Tough Targets: The High Overhead Bird

By Brian Lovett

shooter looking down a shotgun

Depending on the day, the high overhead incoming target might be your favorite shot or a hated foil. When you do everything correctly, the clay or bird breaks in spectacular fashion. Mess up, however, and you’re left falling backward clumsily as your buddy looks away and pencils another zero on the scoresheet.

The high overhead incomer—whether on the sporting clays range, or in the form of a dove or duck afield—shouldn’t be that difficult. Actually, it’s fairly intuitive, but it can get into your head, and seemingly insignificant bad habits can really create trouble. I should know, having blown more than my fair share of these opportunities through the years.

Feet Don’t Fail Me

Proper execution of this shot differs little from other targets. After you call for the bird, watch it intently as it approaches. Shoulder your gun in a smooth, fluid motion, swing through the target, shoot when your brain says “go,” and then continue your swing in a solid follow-through.

Trouble can creep in from the start, though, especially when it comes to foot position, which is critically important for overhead targets. First, targets rarely pass directly overhead, instead typically angling a few degrees left or right. As such, you should try to point your front foot (your left, assuming you’re right-handed) toward where you expect to break the bird. If your foot is pointed too far right and a bird veers a bit left, you’ll have to fight against your body to maintain your swing and follow-through, and vice versa.

2 sporting clay deployers on a platform

Further, you should keep your feet somewhat closer together for overhead shots than during other chances. Conventional wisdom calls for shooters to set their feet at about shoulder width. You’ll do better with overhead targets if you keep them a bit tighter, as this lets you turn more easily left or right. This is especially true in field situations—flooded-timber ducks or driven-shoot pheasants, for example—when you might be shooting from a somewhat unstable base.

Also, there’s the matter of shifting your weight. With shots in front of you, you want most of your weight (some say 75 percent) on your front foot. That’s fine with relatively low overhead shots, which you’ll typically shoot before they pass overhead. High birds, however, demand that you shift your weight to maintain balance and good form as you swing and shoot. For high birds that angle left, keep your weight on your left foot (again, assuming you shoot right-handed). But if birds angle right or go directly overhead, shift your weight to your back foot in sync with your swing as you mount and shoot. This will help you maintain balance and keep your barrel moving.

Speaking Of Your Barrel

Pay particular attention to your barrel’s position and movement during overhead chances. As with all targets, it’s best to keep it slightly to the side of the bird while tracking the clay and swinging through it. That way, you’ll keep your eyes on the target and avoid the trap of covering up the bird and stopping your gun.

In addition, as with every other target, it’s critical to keep your gun moving at the same speed as the target. This can be tricky with overhead shots, as they might vary from slow honkers fighting the wind to a speedy bluebill sailing with a 25-mph gale. Match the target’s speed, and let your brain’s onboard computer say when to pull the trigger. Do not pull ahead of the bird and then slow or stop your gun.

shooter looking down a shotgun

Finally, don’t ignore timing. One of the biggest traps of the overhead target arises when you wait too long to shoot. It seems intuitive to hold fire until the bird is directly overhead and probably closest. That can be fine with singles at the clays range, but it’ll cause problems with doubles or while hunting. With doubles, waiting too long on bird No. 1 leaves you in terrible position for the second clay, as you’ll be off balance and perhaps stumbling backward while trying to shoot it. And in the field, tarrying too long leaves you with one shot. If you miss, your second and perhaps third chances will be clumsy, awkward attempts. Try to shoot live birds or the first target of doubles as they’re still approaching you. You don’t have to fire while the target is 40 yards away. Just leave yourself sufficient time for bird No. 2 or a second crack at a fleeing duck or rooster.

Go Get ’Em

Don’t sweat when mallards float high above your boat or you hit the overhead dove station at the clays range. Remember the subtle considerations the high overhead shot demands, and get after those targets with confidence. With enough reps, you might soon consider this tricky shot one of your specialties.

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