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What is the Churchill Method of Wingshooting?

What is the Churchill Method of Wingshooting?

A wingshooter practices the Churchill method on a sporting clays range.

Shooting instructor Keith Coyle explores the history of Robert Churchill and the methodology of the Churchill Instinctive Method of shotgun shooting

During my last 30-plus years as a professional shooting coach, if I had a pound (or dollar) for every time I’ve been asked, “The Churchill Instinctive method, what really is it?” I could have retired some years ago as a wealthy man.

I remember the first question I was asked by my gun fitting mentor, the great Christopher “Chris” Craddock (friend of RobertChurchill himself), as we sat in the library of his house in the City of Bath, England. “Keith, what is a shotgun?”

As I started trying to come up with some ingenious answer, Chris, observing my brain wheels turning, looked at me with a smile. He said, “I’ll tell you what a shotgun is: it’s  a clever idea thought up by a simple man!”

In his lilting Somerset accent, he explained that one day as a simple man was walking across his field, a rabbit ran across his path. The man simply lifted and pointed his finger, making visual contact with the rabbit as his finger lined up with his eye, all done without thinking. A bit further on, a big fat wood pigeon flew out in front and above. The man again lifted and pointed his finger, which again made visual contact with the bird as his finger instinctively lined up with his eye.

He stopped in his tracks for a moment, realizing that he had the wonderful natural instinct of “pointing ability” which enabled him to make quick, accurate decisions about speed, angle and distance without having to think about it.

Realizing this, he said to himself, “If I had a gun what my finger could do, I could feed my family!” From there arose the birth of the “Shotgun” or more accurately, what could be called a “Pointing Gun.”

To this very day, this is the story I tell every pupil coming for their first lesson with me to get them to understand that you just simply point a shotgun, you don’t aim it. It’s not a rifle. It’s just an extension of your pointing finger.

How the Churchill Method came to be

Robert Churchill, being brought up in the family business of his Uncle Edward (E.J.Churchill) and shooting on the grouse moors and driven game estates of England from an early age, naturally understood, practiced and promoted this simple instinctive method. When combined with a properly fitting gun and, most importantly, the correct gun mounting technique of aligning the eye with the rib of the barrels (the extended finger), this method proved to be consistently effective when shooting all forms of game birds and rabbits.

As Churchill states repeatedly, “A shotgun is a weapon of movement. You must swing on to the bird, trust the unerring ability of the eye to make the necessary forward allowance and leave it to the gun to do the rest! Train the eye and front hand to take charge of these matters and learn their job without brain interference!”

Which really sums up what we refer to as the “instinctive method.” I guarantee that all of you who upland hunt with your dog in the field, the bird you most often hit is the one that gets up without any warning and surprises you. That’s the one you don’t think about, the one you shoot instinctively, the one you just “point at!”  As opposed to the bird you most hate, which is the one that gets up some 30 yards away, flying across or towards you, and gives you far too much time to start thinking about the response you are going to have to make to cleanly shoot it. And worst of all, asking yourself the question, “How much lead do I give it?” That’s when you start measuring and riding the bird.

In Churchill’s style, there is no question of trying to compute muzzle movement, forward allowance, or any other complicated matters. All he asks the shooter to do is look at the bird and by correct gun mounting, shoot naturally. Without constraint or effort, you are making contact with and shooting at the bird, but subconsciously over throwing (swinging on) a little and so giving compensation for flight time. In that way, you are successfully completing what in any other terms would be a complicated mathematical problem.

Leave your calculator at home. The Churchill method is about economy of movement and elegant, efficient gun mounting. Because the swing is based on our natural ability to point, the mount and the movement, though appearing visually slow, are actually highly efficient. With the flat, diagonal converging approach (which gives the visual impression of  shooting directly at the target), it’s the increasing momentum of the moving gun (the barrels) that naturally achieves the lead. So as the comb of your stock comes up under your cheekbone and the butt reverses back into your shoulder pocket, that’s the moment you simple squeeze the trigger.

Richard Churchill the inventor of the Churchill Method during a shooting class in his book Game Shooting.
Robert Churchill in his book Game Shooting

A brief history of Robert Churchill

Robert Churchill was born October 23, 1886, in the suburb of Wandsworth, London. His occupation was that of a forensic ballistic expert and expert witness. For the wingshooting world, he is the famed creator of the “Churchill Method” as well as author, shooting instructor and gunmaker.

Robert’s uncle, E.J. Churchill, taught his nephew all he knew about gunsmithing, ballistics and the art of craft in English sporting shotguns. His uncle died in 1910, leaving his London gunsmithing and gunmaking business to Robert.

While continuing to innovate in gunmaking, Robert Churchill became one of the foremost authorities of his time on firearms ballistics, testifying as an expert witness for the prosecution in countless cases brought by Scotland Yard against criminal suspects. His expertise was unquestioned, as were his courtroom opinions during the years 1910 to 1920.

He introduced and perfected his newly-designed short barreled (25 inch) game guns. He was “perhaps the last of the great gunmakers of London,” wrote his friend, MacDonald Hastings. In addition to being a famous London gunmaker and ballistics expert, he was one of the greatest shooting instructors of his day. As Hastings further wrote, “The essence of Churchill’s Method is that he taught his pupils to swing on to the bird; to trust the unerring ability of the eye to make the necessary forward allowance, and to leave it to the gun to do the rest.”

(See the book “The Other Mr. Churchill” by Macdonald Hastings)

Quotes from Robert Churchill that will help your wingshooting

(From the First Edition of Robert Churchill’s book “Game Shooting”)

“In practice, the shooter should not be conscious of his muzzle, the rib or sight. His eye, or rather his attention, should be fully occupied with the bird and, if he holds his gun properly, he will hit whatever he is looking at.”

