
Top: Author Derek Partridge, who is a member of Great Britain’s International Trap Team, demonstrates his own style. He hopes it illustrates points brought out in text and is as simple and natural as his long-necked physique allows!
This article was written by Derek Partridge and originally published in Gun Digest, Annual 1973 issue. Republished with permission.