Russell Mark Q&A – 2014

Article 10 – 2014

Question: I am reasonably new to clay shooting and I am keen to start shooting competition. Most of the clubs I will probably shoot at can be windy and can get very cold with lots of rain. Have you any advice for shooting in bad weather? I was told that the only way to compete well in windy weather is to shoot fast. Is that good suggestion?

Bruce Gutteridge, Ararat VIC

Answer: I admit that throughout my shooting career I was never one to enjoy competing in inclement weather. I grew up not far from you at Ballarat in the Central Highlands and I did learn very early that sooner or later you will get wet or suffer the wind and cold so it is well worth preparing for it.

You need to be careful about making any technical changes when competing in bad weather. Your “sight picture” that you rely on when shooting any type of clay target under the pressure of competition regardless of the discipline does not have an adjustment for bad weather. This “picture” is stored in your brain after countless successful shots and cannot be changed in the wind and rain. One of the greatest myths in clay target shooting is that you need to shoot faster in the wind to have an advantage over the target. It is exactly the wrong assumption. All that shooting deliberately faster will do is to make you shoot further behind and under most targets. Your brain has all the knowledge of lead, timing and correct technique, but when you intentionally try and change this because of the weather a disaster is normally waiting just around the corner. Ultimately what I am trying to tell you is to try and shoot the same at all times. Accept that gusts of wind will lower your accuracy, but it will lower everybody else’s also. Extreme wind may require a slightly wider stance, but this is fraught with danger as it will alter your gun mount and smoothness of swing to the target. High winds only advantage competitors that are generally grossly overweight as the wind won’t push them around as much. Sad, but true. It is simple physics. Adding a high carbohydrate diet to your training program to add a few kilograms for the winter months is poor advice also I am afraid.

By far the best preparation for bad weather is dressing appropriately. Spend a few dollars on some long sleeve thermal tops and pants. Outdoor camping shops have the best range. Wear an inner pair of thin socks under some thick woolen ones and buy a pair of flat sole waterproof walking boots. Most of your body heat is lost through your head so wear a woolen beanie or at the very least a peaked cap that should also help keep the rain off your face. If you must wear shooting glasses either through poor eyesight or simply the rules of your game then wear some blinders to stop the wind and water getting under the lenses. In extreme cold I resisted shooting gloves, but mainly due to the fact I wanted to avoid my teammates tormenting me on my appearance. There are plenty of days I think they would have been advantageous.

One of the best investments you can add to your shooting kit is a set of totally waterproof (not shower proof) wet weather outfits. Golf shops generally offer the best quality and range of wet weather gear. Try and find a top that has no collar as a large collar will inhibit your gun mount.

The essential element in all clothes that you use to keep out the wind and rain is the thickness of the material. Thinner is better, but may come with a price. Big heavy jumpers and jackets will totally alter your guns feel on your shoulder by artificially altering its perceived length of pull. For many years all of my guns were fitted with a 3mm spacer between the pad and the stock that I removed for the winter months and simply added it back in summer. If your gun feels different after you have layered on heaps of cold weather clothes it will probably shoot differently. Many times for no other reasons your scores may suffer due to your mental approach, but this is a major part of the game. Be prepared for all weather and don’t let it become a factor in your performance. Bad weather is generally the same for everyone so don’t use it as an excuse.

Article 9 – 2014

Question: I just purchased a new shotgun that has adjustable chokes and a barrel selector. When and where they should be used seems to create a fair bit of doubt within my group of shooting friends. Can you give me an idea what each of these chokes are and when they are best used?

Kendall Johnson, Lismore NSW

Answer: These days many gun manufacturers provide five adjustable “screw in” chokes with the purchase of a new shotgun. Unfortunately most companies do not provide a guide as to what they are ideally used for.

I will try and provide a generic guide to help. Let us make the assumption that the shotshell your using is a typical 28 gram target load with number 7 shot.

1) Cylinder or Skeet choke; Cyclinder and Skeet are very close to the same and some manufacturers do not provide both. These are often marked with 5 small cuts or lines on the top of the choke or 5 stars stamped on the side wall of the choke tube. This is ideally used for shots taken up to 20 metres. This choke is perfect for skeet shooting.

