The Need for Speed

To learn about speed in shooting, try international skeet. Here, Ryan Mason of Missouri prepares for a bird, gun down as the rules require. With birds that fly faster, international skeet is a great game to either improve your shooting or deflate your ego.

by David E. Petzal

On my first safari, to Botswana, in 1978, I asked PH Ian Manning to rank the various nationalities he had hunted with as to their skill as rifle shots. When it got to Americans, he said “Best in the world.”

Being filled with insatiable curiosity, I made it a practice to ask the PHs on my subsequent trips to the Long Grass how they ranked Yankees, and the answer was always the same as Ian’s.

That is, until 2005, when I queried a South African PH named Clive, and caught what the British call “a rocket.”

“Bleddy awful. They won’t shoot offhand. They shoot slow. They won’t shoot without a bleddy bench rest. Their scopes are too powerful. They’re afraid of their guns.”

He was far from done, and by this point he had worked himself into such a state that a nearby mamba slithered off in terror. 

The worst of it was, he was correct. By 2005, the Great Long Range Craze was taking hold. A long shot, which formerly was 300 yards, was now 1,300 yards, and you could take your sweet time sending it because whatever you were shooting at would have no idea you were around. Fair Chase gave way to computers that would digest the 15 factors involved in calculating a long shot and give you a firing solution. 

Perhaps the most important part of Clive’s diatribe concerned the need for speed. 

In Africa, everything takes place comparatively close and fast, but even in target competition the good shots are invariably quick, even though they must compute wind and mirage in their heads for each shot. In mid-range shooting (200 to 600 yards at a three-inch X-ring) you have to be precise but you also have to get off 22 shots in 20 minutes, and the guys who come in with the top scores usually finish in well under that. 

Hunters learn to their sorrow that animals are in perpetual motion. They’re either in transit, or shifting and fidgeting, or getting ready to bolt, or running like hell, and he who fusses and adjusts until everything is just so is going to see his opportunity vanish. 

Shotgunners—the ones who want to hit anything—feel the need for speed most acutely. There is no such thing as a good, slow, shotgunner. When I shot trap doubles I could tell from the way the reports were spaced if the second targets were hit or missed. If I heard bangbang the second bird was likely a goner. If I heard bang…..bang the second shot was almost certainly a miss. Once they lose the force of the trap arm, clay targets become erratic, and are far more difficult to hit than when they’re speeding on their way. 

Or, spend a day in the grouse woods. You’ll find out everything about speed you need to know.