Russell Mark Q&A – 2017

Article 7 – 2017

Question: I am always in doubt about what shot shells to use to break targets at longer distances. I admit I am not the world’s greatest shotgun shooter, but I do think I have a fair understanding of all the basics. My question to you is simple. Will using faster shot shells mean that I will have to lead the longer (40 metre) Sporting Clay targets less and in essence will the faster velocity help my scores? Why am I always told to use faster loads on the longer shots? Thanks in advance.

Daniel Vella, Sunshine North VIC

Answer: OK let’s handle the scientific and analytical answer to your question first. Will faster shot shells mean less physical lead? The simple answer is yes. At around forty metres a target going across the front of you at right angles being shot at with a 28 gram shot shell with number 7 shot which has a muzzle velocity of 1300 fps will need 9 centimetres less lead than a shot shell that has a velocity of 1200 fps. Now think about that for a second. Visualize what 9 centimetres looks like at 40 metres. I have not met a person in over forty years of competitive shooting that can make that judgement at that distance. Your brain simply cannot make that type of minute calculation change simply because you have changed ammunition.

Now in saying all of that we need to look at the second part of your question. Will the faster loads help my scores? Not knowing what shot shells you are using I need to make the assumption they are of a quality competition standard. By that I mean the quality of shot is of a high enough standard to hold its shot pattern with the extra velocity. Generally speaking high velocity target loads need 5% antimony quality round shot to maintain their effectiveness. The obvious advantage of faster loads is that they will break into the surface of the clay target slightly harder.

Article 6 – 2017

Question: I own a Beretta S56 shotgun that has been handed down from my grandfather through my father and finally to myself. It is pretty much in its original condition as it really never got much use. On the few times I have used the shotgun I always thought that it sort of kicks upwards when I shot it. Recently I went to a range near Sydney and shot a few clays with a later model Beretta shotgun and was surprised how comfortable it was to shoot, but more importantly the fact that it didn’t kick upwards when I pulled the trigger. Is there a reason my gun would have this characteristic?

Rahul Singh, Canberra ACT

Answer: The Beretta model S56 was the shotgun that paved the way for the famous 680 series of sporting and competition firearms. The major difference between your shotgun and the later models was the weight of the gun. The S56 was really was more of a field shotgun which was deliberately made as a lightweight so it could be carried easily around the countryside all day. If your firearm is in its original condition then it will have another feature that thankfully Beretta have also moved on from, a solid plastic recoil pad. “Recoil pad” maybe a bit too in its description as it certainly never absorbed any of the energy generated by a shot shell.

In saying that the weight and lack of a rubber recoil pad may not actually be the culprits with your problem of muzzle flip. What may be causing the barrel to buck upwards could simply be the lack of “pitch” in the shotgun’s stock. In layman’s terms pitch is simply the angle of the butt of the shotgun in relation to the stock.

If you lay the shotgun on a table and look down on it you should see that the bottom of the pad is angled more towards the trigger of the firearm than the top is. A perfectly pitched shotgun should see the butt of the shotgun matching the angle of your shoulder when the gun is mounted ready to fire. If the butt and the shoulder pocket match in angle then the recoil of the shotgun will be evenly distributed and the barrel will remain pretty much at the target after the recoil of the shot shell has been absorbed. If your gun has too little pitch (not enough angle) then the bottom of your stock will be applying more pressure than the top and when the shot is fired the barrels will naturally flick upwards because there is not enough “meat” between the top of the butt and the top of your shoulder.

Alternatively if your shotgun has too much pitch (more pressure on the top than the bottom) then the shotgun will flip the barrels downwards. It is a simple modification than can be altered initially by adding washers to the top or bottom of the stock, but only if you have a rubber recoil pad because these spaces will go between the stock and the pad.

There is a pretty simple test to determine the correct amount of pitch if you do have a rubber recoil pad. Load your shotgun and take aim at a very distance object on the horizon. Pull the trigger and watch the end of the barrel. If your pitch measurement is correct then the barrels should end up pointing at the same object you started aiming at. If the barrels flick up then add some measurement (a couple of 3mm washers or even some one dollar coins) to the top of stock under the recoil pad. If the barrels flick down then add the length to the bottom thus adding more pressure to the bottom of your shoulder. Once you have played around with the stock and have it recoiling straight you can either have the stock’s wood cut at the correct angle or get a shimmed stock spacer added to your firearm.

As a general rule very big barrel chested guys (or girls) will need more pitch the skinny lean shooters. Sadly the older you get the more pitch you tend to need.

Article 5 – 2017

Question: I am looking to reduce the recoil in my field shotgun, as it tends to boot me quite a lot especially with 32 gram hunting loads. I don’t want to spend a lot of money and purchase a fancy recoil reducing stock, but I was told there is a new recoil reducing device available which is filled with mercury that I can simply screw into to the back of the stock. Can you advice me that in your opinion does this type of thing work?