2) Improved Cylinder or quarter choke; Marked with four cuts on the choke tube or 4 stars. Perfect for 20 to 25 metre shots. Often used for the skeet or the first barrel in some sporting events where the targets tend to be very close.

3) Modified or half choke; Marked with 3 lines or small cuts on the tube or 3 stars. The most common all round choke in sporting clays or in the field for all types of game. Perfect for 25 to 30 metres.

4) Improved Modified or three quarter choke; Marked with two small cuts or stars. The most common choke world wide for the first barrel in most forms of trap shooting and commonly used as one of the two chokes in many sporting clay shotguns. Ideally used between 30 and 35 metres.

5) Full Choke; Marked with one cut or line on the choke tube or one star. Used for the second barrel in trap and most long range shots in the field such as ducks or geese etc. Perfect for any shots over 35 metres

This is just a guide and should be varied with the type of shot shells that are being used or the type of game you are hunting. The above table would be a good guide at most clay target ranges in Australia where the maximum shot shell used for any competition is 32 grams. The size of the shot being used can make a difference, but not more than one choke size either way. Larger shot will increase your range and the opposite obviously with smaller shot.

Many of the shotguns that are available today also have the option of a barrel selector that can be quite a handy device if used correctly. Generally the bottom barrel is selected to fire first which in most cases will have the most “open” of the two available chokes. By open we are talking about the greatest amount of spread or dispersion of the shot pellets. The barrel selector is advantageous if you are shooting at an incoming clay target or in the field when game is being driven towards you. In either of these two scenarios the barrel selector should be used to engage the top barrel, or the tightest choke first, then the bottom barrel or most open choke second. To put it simply the tighter choke for the longest shot and as the target or game becomes closer then the more open choke is needed.

I hope this helps. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your chokes, but never think a choke will substitute accuracy.

Article 8 – 2014

Question: I have just put an adjustable comb in my Miroku Sporting shotgun and I was experimenting with the angle on the top of the comb. Is there a perfect position for this? I am sorry if this is a stupid question.

Andy Smithson, Ballarat VIC

Answer: It is far from a stupid question Andy. The angle of the comb is one of the most important parts of the equation in achieving the perfect stock fit.

The angle that you refer to is commonly called the “drop” in your comb. It is measured by running a large ruler along the rib of your barrels so that the end of the ruler overhangs the stock by around fifty centimetres. Another ruler is used to measure the distance down from the overhanging ruler to the front of the comb and then again measured to the back of the comb. On a typical sporting shotgun the front of the comb may be 40 millimetres and the back may measure 60mm. This will give a drop measurement of 20mm (the height difference from the front to the back). For sporting or field shotguns this difference of 20mm from the front to the back of the comb is considered to be very standard.

Field shotguns, some sporting and many ISSF skeet shotguns have this amount of drop because when the gun is mounted from “off the shoulder” this degree of drop enables the stock to be very quickly positioned under the shooters cheek bone therefore allowing a fast reflex type shot. As a general rule trap shotguns have no more than 10 millimetres of drop and many have no drop at all, which is called a parallel comb, or even “negative” drop where the back is slightly higher than the front. Parallel combs or negative drop combs are common when the gun is pre mounted to the shoulder before the target is released.

The advantage of a stock with 20mm of drop is the speed it can be mounted easily, but the disadvantage is that the angle of the comb will have a tendency to boot the user in the face when the gun recoils. When the first shot is fired the stocks angle will be pushed back against your face. Unless the other measurements of the stock are correct, particularly the angle of the kick pad against your shoulder (called pitch) and the length of the stock is suitable, then there is a great chance you may not stay perfectly aligned down the centre of the barrel to gain an accurate second shot if needed.

There has certainly been a world-wide trend in recent years to have less and less drop in American Skeet and Sporting Clay stocks for the exact reasons as outlined above. There are many of the worlds leading shooters in both these disciplines using shotguns that have a slight “Monte Carlo” configured stock. In recent years this style of woodwork on your gun was the sole domain of American Trap shooters.

