Here are five points to keep in mind before you pull the trigger.
Driven-pheasant hunters in Europe are masters of the overhead shot, and they understand the importance of proper footwork. Take their advice when you stand up to shoot.
First, keep your feet fairly close together—less than shoulder-width apart—and you'll have an easier time turning left and right. For any shot straight overhead or to your right (for a right-handed shooter), put your weight on your right (back) foot and keep that leg fairly straight. To take birds coming on your left side, keep your weight on your left (front) foot and push off the right foot to help you pivot around. If your right foot isn't completely stuck in the mud, you can think about pushing off the toe and letting your heel come up off the ground. Practice with an unloaded gun, concentrating on your stance and your weight distribution, and you'll be able to turn fluidly without binding or dipping the muzzle.
If the bird is fairly low, you'll want to take the shot while the bird is out front and coming toward you. Higher birds (30 yards and up) are easier to shoot straight above you. For birds directly overhead, start the gun behind the bird, move along the bird's length, pass the bill, open a gap between bird and barrel, and shoot.
Starting behind the bird and swinging through it helps you keep the gun moving along the line of the target. While we think of lead as the biggest challenge on long shots, staying on the target's line of flight is even more important. If the bird is to your left or right, keep the muzzle slightly below the target as you swing, so the bird stays in sight. On a true overhead shot, you'll block the bird out of your vision as you swing through it.
Good shooting requires soft hands, especially as ranges increase. Your trigger hand has the job of bringing the gun to your face and tucking it into the pocket of your shoulder. If you rush that move and jerk the gun, you risk pulling the muzzle down and off the bird's line of flight.
It's important to keep all of your focus on the bird and let the gun drift ahead almost on its own. Soft hands help there too. When the shot feels right, pull the trigger and trust the width of your pattern to provide some margin for error. If you start consciously measuring lead or looking from the bird to the barrel, you'll stop the gun and miss.
Managing gun speed is the secret to the overhead shot. Most people move the gun much too fast. The natural temptation on high overhead shots is to pull the gun away from the bird quickly until you see a huge gap, and then shoot. It rarely works. Good shooting depends on feeling connected to the target, and too much speed breaks the connection. In fact, the higher the bird, the more slowly you should move the gun. A small movement of the muzzle is amplified many times at long range. Think about moving the gun one mile per hour faster than the bird is flying. If you think you're moving the gun too slowly, your speed is probably about right.
Consistently making this shot takes practice and experience. Most sporting clays courses throw high incomers and some have tall duck towers. Tell the management that you want to shoot high birds only, and practice at that station. If you're allowed to, move from side to side so you can shoot lefts, rights, and straight overheads. Shoot 25 to 50 targets two or three times before the season starts. The overhead shot just might become one of your favorites.