“Dismiss all ideas of calculated allowances.”

“All systems founded on allowances are inherently unstable and unscientific. Indeed, it is only in the sport of shooting that the matter even arises. I have never heard the question raised in any other form of game where the hitting of a moving object, such as a ball, is involved.”

“It is high time that the whole allowance system was deposited in the wastepaper basket. It is not practical and it establishes an entirely false foundation of thought at the back of the shooters mind.”

“Your job is to keep your eye on the bird; forget all you ever knew about the thousands of different allowance and the thousands of varieties of shots and let your eye and the natural over throw of the gun take care of everything else.”

“In my method there is no question of trying to compute muzzle movement, allowance, or any other complicated matter. All I ask you to do is to look at the bird and by correct mounting and body work, shoot naturally without constraint or effort apparently straight at the bird; but subconsciously, over throwing a little and so giving the necessary lead or compensation for time flight”

“When I say ‘look at the bird,’ I mean it. You must glue your eyes to it, focus on it and see nothing else”

View Comments (15)
  • I really enjoyed this. I had no idea of where that method came from. I’ve been trying to teach my wife that concept and sometimes she gets it. Well be sharing it for sure.

  • A mí me enseñó a tirar instintivo mi padre, que aprendió a tirar al vuelo con un arco.
    Hace Más de 80 años. Descubrió en el método de coordinación ojo mano.
    Toda mi vida he estudiado, métodos instintivos que en realidad son intuitivos. Hoy tengo 60. Y todos los caminos me llevan a Churchill.

  • Only way I’ve ever been able to shoot, if I “ride” a bird I might as well just throw the shell away!

    • Eye dominance attracts a lot of comment but its a simple fact that the brain has a preferential eye it uses to receive information, especially when it comes to “pointing” at a moving object, as the brain has to make instantaneous calculations on the object’s speed, its distance and its line (direction) so that your finger can converge onto it in a flat diagonal approach to make contact.

      If your left eye is the dominant one and you are a right handed (reverse for left handers) shooter you will need to shut the eye or blank out/cover the iris when shooting Sporting Clays, Skeet, Trap and importantly out Hunting, as when you mount the gun the barrels will always start to travel up under the dominant eye, just as your pointing finger would do, so whether you are a Gun Down or Pre Mounted shooter you must shut or have the iris covered before you begin the gun mount movement, that is critically important!

      So your options are to shoot off the opposite shoulder, well unless you have ambidextrous ability, that in my opinion will take hundreds of hours of practice for that to become a natural kinesthetic movement and it will never really feel right!, or you can of course learn to close the dominant eye once both eyes have seen the target and before you begin the gun mount, now this is quite easy to learn but with the dominant eye closed you lose much of the brain’s ability to judge depth (distance) and therefore can mislead you about the targets true line (flightpath).

      Now the other more practical option is to use some form of method to put an obscurer patch on your shooting glasses to cover the dominant eye iris, now for years I had to struggle to get a patch or dot on pupils glasses that covered the eye but let in enough light and space so it did not obscure the shooters peripheral vision which is critical for shooting Sporting and Skeet especially when shooting crossing directional targets!

      Well as you know from reading my stuff I am not a fan of “Gizmos or Gadgets” but a couple of years ago while attending a shot show here in the US I came across the “Red Eye” magnetic dot system and its brilliant, simply different size magnets that fit onto the glasses and can be easily moved to cover the iris of the eye. The important thing is to use it properly, you need to put it on the glasses while you look straight ahead but then re-adjust it to cover the iris once the Gun is mounted.

      Been a godsend for me working with Clients with opposite dominant eyes especially Females, as up to 98% of Females are opposite eye dominant, it’s a medically proven fact that Females use both sides of the brain and the majority of Males don’t, so that can explain a lot about you Ladies!!!

      Here is the website for the Red Eye;
      The good thing is theses days there are several new products and eye correction training methods on the market that address Eye Dominance issues, so take a good look around and choose one that you feel is right for you!

      • The simplest, most effective and instant solution to opposite master eye dominance is the REDEYE magnetic dot system, for details go to:
        Keith Coyle Ahead Of the Game Shooting School & OnLine Shooting School at:

  • I believe this to be absolutely true. Although I never knew it until recently, I have shot this way my whole life. My friends always wondered how I could spin and in a split second, nail a bird (pheasant/quail etc.) that came up behind the firing line, this is how.

  • I recently had the pleasure of spending a day with Keith getting fitted for a restock of my Purdey. I’d never had a shooting or mounting lesson. I grew up in rural Mn. shooting wild birds including pigeons on the wing with a .22 rifle. The mounting technique he taught me has changed my way of shooting and thinking, or should I say, not thinking when a birds is flushed in front of my setters.

    I highly recommend spending some time with Keith. It will change your shooting life. Plus you will have the pleasure of spending time with a true gentleman.

    Thanks Keith! Phil

  • As a left eye dominant right hander, shotgunning since a 6 year old, I ‘instinctively’ learned to compensate. At 76 I’m still an avid wingshooter. Now I’m nurturing 2 grandsons; one a lefty the other a righty. Finding a soft-shooting, left ejecting ‘youth model’ 20 gauge Semi-automatic is a very daunting and expensive undertaking. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • The simplest, most effective and instant solution to opposite master eye dominance is the REDEYE magnetic dot system, for details go to:
      Keith Coyle Ahead Of the Game Shooting School & OnLine Shooting School at:

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