There is no perfect amount of drop. Each shooters technique, neck size and of course what the shotgun is ultimately being used for will determine how much drop is needed. You are lucky that you have an adjustable comb that has the ability to change the angle of drop as many cheaper model adjustables do not allow for this important adjustment.

Experiment with it until you find the perfect balance.

Article 7 – 2014

Question: I have noticed the trend about raised ribs on shotguns that you mentioned in an earlier article starting to really develop. What I am surprised about is how many of these ribs appear in Sporting Clay shotguns now. Can you explain the advantages of them again, but in particular the reason for the adjustable ribs? I really like a couple of brands that have the option of making the front or back lower, but I am unsure what the advantages of this are.

Keith Gillies, Hawthorn VIC

Answer: The raised rib is actually not a new idea. There was a shotgun developed by Perazzi back in the early 1980’s called the DB 81 which really started this trend. It was named after one of the United States great trap shooters, Dan Bonillas. It was essentially a trap gun which had a prominent ramped rib on top of the barrels. It had a higher stock to compensate for the higher rib. It proved to be a popular shotgun and paved the way for some later model Perazzi shotguns that had a similar design.

Essentially the idea behind the raised rib shotgun is to give the shooter a better view of the target if the starting position of their barrels is between the target breaking point and where the target is released. If you were familiar with DTL shooting you would clearly see the benefits as the starting position is generally above the top of the trap house and when the target is released from the trap the shooters peripheral vision is used to initially move toward the target. The raised rib gives the competitor a clear unobstructed view between the starting point of the gun and the trap house because the higher rib allows the shooters left hand (assuming a right handed competitor) to be out of the line of vision. A standard rib will cause a blind spot with the left hand if the gun started above the trap house too far. The higher the rib the higher the stating position can be without a blind spot. It’s a simple test to prove for yourself the next time you are at the range.

If you are a “one eyed” shooter then the benefits of a high rib shotgun in trap shooting is negligible as the starting point for someone only having the use of one eye MUST be no higher than on the top of the trap house, but never above.

The higher ribs will have the same benefits in sporting on any target that appears from a starting position below your barrels.

The adjustable rib allows a variety of innovative ideas. If you are happy how your stock is set up and never want to change it or you have a non-adjustable stock then the rib can be altered to change where the gun shoots in four distinct ways.

First of all by lifting up the rib the same amount at the back and the front will LOWER your point of impact. Secondly by lowering the rib the same amount on both ends will RAISE the point of impact (yes it’s the opposite to what you would do with an adjustable stock).

By leaving the back of your rib as it is and lowering the front then you will again RAISE the point of impact of the barrels even though when you look down the rib it will appear flatter. THIS IS AN OPTICAL ILLUSION. Finally when you leave the back of the rib as it is and lift the front you will be LOWERING its point of impact even though you will be seeing more of the rib. With these last two scenarios the same can be achieved by leaving the front of the rib pinned and lowering or raising the back.

The adjustable rib is a great innovation, but be wary of fiddling too much with it. If you have a shotgun with this type of rib it is good advice to adjust it in front of a pattern board to see where your point of impact actually is as opposed to where you think it should be.

Enjoy your shooting.

Article 6 – 2014

Question: I want to follow up on a response you gave in an earlier article about what is the best shot shell load to use for breaking clays. I mainly shoot what you would loosely call “sporting clays”. I have a close friend who has a couple of throwing machines set up on a property and we vary the shooting distances from as close10 metres to around 60 metres. Sometimes with varying degrees of success. I like Winchester 24 gram loads, but my friend swears by 32-gram loads. We both agree 7 ½ shot size is best. Can you advise us?

Graham Parker, Sunbury VIC

Answer: Obviously with the great variance in distance you are shooting these clay targets at Graham there is not one perfect load for all of your shots. Or one shot size for that matter.

The article you where referring to was a question I was asked about “if you had one shot shell that you had to use to break a clay to save your life what would it be?”. This is vastly different to the question you are posing. At the time I think I answered a 36 gram 6 ½ shot as I have no doubt that the more shot you have in your loads the better chance you have of some of it hitting the target. I suggested large 6 ½ shot simply for killing power. An “edge on” target will break better with 6 ½ shot than it will with 7 ½ shot. 36-gram loads give you more pattern density than 24 gram loads which will again give you a greater chance of breaking the target no matter what the distance.

