Russell Mark Q&A – 2015

Article 10 – 2015

Question: I have been struggling with my shooting for some time and I finally decided to go and have my eyes checked and sure enough old age has caught up with me. I needed to get some prescription glasses to shoot in. I found some frames I liked and are now concerned about what colour lenses I need to get. I quite like the deep red colour and I am told I need yellow to shoot in bad light. Are there any others I need to get in your opinion?

Charles McKinley, Burswood WA

Answer: Charles I am sure prescription-shooting glasses will help you shoot like you are years younger. A good set of frames is a huge bonus and it sounds like you have bought a brand that has the added versatility of interchangeable lenses. The colour of the lenses is purely a personal choice. Each individual colour will make the background and more importantly the target appear slightly different.

If your asking me for my personal preference then I always found that if I was shooting at florescent orange clay targets (which is by far the most popular worldwide) then a lense that has a reddish/bronze tint is really good as it tends to take the florescent glow or flash that the target can appear having flowing from its tail. I found this color great ONLY on days where there was constant bright sunlight. If your eyes are sensitive to light and intense brightness causes you to squint then any color will help not just red or bronze. It is essential when you are ready to call for the target to be released your eye is open fully. A half closed eye caused from squinting will certainly not help you hit what you are aiming at.

The most important factor about shooting with colored lenses is this. When the light is bad, changing, fading fast or if you are shooting at night under lights then NO color is best. The greatest advantage you will have if you need to shoot with a prescription is to buy a set of clear lenses. Any color you put over your eyes in bad light will only make your target acquisition worse not better. It is absolutely an old wives tale that yellow works great in poor light. Yellow certainly works better than black in poor light, but not better than your own natural eyes. For my entire competitive career I only used these two lenses. I am not sure if you are a clay target competitor or a field shooter, but it really is irrelevant. Buy a lense that will act like a sunglass to stop you squinting and another one for all other times when the sun isn’t burning down brightly upon you.

Make sure your frames are set high enough on your face that after you mount your shotgun to your shoulder and position your head on the stock your eyes will be looking through the optical centre of the lense and not through one of the corners which can give you a distorted view. It may be worth a trip to your local optician to help you here. A good optician can adjust or recommend what type of frames you may need. If you are lucky enough to have purchased a frame that has an adjustable nosepiece then finding the optical centre of the lense with the aid of a professional is very easy. I did this regularly throughout my career. At first my optician was a little gun shy, but in time he got used to me pointing my shotgun around his shop.

Article 9 – 2015

Question: I have been toying with the idea of buying a decent 20 gauge over and under shotgun to shoot sporting clays and maybe some trap and skeet with. I have owned a field 20 gauge for many years and have had great success shooting quail with it. I like the feel and balance of this type of shotgun, as most 12 gauges feel so heavy. Are they able to be legally used in competition? What are your thoughts?

Greg Anderson, Lara VIC

Answer: Greg one of the shortest books in the history of modern day literature is “World Trap Shooting Championships won with a 20 Gauge Shotgun”. The book has a front and back cover with no pages in between.

The 20 gauge shotgun has it’s place in the shooting world, but it is not ideally on trap and sporting ranges due mainly to the distance that some of these shots require. OK the first thing your going to tell me is that you can use 28 gram shot shells in your new 20 gauge, but as your shotgun will be somewhat lighter that the typical 12 gauge then the effects of recoil will become a problem. You will then say, but I can weight the barrels and stock up so it has the same overall weight as a 12 gauge and you can even balance the 20 gauge so the “feel” becomes the same as the larger gauge. I will then say to you “why not just go and buy a 12 gauge?”

Many American Skeet shooters have had tremendous success using their 20 gauge shotguns in events that allow them to use a 12 gauge variety. The short distances that skeet targets are shot at will not really disadvantage a 20 gauge at all as most of their targets are shot at no more than 25 metres. Once you start breaking the 30 metre barrier then any shot shell payload of less than 24 grams becomes questionable (certainly not impossible) and distances of 35 metres and beyond really require at least 28 grams of lead to work effectively. If you start shooting 28 gram high velocity 20 gram loads through a shotgun that weighs a little over three kilograms “out of the box” then you are on line for a very sore shoulder, cheek or both.