Jason Stockdale, Altona VIC

Answer: There have been many recoil reducing devices such as the one you are referring to that have been available on the market for many years Jason. Despite what you think this is certainly not new technology and believe it or not they do work, but probably not for the magical reasons may think. They work simply due to principle in a simple recoil equation. I will give you a quick lesson on the mathematical on the laws of physics in relation to this matter. For the purposes of explanation let;

M=mass of the gun

m=mass of a bullet

u=velocity of the gun

v=velocity of the bullet

Solving for u tells us the recoil speed is -mv/M. Initially the gun is at rest so the total momentum is zero. So momentum becomes Mu+mv =0. Solving the recoil speed is -mv/M. Therefore we use momentum to derive the recoil of gun.

With all of that we can get the result;

recoil speed=(mass of bullet*velocity of bullet)/mass of gun

To simplify this equation in laymen’s terms Jason by increasing the mass of the gun (for instance adding a 250 gram recoil reducer) you are simply adding weight to the gun that reduces recoil speed or the amount the gun is booting your face or shoulder.

We can make up fancy marketing rhetoric about the benefits of recoil devices to the end of time, but simply nothing can alter the laws of physics and that simple mathematical equation.

The positive side of your recoil reducer is that it will certainly help once the mercury filled device has been added to the interior of your stock, the downside is that it the balance point of the shotgun will have been altered significantly and the shotgun will now probably be balanced very much towards the rear of the gun or “stock heavy” which will make the firearm more difficult to control. Adding weight to the front of the gun to achieve perfect balance will probably have to happen. You can do this by adding a barrel weight that of course will further decrease the shotguns recoil.

This is a subject we have visited many times over the past decade in different forms. The other ways to reduce recoil may be to use a slower shot shell or one with less shot. These factors are again simply components of the mathematical equation of recoil. There is no magic in this I am afraid.

Question: I have a Miroku model 10. I bought it second hand and it was in pretty new condition. I estimate in total it has fired about 5,000 rounds. I was told the barrel life of most shotguns is between 50,000 to 100,000 rounds. Not that I think I will get to this amount any time soon, but I was wondering if that was true?

James Catling, Ipswich QLD

Answer: Personally I have never seen any brand of barrel worn out. I have met some American trap shooters that claim their barrels have fired over 500,000 rounds and have never missed a beat and still shoot as straight as the day the firearm was purchased. I have no doubt this is true. The hinge pins holding the barrel to the mechanism of the shotgun do suffer from wear and tear and will need replacing from time to time, but never the barrels. Miroku have always been a very good brand with barrels made to last a lifetime. The shotgun will probably outlive you James.

Article 4 – 2017

Question: I recently had a custom stock made for a sporting shotgun that cost me a considerable amount of money. To be honest I am far from happy with the results I am achieving with it although it seems to pattern test OK. My complaint to the stock maker seems to be falling on deaf ears as he is suggesting that I received exactly what I asked for. The problem is I am a little unsure if what I asked for is correct or not. Shouldn’t a reputable stock maker not know what I need?

Answer: I guess the answer needs to start with what you consider the definition of a reputable stock maker is? I have no clue as to who actually made your stock, but in general what I would consider as “reputable” stock makers in this country do know basic gun fit. In saying that I have certainly seen some terrible custom stocks made. By terrible I mean not in the way the stock was cut, made and finished, but in the actual dimensions of the stock. Sadly if the customer demands the stock to be made in a certain way then the stock maker has little control over the finished product and in no way should be held accountable.

Stock fitting is a skill, but it is hardly a high-tech scientific art. Personally if I am asked to fit a stock then I have no problems saying to the client that I want to make the stock with enough height and cast to correctly position the comb of the stock under the cheekbone once the butt of the shotgun is located into the correct part of the shoulder. This has to be correct to make a decent stock. The length, pitch, drop and balance of a shotgun are important factors in the design of the stock, but not as critical as the previous two dimensions. A bad gun mount may impede a shooter from correctly aligning the comb of the stock in the right position, but I would NEVER measure up a stock for someone simply to cater for his or her bad gun mounting habits. Unfortunately I see many stocks in this country produced that way, but this may be the result of customers that “know best” and are very forceful in getting the stock built to a set of pre-determined dimensions. The hardest people to coach, advise or to have a new shotgun stock measured up for are those shooters that have learnt fundamentally bad techniques. I cannot stress enough the importance of learning the basics before embarking into the world of expensive shotguns and custom made equipment. I am not sure if your stock was built this way, but I would be keen to know in order to answer your question correctly.

