WING SHOOTING AND THE PIGEON RING
GRITS: I guess concentration is one of the more important aspects of flyer shooting just as it is in other competition.
RUDY: Yes, it sure is. It's the same old story. You've got to have a gun that fits you exactly, because it's like field shooting - very quick. You're hardly ever too quick, but you're very frequently too slow. You cannot be deliberate at live birds because of the distances involved. In Europe, you're frequently handicapped back to 33 meters, which means most of your shots are at 40 yards and beyond, so it is extremely necessary that you have a gun that fits you exactly. With the tight chokes necessary at those distances, you just don't have much margin for error.
GRITS: Are there other differences, in addition to distance, which make live bird shooting so difficult?
RUDY: Yes, you've got to read the bird. You've got to think like the bird. Some days you think pretty well, and some days the pigeons are smarter than you are. That's true in the field, of course. Some days you can handle quail no matter what they do. Other days on quail, pheasant or ducks you wonder - gee whiz, what happened to me? That's very true in any of the live-bird competitions. The draw is important. If you are lucky and draw killable birds, as well as make the tough shots, you have a good day.
GRITS: How would you compare live-bird shooting to the other competitive shotgun sports?
RUDY: It's completely different, and you can only train for it by practicing it by shooting live birds. And it's difficult to do much of that unless you live in Europe, or spend a lot of time there. You can shoot six days a week in most of those places. So many clubs in Europe are tremendously active, with country-club type facilities. There just isn't much opportunity to shoot live birds in this country.
GRITS: Many people consider it the most difficult of the competitive shotgun sports.
RUDY: I'd say it is, because you always have the unknown angle. You never know what that bird is going to do. And the weather affects the birds. In either box-bird shooting or columbaire hand thrown birds you've really got to learn how to point that gun to be a really good live-bird shot.
There's only one thing that makes any kind of a tournament shooter - skeet, trap or live bird - and that's experience.
GRITS: What's your favorite box-bird gun?
RUDY: I usually shoot a Purdey which I had made specifically for box-bird shooting. It's a specialty gun, just as special for its purpose as is the race car built for the Indy 500. It isn't something you're going to do much other shooting with.
GRITS: What are the chokes on your Purdey?
RUDY: Full and fuller. The right barrel shoots a 76-percent pattern with No. 8 shot at 40 yards, and the left barrel shoots 92 percent. It's extremely tight. That's an advantage mentally. I know that if I miss the bird with the first barrel, which every shooter frequently does, the capability is built into that second barrel to kill the bird. It's up to me to point it correctly.
I think that the man who shoots a choke which is too loose, at clay targets or live birds, doesn't build any confidence with it. You've got to know that the gun is capable of doing the job it was intended to do.
GRITS: How about the pressure?
RUDY: A big factor that we haven't talked about. Some people can stand competition, while others imply don't have the physical makeup to stand those finishes. I know many shooters who shoot better in competition, and others that don't do as well.
I shoot much better in competition than I do just playing around in practice, because competition makes me concentrate. After you've shot as many years as I have, you don't just do it for fun.
GRITS: Did you experiment with different shells - brands, loadings and shot size - to get those tight patterns in the Purdey?
RUDY: I took the American shells that I knew I'd be shooting to London when Harry Lawrence at Purdey's made the gun for me in 1965, so the chokes were cut specifically for the shotshells I use. The chokes in most European guns are cut using European shells which we never see over here.
GRITS: Do you shoot No. 8 shot at live birds all the time?
RUDY: Most of the time, but it depends upon the bird. If the birds are well feathered I usually shoot 7 ½s in the second barrel. If it happens to be a shoot in South America where it's hot, and the birds are lightly feathered, I shoot 8s in both barrels. Another time when I'll use 7 ½s in the second barrel is in a severe crosswind, since they'll buck the wind better. Always 8s in the first barrel because - again, pattern density is the key to success.
In Europe nickel and copper shot are available, and that's a distinct advantage in the second barrel because it's very hard - particularly nickel shot. When I shot the live-bird championship of the world in Mexico City, I shot an Italian lead No. 8 shot in the right barrel and No. 8 nickel shot in the second barrel. They tend to hold the pattern together a little tighter at long distances. They're also excellent for international trap.
GRITS: Compare box-bird and columbaire shooting.
RUDY: About the only similarity is that you're shooting at pigeons in both. As much difference as between skeet and trap, two different games.
The columbaires are good, and they get to know the weaknesses and strong points of all good live-bird shooters. They take great pride in making the best shooters miss. It's a good game, and I shoot it, too.
GRITS: Not with the same gun.
RUDY: No. Instead of the tightly choked 30-inch Purdey, I shoot a Parker with 28-inch barrel bored improved cylinder and full. Again, it's a specialty gun. I try to get off the first shot as quickly as possible. It's a definite advantage to have two chokes at columbaire shooting, because your first shot is 20 to 30 yards and the second maybe 50 or more.
GRITS: The rumor goes around that a shooter can "buy" a particular columbaire to throw you an easy bird, or to throw a competitor a very difficult bird. Does this happen?
RUDY: There's a lot of conversation about it, but in all the years I've shot thrown birds around the world I've never seen that happen. I've never seen it proved. I've seen shooters miss a bird they didn't think they should get, but they forget that the columbaire remembers him. I know many of the columbaires, and I think they're completely honest people.
GRITS: Most of them seem to have great pride in their ability?
RUDY: You bet! I recall one who had never had 20 straight birds killed over him by a shooter and I was about to do it. I'm sure the last few birds he threw for me were absolutely as difficult as he could make them, but I did manage to get the 20.
GRITS: How about stock dimensions on thrown birds?