When you pick a light shotgun up it will always feel and point nice, but the downturn is that lighter shotguns require lighter shot shells that in turn effects performance at distance. There is no easier may to say it. Keep your lighter gauges for your field shooting or novelty clay target events. Historically the smaller gauges were made so that a lighter gun could be carried around the field all day without wearing the user out. Walking around endless paddocks quail shooting at close ranges is the ideal sport for the smaller gauges.

If you want to win sporting and trap shooting competitions then have a look around and see what the winners at the end of the day’s competition are using. They will all be 12 gauges.

A couple of years ago I wrote a similar article on the practicality of using a “side by side” configuration shotgun in big time clay shooting events. I made the statement that I was proud to have shot my entire career and never could I say a guy with a side by side beat me. I can say the same about my competitors that tried to defeat me by using a 20 gauge as opposed to a 12. I just didn’t happen! (I can hear the computer keypads firing up from my house as some people read this)

Shoot well!

Article 8 – 2015

Question: A friend of mine recently competed at a club in Victoria where he used steel shot shells. He gave me a few to try, but I was warned against using them. Is there a reason why steel shot may be dangerous and is there any advantage of using steel over lead?

Peter Arandt, Toronto NSW

Answer: I am not sure what shot gun you are planning to try these loads out in, but don’t use them until you have had a gunsmith with a bit of experience check your shotgun out. As a general rule any choke greater than half (modified) is considered the maximum constriction for steel shot. There will be people jumping up and down in their seats reading this, but the reality is there has been any number of tightly constricted barrels ruined by these loads. If your firearm is an older model “side by side” shotgun then please get a reputable gunsmith to look at it irrespective of what chokes the barrel has. Also if your shotgun has removable chokes remember to only use ones that are marked safe for steel shot shell use. Not all chokes are suitable.

At least one club I know of in Victoria enforces a steel shot only rule, but quite a few are considering a lead shot only rule also. The debate about what is more effective on clay targets is a difficult one, but there is no doubt at greater distances lead wins over steel every time.

Please read the warning on the shot shells packet. This will give you a good head start as to what safety limitations this ammunition has.

Question: What is the best color all round front sight (bead) on a barrel to use? I have a white one, but I find on cloudy days I can’t see it too well. I am thinking red.

Barry Kenderson, Hobart TAS

Answer: The first and most obvious answer I would give you is why are you looking at your front sight? It is a shotgun that you point with. You aim a rifle and use a sight. I am serious here. I don’t actually believe it matters one bit. I can name two Olympic Gold Medallists that didn’t use any!!!

The front sight is a reference point. It helps a shooter (mainly a beginner) to be able to find where the end of the barrel is in relation to the clay target or object that is being pointed at. At all times the only thing that needs to be perfectly clear in your vision is the target. NEVER should you see the front sight of your shotgun clear at any stage. It should always only appear as a blur. If you see the front sight with any detail at any stage of your shot then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. Break the habit now.

Color is a personal preference. I like the Carlton Football Club who are known as “The Blues” so I am going with that. Put a blue front sight on your shotgun.

Whatever color you decide on just go for a small one. The less distractions up on the front of your barrel the better.

Article 7 – 2015

Question: I am totally confused about what barrel length I should purchase on a new shotgun I am looking at. The firearm will be mainly used in the field, but I would like to try sporting clays also. The gun has three different barrel options in 71cm, 76cm or 81cm. What do you recommend? I have done a little bit of shooting and I describe myself as fairly typical in my height and weight.

Tony Cauchi, Caroline Springs VIC

Answer: Tony it’s always difficult to give specific advice on gun fitting until I have actually seen you mount the shotgun. From what you are telling me you are resonably new to the sport and are of average height and want to use your new shotgun for a variety of disciplines. On that information I would have to suggest you try and purchase a 76cm barrel (commonly referred to as a 30” barrel).

76 cm barrels provide the ideal all round option for clays and field shooting. If you were only using your shotgun to shoot quail in the paddock at short range then there may be an argument to look at the 71cm option, but this really won’t be ideal in sporting clays where there are many competitors using 81cm barrels very successfully. The longer barrels are better suited for longer range shots, but for many people are too long to handle comfortably. Unless you are well over 180 cm tall and have a great deal of experience I would always ask that you try these longer tubes before you buy them. Alternatively the 71cm barrels will be very fast and whippy on many of the precise shots you need on a sporting range particularly at greater distances.