In saying all that I am not suggesting that you need a load such as the one I have mentioned above to break clays when you are standing beside a clay thrower in a paddock shooting them at 10 metres. Despite the massive overkill in shot size and expense it will be highly unpleasurable to use these loads for too long due to the massive amount of recoil they will punish you with. Your 24 gram 7 ½’s are more than adequate, but to be pedantic maybe 9 ½’s for this distance are better due to a slightly greater pattern spread and of course pattern density. Your 60 metre shots require something else though I am afraid. That range is at the outer limits of most standard target loads. It would require a full choke in your shotgun to gain the maximum performance from any target shot shell. Assuming you would not like to use any more than say a 28 gram load to save your shoulder a bit of wear and tear due to recoil I would suggest a 1300 feet per second 28 gram number 7 shot (or 6 ½ ‘s if you can get it) with 5% shot antimony to keep the shot pattern as tight as possible for as long as possible. This type of shot shell will come at a premium price I am afraid. The perfect all round load for what you are doing is a 28-gram, no greater than 1250 feet per second, 7 ½ shot with 3 % shot antimony. This type of shell is widely available and is relatively cheap.

I hope this helps. Enjoy your shooting.

Article 5 – 2014

Question: I want to follow up on a response you gave in an earlier article about what is the best load to use for breaking clays. I mainly shoot what you would loosely call “sporting clays”. I have a close friend who has a couple of throwing machines set up on a property and we vary the distances that we shoot them from 10 metres to around 60 metres. Sometimes with varying degrees of success. I like Winchester 24 gram loads, but my friend swears by 32 gram loads. We both agree 7 ½ shot size is best. Can you advise us?

Graham Parker, Sunbury VIC

Answer: Obviously with the great variance in distance you are shooting these clays at Graham there is not one perfect load for all of your shots. Or one shot size for that matter.

The article you where referring to was a question I was asked about “if you had one shotshell that you had to use to break a clay to save your life what would it be?”. This is vastly different to the question you are posing. At the time I think I answered 36 gram 6 ½ shot as I have no doubt that the more shot you have in your loads the better chance you have of some of it hitting the target. I suggested large 6 ½ shot simply for killing power. An “edge on” target will break better with 6 ½ shot than it will with 7 ½ shot. 36 gram loads give you more pattern density than 24 gram loads which will again give you a greater chance of breaking the target no matter what the distance.

In saying all that I am not suggesting that you need a load such as the one I have mentioned above to break clays when you are standing beside a clay thrower in a paddock shooting them at 10 metres. Despite the massive overkill in shot size and expense it will be highly unpleasurable to use these loads for too long due to the massive amount of recoil they will punish you with. Your 24 gram 7 ½’s are more than adequate, but to be padantic maybe 9 ½’s for this shot are better due to a slightly greater pattern spread and of course pattern density. Your 60 metre shots require something else though I am afraid.

Article 4 – 2014

Question: I live in Western Australia and I am going to compete for the first time in some shooting events in Victoria in November and maybe back in the United Kingdom next June. I am curious on your thoughts on how long it should take me to adjust to perform at my best for the 3 hour time zone change from Perth to Melbourne and the 8 hour change from Perth to London?

Peter Bassett, Subiaco WA

Answer: It’s a good question Peter and one which many shooters often under estimate. Time zone changes or “jet lag” play a significant part in any sporting performance, but the results are more easily recognized in sports such as shooting that require a greater amount of mental effort and concentration.

Sleep deprivation caused by waking too early or falling asleep too late will have a significant detrimental effect on your score no matter what level you are competing at. It is vitally important to get exactly the same amount of sleep on the night before a competition as you would enjoy on a regular basis during your normal weekly routine. As a general rule in a perfect world if you were changing time zones by three hours then allow three days to get back into a normal sleep pattern or simply one day for every hour time zone change. Your trip to England will realistically take your body just over one whole week to fully adjust to this change. This is the theory, but in practice this is often unrealistic and uneconomical to actually have this amount of adjust time available, but my experience tells me at the very best you may be able to use the ratio of one day for every one and a half hours time zone change. Anything less and you are not giving yourself a realistic chance to adjust.

