At first glance, most people would never realize there are several different methods for swinging a shotgun. Basically, they see a shotgun rise to the shoulder, swing punctuated by the triggered shot.

In fact, there are four primary methods to swinging a shotgun — often dictated by the type of target in play and the shooter's preference. These methods are called Maintained Lead, Spot Shooting, Pull-Away and Swing-Through.

Initially, they all accomplish the same job of putting the shotgun in position to make a successful shot. Their execution, however, often requires different skill sets, and it's best to perfect them all since you may need to use each one depending on the circumstances.

1. Maintained Lead

This method is best suited for predictable targets like you find in skeet or trap shooting. You know their source of origin, trajectory and estimated velocity. The underlying principle, as with all shotgun sports, is that you have to lead the target so that, in effect, the target collides with the shotgun pellets in front of it.

With Maintained Lead, your hold point for the shotgun starts in front of the target, and you never let the target get in front of the barrel. You're matching the speed of the target until, at some juncture, the target angle changes or the target speed changes, you recognize the break point and finally pull the trigger.

Some wingshooters prefer Maintained Lead once they get a bead on the prey's flight path. The problem is that a sudden change in direction by the bird can leave the shotgun ill-positioned, resulting in a miss.

2. Spot Shooting

Here's a way to nab a flushing game bird with little fuss. From the low-gun or ready position, you should raise the gun quickly and shoot straight at the quarry in an ambush-style shot. Spot Shooting is best for short, quick takes. See the bird, shoot the bird.

Spot Shooting is effective on birds flushing immediately in front of you, or if they are flying directly at you, and even some overhead shots.

Some people call Spot Shooting "instinctive shooting" because there's no planning involved. You instinctively know where to down the bird relative to its current position and spot shoot with virtually no swing. If the bird gets away from you, though, Spot Shooting becomes far less effective, and you'll need to rely on other methods such as Pull-Away or Swing-Through as the shot grows longer.

By the way, when it comes to sporting clays, try Spot Shooting the rolling rabbit target. Pick a target break point and shoot straight at it. Spot Shooting rabbit targets is a great way to simplify a shot that many people overcomplicate.

3. Pull-Away

The Pull-Away method calls for keeping your shotgun muzzle just in front of the target and then, just before making shot, pull further away to gain the proper lead. By closely tracking the target, you can better understand its characteristics until you feel that moment has arrived to sweep out in front of it and pull the trigger.

Pull-Away helps control two important factors in clays shooting: speed and line. The very nature of the Pull-Away method demands that you match the target speed and maintain its line of travel. Some shooters find Pull-Away effective on complex targets because the method gives them a few precious moments of analysis before the actual shot.

4. Swing-Through

Wingshooters often refer to Swing-Through as butt-belly-beak-bang, which is an apt description. Let's say that you're duck hunting, trying to bring down a bird some 30 yards away. You start your gun slightly behind the bird, bring it through the body of the bird, passed the beak and continue the swing until you're far enough ahead to identify the correct lead.

That means you have to keep the gun moving faster than the target, whether it's feathered or clay, until you have reached the projected break point. Swing-Through requires a skill that some shotgun enthusiasts have difficulty mastering: an even and controlled swing.

Swing-Through is effective on game birds because it provides some additional time to establish an unpredictable shot before pulling ahead to complete it. This method also works on low, fast clay targets that are crossing in front of you or quartering away.


As you can see, each of these swing methods works better on some shots than others. Quail hunters may like Spot Shooting, while duck hunters prefer Swing-Through. Pull-Away could be best suited for some clay targets, while Maintained Lead is better for others.

You need to think of these methods as tools. After all, a mechanic doesn't use just one wrench, right?