Most of the decent brands offer screw in adjustable chokes as a standard option on their sporting model shotguns which would be ideal in your situation. If you decide at a later date to upgrade your firearm then by far the most sought after shotgun is the 76cm option.

Question: I have a couple of young boys who are thirteen and twelve years of age wanting to start shooting clays on my farm. Is there one piece of technical advice you would give them before they start. They are both decent rifle shooters.

Kevin O’Donnell, Goulburn NSW

Answer: I will assume you have a shotgun that has a shorter stock so your boys can get the firearm in the correct position on their shoulder. Apart from a poor gun fit by far the biggest mistake beginners make, especially ones that have been shooting rifles, is that they try and shoot clays with one eye shut and use the front bead of the shotgun as a rifle sight. First of all determine which is their dominant eye. Get them to use their right index finger to point at an object far away on the horizon and then close their left eye. If the finger is still pointing at the object then they are good to go with both eyes open and shooting from their right shoulder. If they are left eye dominant then if possible get them to shoot from their left shoulder. If this is not possible they will need to shoot with a patch covering the focal point of their master eye.

Start the kids right up behind the trap and have the machine fixed throwing a straight away target. It is so important to get them hitting targets as soon as possible so they build up a “sight picture” in their brain and of course for their confidence. Once they are hitting five in a row move them back a few metres at a time and maybe add some angle to the clays trajectory or give them a second barrel shot at the clay as well.

Good luck with your boys.

Article 6 – 2015

Question: I recently purchased a Fabarm RS12 and hoped my choice would be validated by you. The gun is excellent and I currently use it for Trap shooting, but i would also like to branch out into Sporting Clays. I am also hoping that you can explain to me how the point of impact setting on the adjustable rib works for different shooting formats? It has not been moved from the factory setting as I didn’t want to touch it until I had some understanding of its use.

Larry Jenkinson, Brisbane QLD

Answer: One of the most innovative changes to the clay target shooting world this century has been the evolution of the adjustable rib. In essence this feature of the shotgun allows the user to move the sighting plane above the barrel (rib) up and down to alter where the firearm actually places its payload of shotgun pellets. Before the adjustable rib was invented the only practical way to achieve this variance was by either lowering or raising the comb on the shotguns stock or by moving the point of impact of the actual barrels.

The beauty of changing the rib instead of the stock is that the same face to stock relationship can be kept. This may not sound much, but a competitive shotgun shooter makes the stock to feel like an extension of their own body. Once the stock is raised or lowered it will alter how the stock feels against its owners face.

I have never actually held the model Fabarm you have purchased, but after looking at a photo of the adjustable rib on top of its barrels it seems very easy to explain what you will need to do to alter the shotguns point of impact.

Your shotgun’s rib can only be adjusted at the front of the barrel as it is completely fixed above the breach of the shotgun. Some brands offer adjustability at both ends. To make your shotgun shoot lower you simply adjust the rib by raising it higher. To make the shotgun shoot higher you lower the rib. This may sound completely back the front, but trust me it is correct. There will be an optical illusion form in your mind when you lower the front of the rib as you will all of a sudden start looking very flat along the sighting plane or rib. This I believe is the biggest advantage of this type of adjustable feature of your shotgun as you can maintain a very accurate sight picture for your eye if it remains close to flat along the entire length of the rib whilst having the shot pattern shoot high. Before the adjustable rib was invented the stock would have to be raised thus causing the competitor to look down upon the rib. Any change of face pressure on the stock would change where the shotgun actually shot, but looking down onto the rib becomes harder to pick up any changes as opposed to simply looking flat along the sighting plane.

It is good advice to adjust this rib whilst standing near a pattern plate at your local gun club. As a general rule your rib should be lowered for trap shooting and raised for sporting clays.

Good luck with it. Once you get it right please resist the temptation to change the rib in between misses. More often than not a miss is caused by a bad shot not by the way the shotgun is set up.

