Pushed off a high hillside hundreds of yards in front of the guns, soaring, perhaps with a tailwind that makes him even faster, a tall, driven pheasant is one of the most testing targets one will ever encounter in the field. In this second installment of Lieske’s Target Tactics, we will discuss the clay counterpart to this tricky shot: the driven target. Though seldom thrown in the states, primarily due to its safety concerns, the driven target can pose a serious threat to your scorecard. The relative level of inexperience that most shooters have with the driven clay makes it one of the most challenging targets you can encounter. Visually, think of the driven target as an overhead target, but in reverse. In order to simulate the height of a driven pheasant, target setters typically employ a tower or high bank located in front of the shooting position. The clay is then launched fast and high over and beyond the shooter’s head.
Pat’s go-to technique for most targets is to start in front. However, “The irregular vantage point that the shooter has on the driven target makes its line hard to find with maintained lead.” For this reason, Pat advocates using pass-through or pull-away on the driven target.
“Inserting your gun just behind and gently pulling through will help you to better establish the line and to create a connection with the target.” When using this technique, “Keep in mind that you should transfer your weight from the front foot to back foot as you make the shot.” If you are a one- eyed shooter, it is even more important that you come from behind. Otherwise, your muzzle will block out the target, whereas two-eyed shooters can see around the barrels.
As with any shot, “Make sure that you start the gun in the same place for the same target every time.” Changing your hold point generally also changes your break point, however unknowingly.
Establish your hold point half way between where you look for the bird (your visual hold point) and your break point. Try to look through the barrel to see the target at your hold point. Let the bird go just past the barrels and, “In one smooth movement, point the gun to the back edge or just behind the target and gently move the gun through the target.” Keeping a slow and steady gun is key.
In determining the lead, think of the driven target as a crosser. Analyze the (1) angle of the bird in relationship to yourself as well as the (2) speed and (3) distance. These three factors, in the aforementioned order, are what determine the amount of perceived lead. The greater the angle, speed and distance, the greater the forward allowance.
Choose a break point where you feel both comfortable and in control. Pat has found that “The majority of shooters are most comfortable shooting the driven target as it approaches the station, over the head of the shooter.” It is usually at this point in its flight path that the driven target looks “big” and requires the least amount of lead.
Personally, Pat likes to break the driven target “When it is more in front of the shooter, before it gets too high.” By choosing an early breakpoint, you can avoid the awkwardness of a vertical gun. On the downside, an earlier breakpoint demands more commitment and aggressiveness. In addition, the earlier your breakpoint, the more perceived lead the shot will require. Choosing this breakpoint is thus riskier for the novice or intermediate shooter.
The biggest mistake shooters make with the driven target is “Quickly mounting the gun to where the target is first seen and then letting the target have a huge head start.” Jumping the gun, so to speak, creates unneeded movement and gun speed. It is important to maintain a sense of control and smoothness on the driven target.
Pat states that “Most shooters who lack experience with this target may feel it is uncomfortable to swing the gun in an overhead manner.” This awkwardness usually exaggerates the feel or perception of lead. The amount of lead that you feel or perceive will slowly decrease with your level of comfort in moving the gun in an overhead fashion. If you feel like you’ve given the driven target every possible length of lead and you are still missing, the chances are that the target is moving horizontally more than you think. One easy way to determine the trajectory is to ask yourself, “Is the target heading towards one shoulder more than the other?”
Prepare yourself for the driven target. If the thought of encountering one makes you panic, go find somewhere to practice the presentation. As the driven target is scarce in the states, you will likely need to talk to the club manager and see if you can arrange to have one set up. If that doesn’t work, well, just be thankful that the driven clay doesn’t have an instinct to survive like its winged counterpart!
About the Author: Drew Lieske is the oldest son of Michigan Shooting Centers’ founder, Pat Lieske, and the Director of Sales for Michigan Shooting Centers. He started competing in sporting clays at age 12 and by 15 became Michigan’s youngest ever Master class shotgun shooter. Drew is an 8-time NSCA All-American and a member of the Kolar Arms pro team. Drew can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.