Written by Neil Harmse



Chapter 18. Silver Shooters


To quote George Bernard Shaw: ‘Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime it is to waste it on children.’ We never consider that we are getting older, and things change… As I myself get older, I have been doing more wingshooting than game hunting. I find it more relaxing, more sociable and more sedentary than tracking miles and miles through bushveld after game animals.


It was after my 60th birthday that I first realised that my shooting was a bit worse than it used to be, but I just thought I needed more practice. Then I went to renew my driver’s licence and was told I needed glasses. This came as a bit of a shock. Hell, I could still see the road signs, couldn’t I!?


With the new glasses, I realised I could see better, but my shooting was still not as good as it used to be. My friendly optometrist, who is also a shooter, suggested I have my bifocal close-up lenses cut a little lower, so that they were not in my line of vision when looking along the barrels of my shotgun. He also suggested I keep away from multi-focal lenses, as they tend to distort images and distance.


So again, off to the range for a bit of practice and coaching. At least I could now see what I was shooting at, but I found I was still having frustrating misses when I thought I should be connecting. The problem was that my movement and swing were leaving a lot to be desired.


If we think about it, as we age, instead of maturing like fine wine, our advancing years bring their own set of problems, such as stiff and aching joints, which reduce our mobility. This can also be exacerbated by injuries from our youth and possibly by surgical procedures. My particular problem stemmed from a pinched nerve which resulted in a surgical procedure on my neck, causing loss of mobility to swing or turn to my left. Other problems were occasional sore shoulders and loss of dexterity in my arms. In addition, our body shape can and does change over time – sometimes monthly, never mind years! Because of all this, my shooting had gone to hell. So, without giving up the sport I was passionate about, I had to find solutions.


My first thought was that it was a good excuse to buy a new shotgun. Perhaps a light 20-gauge, which would help with faster handling and swing. So after a bit of searching, I found a 20-gauge that suited my pocket and my idea of a good handling gun. I soon found that the gun had completely different handling characteristics from the 12-gauge guns I was used to. With reduced weight and slim lines, I was swinging wildly and, of course, off target. Back to the range and a bit more coaching. I was soon handling the lighter gun better and with more controlled swing, and was now connecting targets more consistently. Also, I did not find that the 20-gauge was any less efficient than my 12-gauge guns. There was a marked improvement in my shooting and I was confident that I was on the right path.


However, I still missed using my old 12s that had become part of my shooting scene over many years and my thoughts were about how to use them and become efficient with those same old guns again. But the problem remained movement and stiffness, which restricted my gun-mounting. I found that when mounting the gun for a fast shot, the stock was catching under my arm. I was simply not getting my arms to lift and move the gun sufficiently to clear my armpit.

A simple solution was to get my friend Hennie Mulder, an experienced stock-maker and gunsmith, to shorten the stock and reduce the length of pull by about 12,7mm (half an inch). Fortunately, this worked for me and my gun-mounting improved considerably. Of course, some shooters may still have difficulty and may have to look at further alterations to get the gun barrels in line. This could include raising the comb height to bring the eyes level with the rib and barrels. It may also be necessary to change the cast of the stock. If the vision in the master eye is weakened, a cross-eye stock may have to be considered.


This might be better than learning to shoot off the left shoulder, after decades of righthand shooting (or vice versa). A difficult choice. Your old, comfortable, favourite gun could possibly be further lightened by shortening the barrels and fitting multi-chokes, as well as removing some weight from the stock by having a stock-maker drill and remove wood from inside, behind the recoil pad or butt plate. (Please do not do this to your Holland Royal, Purdey or Boss!)


Speaking of recoil: do not consider fitting a mercury or spring/inertia recoil reducer. These tend to add weight where it should not be and could affect the balance of your favourite gun. A decent recoil pad such as a Pachmayer decelerator or similar will make recoil acceptable and help with gun-handling. Avoid cheap, hard rubber pads at all costs.


You may be lucky enough to find a lightweight 12-gauge with stock dimensions and barrel length to suit your requirements. By using lighter loads, you may find that your shooting improves considerably. I find that 26-30g loads have much less recoil and are adequate for all the shooting I do. Avoid using heavy loads such as 32–42g in a lightweight gun, as the recoil will be considerable.


My shooting style has also had to change to cope with my loss of mobility. In the past, I could raise my gun and swing with the bird or target, get my lead and fire. Now, because my body is not as flexible as it once was, I hold my gun at hip or waist height, barrels up, and follow the bird by moving my hips, with the barrels pointing where I anticipate shooting, then flick the gun to my shoulder slightly ahead of the bird and fire. This is a ‘modified’ Churchill method which I find works for me. Whatever problems you encounter with your shotgun shooting, it always helps to get onto the range under the eye of a good and experienced coach who can offer advice. It could save hours of frustration, as well as a lot of burnt powder and wasted shot.


So my advice to all you ‘silver shooters’ out there is: don’t decide to give up your favourite sport just because the old body ain’t what it used to be. There are solutions to keep you burning powder. Keep shooting!

To order Campfire Thoughts & Reminiscences – the complete book with illustrations (US $15 excluding S&H), contact Andrew Meyer at andrewisikhova@icloud.com