I have found that on longer haul flights across the Pacific Ocean or to Europe it is a tremendous advantage to try to work into your final destinations time zone by rearranging your life a little bit if possible one or two days before you leave. By this I mean try setting your day up to do your activities based on London time for a couple of days prior to your departure. This may mean going to bed later or getting up earlier, but it will help. On the flight heading to your destination make sure you adjust your watch before you get on board and hold off sleeping for as long as possible so you can “trick” your body into getting into a new sleep pattern. I have never been very successful at getting much sleep on long flights without the use of some type of sleeping aid. This can certainly help, but get your doctors advice first as the down side is the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) whilst sleeping in a sitting position for long periods of time without the possibility of moving your body.

Article 3 – 2014

Question: I want to get a new shotgun stock made and one of the blank pieces of walnut I am trying to import from the United States has several big knots in it, but it looks fantastic. I was told that these knots in the wood will actually make my under and over shotgun recoil more. Is there any truth in the rumour that wood with a straight grain running through it will give me less recoil?

Answer: : I am sure at some stage I have answered this question in ASJ, but I get asked about it enough that it is worth revisiting.

I know I will have the usual “know it alls” at the local clay target ranges argue this, but I will defend this statement until I die. There is no difference in actual recoil whether your stock is covered in knots or if it has straight grain lines perfectly parallel to the barrel. The factors, the only factors, in the recoil equation are the weight of the shotgun, the weight of the payload (grams of shot) and the speed of the payload (velocity of the shot leaving the barrel). NOTHING ELSE IS A VARIABLE IN THIS EQUATION!

I could end it here, but will expand on this a little more. Actual recoil is the mathematical measurement that a shot will equate to which can be easily calculated. “Perceived” recoil is much more subjective and factors such as rubber recoil pads, barrel porting and barrel “over boring” can come into play. Let nobody tell that “Actual” and “Perceived” recoil are mathematically correlated in any way. They are not.

Wood density can certainly be a factor in the recoil equation simply because denser wood will weigh more therefore reducing recoil, but two exact weighted stocks, one with a parallel grain and one with knots all through it will actually recoil the same. There are factors how the stock is made such as pitch and drop which will have a significant impact on perceived recoil, but none on actual recoil.

The one factor to consider about your beautiful piece of walnut with knots all through the grain is that knotted wood can have a tendency to split and as nearly every gun manufacturer or walnut gun stock blank supplier will not cover a warranty for their woodwork then you need to be aware of this. That would be my far greater concern than the perception of recoil caused by the knots in the wood.

There are hundreds of “old wives tales” that are thrown around at gun club bars that relate to reducing the actual amount of recoil. For many years I have heard about super fast shot shells that have little or no recoil because they are loaded with a new plastic wad, a “soft” primer or some special double-based gun powder that was mined by Tibetan Monks under a full moon. There is no doubt that changing powders in your favourite shot shell loads may change actual recoil, but it will only change the “mathematical” recoil if it changes the velocity of the pay load of shot leaving the end of the barrel.

Good luck with your stock, personally I love the look of knots in wood. Bear in mind it won’t make you shoot any straighter.

Article 2 – 2014

Question: I have heard rumours that “Sporting Clays” is back on the agenda for the ISSF to introduce as a new clay target event at their World Championships and the Olympic Games. Is it true and what stage are they at with this?

Peter Alderton, Mildura VIC

Answer: The International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) had their annual meeting in November 2013 in and it was decided that at this stage there would be no new event introduced onto their calendar in the short term. There was discussion about modifying the existing event of Double Trap and a new event was actually trialed in Cyprus prior to this meeting with over 30 shooters taking part. This new event was only a revamped version of the current Double Trap event and in my honest opinion it looked terrible. The ISSF no doubt are worried about the worldwide decline of the Double Trap event, but are not interested in experimenting with any completely new events that do not incorporate any of the existing target machines that are available on a trap range. This very much limits the introduction of the format of a new event and if a new event is formulated it would not in any way replicate “Sporting Clays”.

