Hit those high birds with Mike Yardley

Hit those high birds with Mike Yardley

To shoot high birds consistently requires either very good luck or reasonable technique – and preferably both! The issues are the same as with all shooting: stance, balance, lead, timing. But it all becomes more critical as ranges increase. Before discussing what you should do, let me note that most high birds are shot behind and/or off line. Perhaps the greatest sin is shooting off-balance because of poor footwork and hence stopping the gun and shooting behind.


It does not matter whether you stand in the elegant manner of Mr Stanbury, the squarer style of (the squatter) Mr Churchill, or with both feet firmly planted on the ground as some modernists prefer. All that matters is that you can swing the gun consistently well. Much depends on your build (and the state of your back). You must experiment to find out which method suits you best. It is the method that allows you to be in balance with the head as the shot is taken. It is the method that encourages you to swing through the bird.

You must also learn to move the feet as appropriate – stepping in to the line of the bird when the opportunity arises. The barrels and the lead foot should move together as you anticipate – having analysed the line of the bird – where you want to kill it. The goal should be to have your body aligned to the killing point as the shot is taken. This is not always possible – sometimes one gets taken unawares – but it is the ideal and promotes elegance, consistency and, critically, flowing movement.


As well as lead, line is especially important on high birds. If you are shooting at a bird to right or left at some height, the barrels of a side-by-side should always be parallel to the line of flight (in the case of an over-and-under, they should always be perpendicular). On a true driven bird, they should be square to the line. There is no half-way house. If you shoot with your barrels canted relative to the line you will not do your best work; you will invariably have unaccountable misses because the gun is not pointing where you think. You must learn to deliberately twist the barrels slightly in some circumstances to keep them properly related to the line of the bird. For example, if a bird is coming on a quartering angle right, the gun may need to be twisted – by good use of the hands – slightly anti-clockwise to maintain the correct relationship with the bird’s line.


This is a big issue too. You can get away with poor timing on the close stuff – not at range. Birds should always be ‘brushed’ out of the air to three beats: One:Two:Three – or if you prefer, Bum:Belly:Beak or You:Are:Mine. Don’t rush. Don’t mount the gun prematurely. Smooth rhythm is the key. You must also develop a good follow-through, encouraged by good use of the body and in particular, the front hand and arm. Learn to control the tip of your gun well.


One’s psychology is important. You must know that you can handle the situation. This comes from the development of technique, suitable equipment, and effective practice – extending the comfort zone, as I have noted in previous articles in this series. After that, relax and enjoy it.

Cartridges & chokes

Let’s keep this simple. I prefer a slightly larger pellet payload for high birds and a bigger pellet. 32 grams of 5s is the way to go for the tough stuff in my opinion. Some prefer 4s, some 6s or even 7s. The larger pellets have more kinetic energy, the smaller pellets offer better pattern coverage but do not transfer as much killing energy to the quarry.

Whilst I do not advocate a lot of choke for general game shooting – in fact most are substantially over-choked – I think a bit of choke really helps with high birds. If I was shooting them exclusively, I would go for three-quarters and three-quarters. This is highly effective and promotes clean, hit-or-miss shooting. I have found that full choke is not as efficient. Modern cartridges simply do not need excessively tight constrictions.

Guns for high birds

Many high bird specialists prefer longer barrelled guns that are a little heavier than the norm. This makes sense for specialist work, but one can overdo it. I would never advise going much beyond 30in in a 12-bore game gun. Swing can be inhibited if a gun is too long. 32in barrels can work on an over-and-under 20-bore, however.