RUDY: Most people prefer more of a hunting drop on columbaire birds than on box birds, but there again some shoot the same gun on everything. Of course, most of us like guns and we like to shoot different guns. I happen to shoot a Monte Carlo stock on thrown birds, but many people don't like Monte Carlos because they feel they can't throw their head and shoulder into it quickly. I'm used to it, but the other style is perhaps better for most. There's much individuality in that. It's a bit like the guy at the local gun club who likes to teach people to shoot, but he teaches them the way he shoots, and not, perhaps, the way they should shoot. Their physical characteristics and their adaptability to shooting may be completely different. He means well, but it can be terribly ineffective to tell somebody to do something just because you do it. You've got to analyze that particular person
Length of stock? I've watched people put the butt of the stock in the crook of the elbow and say, "This fits me fine!" And that doesn't means anything, Grits. It's where you put your head on the stock that counts. You should shoot the shortest stock you can shoot without getting your nose kicked, because the farther you are away from the gun, the more you have to steer it. The longer the gun is the harder it is to point. If you're tied in close, not getting your nose kicked by the thumb on your trigger hand, the better you'll shoot. You can swing better, and you don't kill your follow-through.
And remember, a ¾-inch Monte Carlo on a stock tends to keep your head up where it belongs, but it also keeps it from going forward. It's a rule of thumb, but a ¾-inch Monte Carlo usually eliminates ½-inch off the length of pull.
GRITS: How about trigger pulls?
RUDY: I've never been very critical of pulls, unless they were unduly hard. I don't like slack in a trigger. You don't want 'em too light or too heavy. A three-pound pull is a good average. If a guy has a tendency to flinch then a hard trigger will make it worse. Flinching is caused by trying to pull the trigger with your whole hand. Or the gun is banging you in the shoulder or cheek and your system is trying to keep you from pulling the trigger because it's punishing you. I'd say that 90 percent of the people who flinch either have a gun that doesn't fit, a very hard trigger pull, or they aren't fitting their hand into that trigger properly. You get your hand too comfortable, you can flinch. You get it uncomfortable, crammed around in such a way that only that trigger finger works, and you don't see many flinchers.
You don't squeeze the trigger on a shotgun; you pull it. The guy who squeezes the trigger on a shotgun is in trouble, as much as is the rifle shooter who yanks it. I like to shoot a handgun, and if I've been doing a lot of shotgun shooting it takes me a while to get back to squeezing. Conversely, if I've been shooting the handgun a lot I have to stop and think - I've got a shotgun, not. Etchen, pull the trigger, don't squeeze it.
GRITS: How about barrel lengths on live-bird guns?
RUDY: On box birds nothing less than 30 inches - some of the European guns come with 29 ½ -inch barrels - because with less you just don't have enough sighting plane. That's for doubles and O/Us, of course, since with pumps and autoloaders you can get an equivalent sighting plane with a 26-inch barrel. In columbaire I don't think you want anything longer than 28-inches - many people shoot 26 inches or 26 ½ inches, again in the doubles. And to repeat, I know of no shooting game where it's of greater advantage to have two chokes than in thrown birds.
GRITS: You still do a lot of hunting?
RUDY: Oh, yes, all I possibly can.
GRITS: What were some of your favorite hunting trips?
RUDY: Well, the Scottish grouse hunts are great - grand ole tradition hunts. You're better dressed when you go out hunting there than you are when you go to town most of the time. The Spanish redleg partridge shooting is fantastic. One of the greatest duck hunts I ever had was in Egypt. I shot at two of King Farouk's old clubs. We hunted at an oasis 80 to 100 kilometers out of Cairo. Those ducks come out of Russia, fly off the Italian boot, cross the Mediterranean and use the Nile River as a flyway.
GRITS: You've done some big-game hunting, too?
RUDY: Yes, I've shot elk in Idaho, and bear and lots of deer. I live in Louisiana and Pennsylvania where deer hunting is excellent. But I prefer wing shooting and have never had a desire to hunt in Africa for big game. I especially enjoy waterfowl shooting.
I remember a trip in 1940 with Jimmy Robinson, one of your Sports Afield greats and a walking encyclopedia of the shooting games. We not only shot ducks and geese, but Hungarian partridge, pinnated grouse, ruffed grouse, prairie chicken, even a few snipe and woodcock. It was simply great, and of course isn't that great any more . . . civilization.
GRITS: What's the most important point to being a great wing shot?
RUDY: Experience. It's pretty hard to practice for any bird shooting without going out and doing it, although skeet will probably help you more than anything else.
GRITS: Who, in your opinion, were the great all-round shotgunners - those who shoot just about everything . . . trap, skeet, international skeet, international trap, live birds, game?
RUDY: Well, the olympic-style skeet and trap are rather new to U.S. shooters, but there just aren't many people who shoot them all. Very few. In past years the great shooters were - well, my father - Fred Etchen - was one; Phil Miller was certainly one. A little more modern, Vic Reinders, of Wisconsin, has always been able to do it all. Then certainly Joe Devers, who can shoot anything. D. Lee Braum was great al all clay target games, and I'm sure would have been equally proficient on flyers had he shot them
There are quite a few who I think would be very good at them all if they shot them. Either through lack of time or interest they haven't done it. There are a whale of a lot of good semi-all-around shooters, but there are darn few of us who shoot them all. Grant Ilseng was absolutely one of the best - he could shoot them all. Maynard Henry, too, was an excellent all-around shot.
At one time we thought Harold's Club would hold an all-around shoot, with competition
at trap and skeet, international trap and skeet, box birds and columbaire birds, and I
think that would be great. Singles, handicap and doubles in trap; all four guns in skeet;
olympic style by the rules; and live birds. All of us do some things better than we do
others, but I think the mark of a great all-around shotgunner is that he tries them all.
It takes a lot of patience and work - concentration - but the end result can be very
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