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36 COVEY RISE COVEY RISE 37
Lars Jacob of Covey & Nye knows �ne shotguns from the inside out.
BY TOM KEER
38 COVEY RISE COVEY RISE 39
A long time ago, far too long ago for my liking, I fell in love with a sweet little Abercrombie & Fitch 20-gauge. She was an original, made in 1934, double-trigger over/under choked Improved Cyl-
inder over Cylinder. I �gured she’d be perfect on grouse and woodcock in my home coverts and that she’d be ideal for the bobwhites we hunt throughout the Southeast. Her 2¾-inch chambers, dazzling case colors and outstanding checkering were delivered on a light-walnut stock. I tossed her to my cheek and reached for my wallet. I could not wait for Sat- urday to come so that I could show her off to my friends at the range and break some clays. I was dizzy with excitement. After a few rounds of skeet, trap and sporting clays, I found that I couldn’t hit boo. Throughout the day I shucked and jived with my mount, �ddled and diddled with my head position and changed up my footwork. Nothing worked. I was a little sur- prised but just shrugged it off because she was a new gun, and new guns always require an adjustment period. The next time I pulled her from her case was a few weeks later during the Open- ing Day of the grouse season. Early season grouse hunting is about as dif�cult as it gets. It’s hazy, hot and humid with foliage so thick that only the fastest snap shots connect. We didn’t move a single bird in just about the entire covert, which is typical for early season grouse that are still bunched up.
But then the setter locked up tight in a wide-open patch. Two birds �ushed, one at a time, basically a station seven low house report double, the easiest shot in the book. The A&F popped once and missed. It popped again, and missed again. I grumbled a bit, and dropped two more shells in the chambers. A third grouse went up, and he was a big old mature cock bird that followed after his friends. I had plenty of time for this recur- ring wide-open, straight-going-away shot, and I missed him with both barrels. I resisted my urge to wrap the A&F around a tree and instead put her in her case. I sold her the next day.
I thought about that story as I watched Lars Jacob, shooting instructor of Vermont’s Covey & Nye, work with a client not long ago. The shooter was breaking some clays for sure, and without question he knew his way around a clays course. On each station he’d break the �rst three or four and then slump into a string of misses. Each miss fanned the �ame of the shoot- er’s frustration. After some careful observation, Jacob offered a few tips. With a tweak, a modi�cation, a change in body posi- tion and some fancy footwork, the shooter doubled his hits. Consistency and routine came about in short order. “Thanks for the tips,” said the shooter. “I wish I could do that with a side-by-side.” Jacob whipped around, walked over to his truck and rooted around for several minutes. He returned with a side-by-side.
With a tweak, a modi�cation, a change in body position and some fancy footwork, the shooter doubled his hits. Consistency and routine came about in short order.
40 COVEY RISE COVEY RISE 41
“These dimensions are very different from your over/under, but they’ll be perfect for you. Try it.”
The shooter’s face spoke volumes. He stepped into the butt, called for some targets and �red away. If he looked confused when he stepped into the butt, he looked utterly bewildered when he stepped out from the butt. It was the �rst time he had run a station and broken every single clay.
“I’ve never been able to hit anything with a side-by-side before,” he said.
Unless Lars Jacob is turkey hunting, everything he does revolves around shotgunning. He’s likely to be in the Covey & Nye gun shop in Manchester, Vt., searching for the exact gun that will make a customer smile. Other times he provides shoot- ing instruction and gun fittings at the Dutch River Club, an adjunct property owned by Covey & Nye.
Then again, you might �nd him in the woods running labs or in the �elds overseeing a Continental shoot. After some fam- ily time at home, he’s likely to go to his workshop and build his own shotguns from scratch.
“I actually learned a lot about the nuances of gun fit and instruction when I began building my Vermont Underhammers,” Jacob said. “There is something about working on the inside of a gun that helped me to better understand the outside of the gun. … shotgun design hasn’t really changed much at all in the past century and a half. Some of the tooling and the materials are very different, but the geometry of the actions is very similar. What has changed is the way in which �t and instruction are performed.
“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to study with some of the great names in shooting instruction both here and abroad,” said Jacob, who mentioned Alan Rose at the West London Shooting School and Ken Davies from Holland and Holland. “The kind of upland bird hunting that we do stateside is very different than the Brits, and so I’ve distilled a lot of their wisdom with my own experience. I believe that a key founda- tion lies in the instinctive technique, and I like that approach because proper body mechanics are so critical to success.”
Alex Brooks, one of Jacob’s students, had just finished a lesson with the teacher. “For most of my self-taught shooting career I ignored the elements of body positioning and foot- work,” Brooks said. “Instead, I placed all of my emphasis at the muzzle. I would mount the gun, �nd the target and shoot. It took less than �ve minutes for Lars to point out that how I positioned my body was detrimental to my shooting success.
“As a self-taught right-hander, my primary emphasis was at the muzzle and I paid very little concern to what my left hand was doing. My hands were not working together and Lars pointed that out in a way that made immediate sense. I used to shoot as fast as I could because I didn’t want to miss my chance. It took a while, but Lars showed me that by slowing down, identifying the target, moving both hands in unison I would hit targets more ef�ciently and quickly than my old mount-and-�nd technique.”
It’s exactly what Lars Jacob teaches. “To my mind,” Jacob said, “the most important part in a shooter is to make sure that his body mechanics are smooth, �uid, and precise. While many
shooters look to correct their faults at the muzzle, changing a shooter’s sight view is relatively easy. Footwork, shoulder and arm positioning, and head carriage are frequently overlooked, particularly when you’re in the woods. I’m reminded of their importance every time a ruffed grouse �ushes from tight cover. There is no time to adjust a sight picture, but if your mechanics are good then the birds fall with greater regularity. “If I had to pick one type of shotgun to shoot, and I’m thankful that I don’t, I would pick a side-by-side, hands down. Better technique is required when shooting a side-by-side because of the temptation for a gunner to lift his head and peek over the barrels. It can be a challenge to go from the single sight plane of an over/under to the double sight plane of a side-by- side, and that’s why I’ve worked on a new technique that will appeal to American side-by-side shooters.” Jacob said he likes the traditional elements of the side-by- side and reaches for one when shooting quail at his family’s ranch in south Texas, in their grouse and woodcock camp in New Brunswick or on his travels throughout the United States. “The combination of a splinter fore-end and a straight Eng- lish stock keeps a shooter’s hand in a perfect position for point- ability and balance,” he said. Recently, in conjunction with Perrazi’s Al Kondak, Jacob helped develop the Perrazi Ladies Sporter. With many shotguns stocked for a man’s dimensions, the pair set about creating a stock that would have appeal for women. “Our challenge was to modify the MX20 by softening its recoil while preserving
its inherent grace,” Jacob said. “To rise to that challenge, I thought about the women I’ve taught to shoot. Most favored a shotgun with a higher Monte Carlo comb because it elimi- nated cheekbone recoil. I then shortened the length of pull to a comfortable 14¼ inches.
“After that, I �attened the comb to a parallel 1 7/16 inches and cast-off the stock 3/16 inch at the top and 3/8 at the toe for anatomical correctness. I �nished it off with a relaxed pistol grip with a narrower wr