Article 5 – 2015

Question: I recently walked out onto the flat lands in front of a shooting range I was visiting in rural New South Wales and was amazed how much lead shot was laying on top of the ground. The locals tell me this will soon be reclaimed by a machine. This process is great for the environment I guess, but it made me think can this shot simply be scooped up and reloaded again for use a second time? It looked OK to me. Some of it seemed a little out of colour and slightly distorted, but will that matter? Sorry if it is a stupid question.

Rob Dyson, Junee, NSW

Answer: It is far from a stupid question Rob. It is one I get asked all the time. The lead reclaiming that will soon take place at the club you visited will not be for the recycling into shot for future shot shell use. It will be probably be melted down and used again for some industrial purpose or it could even be washed and dried and end up in ballast bags for large boats and ships. To my knowledge no manufacturers repurchase second hand shot. Virtually every new trap and skeet shooting range in Europe has shade clothe layed out on the ground about 125 metres from the shooting positions to easily reclaim the pellets.

In answer to your specific question could you wash and reload the shot you are picking off the soil? Yes of course you could, but would you? One reason why this is not a common practice is from the simple observation you have already made. Distortion. This is the biggest enemy of the effective range to your shot shells payload. Once the shot becomes anything but a perfectly round hard spherical ball then its effectiveness at any great distance weakens. The variable that distinguishes good and bad shotgun cartridges, and the cost, is quite often the quality of shot that the shell contains.

Expensive ammunition, particularly quality competition trap shot shells, will often contain an expensive additive called antimony. About five to six per cent is added to the mixture of lead before it is made into round shot. This antimony keeps the shot hard and if the actual pellet has been made perfectly round the hardness will increase the shot shells effective range and therefore performance. For events like trap shooting where shots of over forty metres are common place then quality shot is recommended. Distorted, uneven shot will not hold its line or “pattern” anywhere near as good as perfectly round hard shot.

However, and this is a huge however, for shots that are very close such as station number eight in skeet (where the target flies straight back towards the shooter and is broken only a few metres away) there is a massive argument that distorted shot will give a greater pattern width which will be a definite advantage on these very close range shots as pattern density at such short distances will not be an issue. In saying that the negatives out weigh the positives. Leave the shot on the ground and let the powers to be recycle it. Chances are the next time you watch an ocean liner sail past you in the harbor its hull may be containing some of your previous trap and skeet loads.

Article 4 – 2015

Question: I have been toying with the idea of shooting some competition trap and everyone tells me that my field gun won’t work for me. In practice I can hit anywhere from twenty to twenty four targets out of twenty five very regularly. Can you justify to me why I would need to spend another ten thousand dollars on a new shotgun just to participate in this event?

Doug Appleton, Aberfeldie VIC

Answer: Doug I can’t possibly justify spending any amount of your money just to shoot a trap target. If you are after advice as to why a designated “trap” shotgun will make shooting this event easier then I am happy to help.

There are several subtle differences between a typical field shotgun and a trap shotgun. Field shotguns tend to be lighter to make carrying the firearm for long periods easier. Generally a field shotgun will have shorter barrels than a trap model. Seventy one centimetres is the most common length barrel on a field gun as opposed to seventy six centimetres or, of late, eighty one centimetres on a trap barrel. Also the rib on top of the barrel on a field shotgun will generally be narrower than that of a trap barrel as well as a thinner forend (the wooden grip under the barrel that holds the barrel to the mechanism).

The previous differences that I have mentioned certainly help distinguish the two varieties of shotgun, but by far the biggest variation lies in the stock of the shotgun. A field shotgun will have a very narrow comb (the crest on top of the stock) with lots of “drop” built into it. Drop is the difference in height of the comb from the top point at the front to the very bottom where the comb joins the top of the recoil pad or butt. Typically the difference will be 20 millimetres from front to back. This is largely due to the fact that stocks with lots of drop make the shotgun easier to mount to the shoulder when raised quickly from the pre-mounted “waiting” position beside your hip.

For those that are technically minded the measurements of drop on a field shotgun will generally be around forty millimetres at the highest point dropping away to sixty millimetres at the lowest point. This is measured simply by running a long ruler along the barrels and hanging it over the stock. The distance is then measured from the top of the stock to the bottom of the ruler that will of course be be parallel to the barrel.