If there was a new event introduced it would mean that Double Trap would be deleted from the current program of events, but any additional event would only be a male only event as there is no room for any more shooters to be added to the overall shooting competitors allowed to participate at the Olympic Games. As sexist as that is it will be the way it remains in the foreseeable future. The only way any new event clay target event could be introduced with both female and male athletes would be if a Pistol or Rifle event was sacrificed. Politically that would take some doing. Again this is just my opinion, but I would be willing to wager it is correct. I have said many times that if I owned the ISSF I would delete Double Trap and introduce a “Sporting Clays” five stand type of event that could be superimposed over the top of a Skeet field without actually using the Skeet machines. I would estimate their would be at least half a million potential sporting shooters worldwide just waiting to try an event that could lead them to the Olympic Games. At this stage that is still just a dream.


Question: I notice that the for end on my field gun is different than the one on my trap gun. It is skinnier and has a contoured end. My trap gun has a very thick round for end. Does it make any difference to the way the gun performs?

Errol Patterson, Bendigo VIC

Answer: Errol without actually seeing the for ends it is hard for me to give you an accurate answer, but by what you are describing you have a “beaver tail” for end on your field gun and a standard trap or rounded for end on your trap gum. This is totally normal and the real difference is only cosmetic. Trap shooters tend to like thicker for ends because it lets them grip the gun without having their thumbs touch the barrel, which tends to get very hot after many repetitive shots.

Article 1 – 2014

Question: I recently competed in a Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA) DTL competition and after I finished I realized I was shooting with the wrong shot shells. The event before this was a “Handicap” competition where I legally used 32 gram loads. The next event was a “Single Barrel” competition where the maximum load permissible was 28 grams. Here is the dilemma. I shot the only perfect score in the Single Barrel event and I won it out right with the only 25/25. I have spoken to only one other person about this and he said to say nothing, but don’t do it again. He thought the different load would have made no difference. What are your thoughts?

Answer: The short answer is I am not calling you a cheat, but you cheated. Whether it was intentional or not is irrelevant as what you did was not permissible under ACTA DTL rules in Australia. There is no doubt that the extra four grams of shot gave you an unfair advantage over any other competitor who was using 28 grams of shot. I am assuming you did not say anything when you discovered your mistake and kept the trophy. That is a decision you have to live with, but it is not too late to make amends if you wish. Personally I would admit the mistake and donate the trophy back to the club so they can pass it on to the rightful owner. Unfortunately it sounds like it may result in a “shoot off” to determine who would now receive it. It will get messy, but not as ugly as it will get if you inherit a name in the shooting world as being someone who shouldn’t be trusted.

Your dilemma raises a very good question about how poorly this rule is being policed. Again without naming any offenders, but at this very time there are huge suspicions in ISSF circles about a certain country that may be “exploiting” the lack of checks being made on this issue. The doubts are not only about the weight of the shot load, but also the size of the shot. In ISSF “flash targets” are used in the semi finals and the medal rounds. These targets can certainly be harder to break so more shot and larger pellets will no doubt be a huge advantage. In my entire shooting career I have never once been checked in an ACTA Trap event and in my ISSF career the only checks I have ever been subjected to simply involve handing over a couple of shot shells when asked. I could surrender a couple of rounds of ammunition that I know are legal whilst my pockets could be full of illegal loads. Never once has any referee physically taken the shot shell out of the breach of the shotgun.

I have no idea in Sporting Clays how often, if at all, shot shells are checked, but I could see this event as being the shotgun sport where using “bigger” loads are going to be a huge advantage. Any long crossing targets that are thrown across the face of the competitor “edge” on will break easier with 32 gram shells loaded with number 5 shot as opposed to a 28 gram number 7’s. That is an indisputable ballistic fact, but I hope by discussing this topic publicly it won’t tempt some shooters to try it. I would have no hesitation in suggesting that if a competitor is caught deliberately and constantly using illegal shot shells then a suspension should apply.

It is sad fact that unfortunately there are people willing to bend the rules on a regular basis and not just as an honest mistake as your situation seems to be.

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