You mention that the new stock “patterns OK” so I am assuming you have taken it down to the local range and used their pattern board to see if first of all the stock throws the shot pattern straight and then high enough above the aiming point. Patterning the shotgun is an important test to determine how well the stock has been made, but it will not find all the answers in correcting a bad technique. It is easy to make a stock shoot straight even if the shotgun has been poorly mounted. Sadly if the problem in your shooting is technical then when you correct these issues the new stock will more than likely be incorrect and no longer fit you.

In Australia we have quite a few stock makers that have been pretty decent competition shooters themselves. I would think that this would help them have the skills to pick up a bad-shooting technique and rectify this or at least offer some advice before a blank piece of walnut is carved up.

Article 3 – 2017

Question: I have recently started clay shooting and have become very addicted. I have been a long time rifle shooter where I just naturally shut my left eye when sighting. I have had my eye dominance tested and I am left eye dominant, but I am right handed at everything. I was told that I would need to close my left eye when shooting clays however many people have told me that for shotgun shooting there is a real advantage keeping both eyes open. My question is should I learn to shoot from my left shoulder to overcome the eye dominance problem?

Timothy Appelton, Adelaide SA

Answer: I have certainly answered this question in previous issues of the Australian Shooters Journal, but it is well worth revisiting.

For those statistically minded the basic breakdown amongst the world’s shooting population is roughly spread across the follow six categories and percentages:

  1. 1) 59 % of shooters are right handed and right eye dominant
  2. 2) 8% are left handed and left eye dominant
  3. 3) 28% are right handed and left eye dominant (seen as an advantage in some ball sports such as cricket, tennis and baseball)
  4. 4) 4% are left handed and right eye dominant (many people in this group have often strangely suffer from dyslexia)
  5. 5) .5 % has varying dominance (sometimes due to health reasons such as diabetes)
  6. 6) .5% has no dominance

In theory at least 32% (categories 3 & 4) of the world’s shotgun shooters should shoot with an eye closed or wearing a patch over their dominant eye IF they are shooting from the shoulder of their handiness. A percentage of shooters (there is no data available as to the exact percentage) have been able to teach themselves to shoot from their opposite handiness or have been able to change their eye dominance with the help of optical exercises and therefore can they can keep both eyes open.

Shotgun shooting is one of the few things that you do in life where you need to know your eye dominance. My wife Lauryn owns and operates a corporate clay target shooting business and every day when running a group through she will ask if anyone in the group is left handed? Typically in a group of twenty only one and many times nobody will put their hand up to use the left handed shotguns she provides. After just one or two shots she generally finds five or six people in the group that try to lay their face across the stock of the shotgun and aim with their left eye. The percentage she has in her corporate groups is in accordance with the average in the world’s general population. The point being is that the greater percentage of people are right handed, but a far less percentage can actually shoot naturally from their right shoulder. I know of at least three Olympic Gold Medallists that were “one-eyed” shooters due to cross dominance between their handiness and eye. In trap shooting, where the starting position of the shotgun can often be pointed straight at the clay throwing machine when the target is released, there is not too much of a disadvantage shooting with one eye closed or having a set of shooting glasses with a small patch covering the optical centre of the dominant eye. Changing shoulders is a difficult and frustrating exercise for many people and If you were just shooting for enjoyment I personally would not change. My preference would be to buy a set of shooting glasses and cover the centre of your left lense with a small piece of smudged up or smeared sticky tape therefore forcing your right eye to take control. This also allows both eyes to remain wide open thus letting the maximum amount of light penetrate your eye. Closing one eye often causes your “good” eye to become squinted which is about the last thing you want to do when trying to locate your target flying across the sky. Good luck with it all and remember if you fail at clay shooting your eye dominance issues may be an advantage for you in other sports.

Article 2 – 2017

Question: I have been shooting sporting clays, skeet and trap on and off for many years, but mainly for fun. One habit I have never been able to overcome is moving the gun after I call for the target to be released, but before I have actually seen the clay in the air. Is there a way to fix this?

Alex Diamitriatis, Brunswick VIC

Answer: Alex the habit of unintentionally “moving the shotgun” generally only surfaces when a competitor is under pressure. It is a product of stress. If moving the gun is inconsistent then this will certainly cause a problem in all disciplines of clay target shooting. I use the word “unintentionally” as there is a school of thought that moving the gun slowly forward along the flight path is actually correct. I have seen too many world class shooters actually do this to totally dismiss the notion. It does take quite a lot of practice as is not considered fundamentally correct by many coaches.

The basic rationale behind the technique is that by having a slow moving barrel when the target is released it will become far easier and smoother to continue the barrel towards the target. If the barrel is stagnant then the argument is the first movement towards the target is jerky and often inconsistent.