A stock on a trap shotgun will have far less drop and in many cases wont have any. The measurements will be far less with a typical trap shotgun having thirty four millimetres of drop at the front and no more than forty four millimetres at the back. The less drop means the stock is higher therefore keeping the competitors head more upright and making the barrels shoot higher. Typically trap shooters look down along the sighting plane (rib) of their shotgun which of course means the firearm will shoot higher which is perfectly suited for the consistently rising target that is offered in all forms of trap shooting.

A field shotgun with its lower stock will force the shooters eye to look flatter along the rib of the fiearm thus making the shotgun itself shoot flatter which is not ideal in the sport of trap shooting.

These are the main reasons why a trap shotgun is better suited to that particular discipline. It is a “horses for courses” situation I am afraid. There is not one shotgun that is perfect for all clay target events.

I would think you would want to be fairly serious on taking the sport up if you are going to invest ten thousand dollars on a solitary shotgun, but you do generally get what you pay for. If you do spend that much maybe tell your wife you only paid three thousand dollars. This will of course backfire on you if she sells it for six thousand dollars behind your back thinking that she was doing you a favour!


Article 3 – 2015

Question: I am only a field shooter that fires off no more than five hundred rounds a year at local vermin, but I do want to participate a lot more. My problem is after a couple of shots I really feel the recoil of the shotgun on my face. I get bruised on my shoulder sometimes also. I have a field model 56 Beretta in its original condition that was passed down to me from my late father. It has a lot of sentimental value so I really would like to keep the firearm and eventually pass it on to my son. I was told there is a device called a “recoil reducer” that simply fits in the bolt hole in the back of the stock under the recoil pad. Can you tell me anything about this and where I may get one?

Alan Hamilton, Townsville QLD

Answer: Recoil reducers were a fad in the 80’s. The two most famous were the spring loaded “Edwards” reducer and the mercury filled “Bear Trap” device. At one stage in my career my father had tried both on me. I was his guinea pig for any new gadget on the market. In my honest opinion the Bear Trap was the better of the two. It worked twice as well, but it appeared twice as heavy. And there lies the answer. The mathematical equation of recoil only has three variables. In shotgun shooting these are the weight of the shotgun, the amount or weight of the payload of your shotshell and finally the speed that payload is being forced out of the end of your barrel.

Your model 56 Beretta is a notoriously light weight field gun. It was designed this way to be carried all day in a quail paddock or duck swamp. The benefit of the shotguns minimal weight is offset by the use of heavy and fast field shotshells. I am cringing thinking about shooting 36 gram 1300 feet per second loads through it. Either of the recoil reducers will help negate the actual effects of recoil, but in my honest opinion a 250 gram lead fishing sinker will do exactly the same thing. Alternatively a slower shotshell or one with less shot will also work.

The disadvantage of adding weight to your stock is it will significantly change the balance of your shotgun. A few hundred grams added to the rear of your stock will make the barrels at the other end of the shotgun feel like feathers. This may not be so important in field shooting, but for competition the results would be disastrous.

As to where you can purchase a recoil reducer these days I am not really sure. I would try online first of all as I am sure both of those companies flooded the market a few decades ago and their devices were solidly made and would not wear out too quickly. They were American inventions (as are most gimmicks in shotgun shooting) so I would start there.

Your model shotgun from memory had a solid plastic butt plate on the end of its stock. A helpful tip may be to spend a hundred dollars and get a rubber recoil pad fitted to it as this will certainly help lessen the perception of recoil on your shoulder.

Article 2 – 2015

Question: I want to buy a second hand shotgun just to shoot trap with. The two I have looked at both have “fixed” chokes. I am told this could be a problem as the choke in the bottom barrel is an improved modified choke and the choke in the top barrel in full. What is your advice? Should I look for another shotgun with “interchangeable” chokes?

Adam Plant, Brunswick VIC

Answer: If it is only trap you want to shoot then both of these shotguns will be fine. The combination you are referring to of improved modified (three quarter) and full would be my recommended choice for any trap event whether it is Down the Line or Olympic Trap. The only event where the bottom barrel may be questionable would be Double Rise where the first target is generally taken a little sooner because of the known target trajectory.

Most of the world’s popular gun manufacturers make their fixed choke trap shotgun barrels with the three quarter and full combination. They do this for a reason. They believe it is the best mixture for majority of the shooting population.

Question: I bought a shotgun just to shoot over a clay thrower on my farm, but I notice that it rubs my face to the point it bleeds. My friend has a similar gun and it doesn’t touch me. The only real difference is that my gun has a lacquer finish on the stock and the other has an oil finish. I think my skin sticks to my stock. Is that a logical reason why I am drawing blood?

Peter Fletcher, Ballan VIC

Answer: My first reaction Peter is to say, “harden up princess”, but to be honest your problem is quite common. You have nailed the cause. You have two choices. The first is to strip the lacquer of your stock and then refinish it in oil. This isn’t too difficult in theory, but it will take some time to do it right. My gut says to simply use a small amount of Vaseline on your face where you are getting opened up. This will act as a lubricant allowing your face to slip instead of stick. I had the same problem for many years and a small tube of the product in my top pocket lasted for months. On very hot and humid days I often reapplied the gel in the middle of a round of twenty-five targets.

Another alternative is simply to grow a beard, but this may affect your love life. That is a last resort. Good luck with it.

Question: I want to try some faster shot shells to stop me from shooting behind many of the targets that I am missing. At present I am using twenty-eight gram shot shells that are travelling at around thirteen hundred feet per second at the muzzle. I have some very fast shells to try that I am told do around fourteen hundred feet per second. I am worried I will now miss targets by shooting in front of them. Is that possible?

Keith McDaniels, Lismore NSW

Answer: No its not. Stick to your original loads and just shoot further in front of your targets. Shot shells that are going at fourteen hundred feet per second (if measured at a metre from the muzzle) will pattern wider than Kim Kardashian’s leather pants and probably kick you just as hard as her also!

Article 1 – 2015

Question: I have been shooting shotguns for over twenty-five years, but would class myself as only an average shooter. I mainly shoot recreationally although I did compete for a few years when I was a bit younger. The reason I stopped was that I started having a real problem simply pulling the trigger. I recently went back to a range in Sydney and to my disbelief I started where I left off. Is there a way to cure this freezing on the trigger I am experiencing?

Bob Hart, Penrith NSW

Answer: The dreaded “F” word in shotgun shooting. You call it a freeze, some call in a flinch. Either way it’s a massive problem if you don’t get on top of it. The actual cause of it is not really clear. It tends to strike competition shooters more than recreational hunters, but nobody is immune. There is a school of thought that it develops from exposure to excessive recoil due to an ill fitting gun or powerful shot shells. Personally I have seen people flinch on the lightest of loads with perfectly fitting twenty thousand dollar shotguns.

Without actually seeing your shotgun it is hard, if not impossible, to give you a definitive answer, but I have seen different things work. I have coached shooters that flinched because they have overly large hands and the gun stocks pistol grip was simply too small for them to hold the gun correctly. Extending the grip and palm swell requires some serious work by a qualified stock maker, but when done properly it allows the shooter to hold the stock correctly where their hand will be supported by the woodwork of the gun and most importantly allow the trigger to be pulled back parallel to the barrels and not upwards at 45 degrees or more.

Another cheap and simple strategy is to try and fit what is called a trigger shoe over the existing trigger. This makes the surface area of the trigger much larger and for many more comfortable to pull. It also makes the length of pull longer which will again help somebody who has large hands.

The most common cure world wide is a fix you really won’t want to hear about I am afraid. If extending or adjusting the grip or trigger still offers no relief the problem may be solved with what is called a “release trigger”. It is exactly what is refers to. The trigger is pulled once the gun is in a closed position and then the trigger is “armed”. It fires the shot shell by simply letting it go or released. It is common amongst many American Trap shooters and quite a few shoot double release triggers.

If you are a recreational duck shooter this will be highly annoying, as you will be holding the trigger for long periods of time. This can obviously also be quite dangerous if you are not well versed in its operation. On the clay target range it is a little easier to get used to, but some events like those conducted by the International Shooting Sports Federation make a release trigger illegal to use.

A release trigger mechanism is not suitable for all types of shotguns so a change of brand may be necessary.

Hopefully this is a starting point for you to identify a cure. Good luck with it.

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