If you can learn to compete under pressure with a consistently moving shotgun barrel when the target is requested then good luck to you, but I am not keen to teach novices this method as once pressure is applied the gun barrel tends to move faster and faster therefore the competitors timing becomes erratic. I do admit that I have toyed with this technique over the years, particularly in the faster clay target disciplines like Olympic Trap. I found in practice I could get quite high scores, but under pressure when your heart starts to pump at 120 beats per minute I found the moving gun strategy very difficult to control. This is often the case with many technique changes. Doing it in practice is quite easy with a 60 beat per minute heart rate. It is not until it can be perfected under the stress of a meaningful competition can judgment be passed.

One of the best ways to overcome this habit is simply by getting someone to randomly turn off the release system that the clay target machine is connected to. If you call “pull” and your barrel continues on a path even though there is no target in the air then you soon realize you have a problem. The best way to overcome this quickly is to take an extra couple of seconds to wait before you call and let your eyes softly focus in the target acquisition area before asking the target to be released.

Question: I have a shotgun that has interchangeable chokes, but I think one of them has been damaged, as it doesn’t quite screw right into the barrel. It has about two millimetres exposed at the end of the barrel. Is this an issue?

Grant Bradshaw, Lismore NSW

Answer: Yes it certainly is an issue. Don’t use it, as it potentially will blow the end of your barrel apart. There may be a problem with the thread and the two millimetres left exposed at the end of the barrel means there is a gap of two millimetres inside the barrel which will allow gas to build up underneath the choke between the barrel wall which is quite thin at this point. You can be lucky and nothing will happen, but there have been many instances of barrels splitting because of this condition. If you have not dropped the choke on the ground or have been negligent in any way then take it back to your place of purchase and see if it is under warranty. If not buy another choke. It is far cheaper than buying another barrel.

Article 1 – 2017

Question: I am very keen to give my 14-year-old son a chance to try and shoot some clay targets. He is slightly built and still has a lot of growing to do. I was very curious about your comments in a recent magazine about the inability of using a 20-gauge shotgun to be competitive in trap shooting. I was going to give him a lighter shotgun and some 24-gram trap target loads to try. Is the lighter 12 gauge a better starting shotgun than a 20 gauge to do this? I would be happy to buy him a bigger shotgun when he gets older and wants to start shooting competition. Your advice would be appreciated.

Martin Campbell, Mildura VIC

Answer: My previous comments about the inability of a 20-gauge shotgun to be competitive in trap shooting drew plenty of response. Let me once again state that my comments are based simply on personal experience and observations. Whilst it is perfectly legal for competitive shooters to use a 20 gauge shotgun in any trap shooting tournament where a 12 gauge is allowed, nobody on the podium ever opts for the smaller gauge despite being able to use the same amount of shot payload at the target. The reason? The 12 gauges are more effective for the longer distances required to shoot trap targets. Your question is a little more specific and you need to be careful how you read my response.

Typically a 12 gauge trap gun will weigh around eight pounds (sorry for the imperial measurements here, but in the shotgun world this is the norm). I will make the assumption that the lighter 12 gauge that you have access to will weigh six and a half pounds. If your son was to use a commonly available 1200 feet per second 1 ounce (28 gram) target load through the heavier shotgun then the recoil measured in foot pounds of recoil energy is a factor of 16.7. If you use a typical 1350 feet per second, seven eighth of an ounce (24 gram) shot shell through the six and a half pound shotgun then the recoil factor increases significantly to 19.3. The heavier shotgun will kick far less even with the larger payload of shot. This is of the assumption that the weight of the wad and the grains of gunpowder in each load are similar which means the weight of the shotgun and the velocity of the shot shell are the two killer components of recoil in this particular equation. The answer to your specific question on this occasion would be “no” the lighter shotgun will not help him in terms of less recoil even though you are using what is generally perceived as a “lighter” shot shell.

If you are going to introduce your son to the world of target shooting over a hand trap on a private property somewhere and the targets you are busting are generally in the twenty to twenty-five metre range then a light weight 20 gauge coupled together with low velocity three quarter ounce shot load would be a great way to start him off. By the sounds of it your son is quite small and a lighter shotgun may very well be the only way that he can learn the correct technique of holding a shotgun appropriately. An eight-pound 12 gauge trap gun will almost certainly be a hindrance to start him on his clay target-shooting journey if he indeed cannot muster the strength to mount the gun to his shoulder confidently, but be under no illusions if he is to take the next step and wants to become a competitive trap shooter or sporting clay competitor where breaking targets at distances of over 40 metres is required then you will be upgrading him to a heavier 12 gauge shotgun and he will need to be using the maximum amount of shot allowed under the rules for that event.

You may argue that you can break clays with the smaller light weight shotgun, but if physical strength stops becoming a factor then you will shatter more clays with a larger gauge shotgun with more shot in your shot shells. You can certainly have fun with the smaller gauges, but if you want your son to be a participant at the trophy presentations instead of a spectator then accept you may be purchasing at least two shotguns as he starts his shooting career.

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