By Wade Bourne
Making a good shot is one of the great joys in waterfowl hunting. Indeed, shooting is the pinnacle of this sport. Everything else – scouting, building blinds, setting decoys, calling, everything is a lead-up to that moment when you shoulder your gun and fire. Making a clean kill gives you an immediate sense of pride in a job well done.
So, how do you become a good shot? How can you convert misses into hits? What can you do to improve your accuracy and hold your own with more seasoned shooters in the blind or pit?
Good shooting is a mix of coordination, concentration and confidence. Good shooting is more instinctive than mechanical. It’s a skill that is honed through adept coaching and lots of practice, similar to other athletic endeavors.
Here’s a list of 10 tips for becoming a better shot on ducks and geese. Put these suggestions into practice and you’ll shoot better and enjoy your hunting more.
1. Make sure your shotgun fits
A shotgun should flow naturally and smoothly to the shoulder, cheek to stock and master eye looking straight down the barrel. When a shotgun fits, the transition to this shooting position is second nature. The barrel automatically becomes an extension of the shooter’s line of sight.
Take your shotgun to a gunsmith, and let him check its fit against your physique. If it’s a misfit, he can make stock adjustments so it will rise and point naturally.
2. Practice shooting in the preseason
Too many duck and goose hunters leave their shotguns in their gun safes until opening day. Then they wonder why they can’t hit anything. The easy answer is, they’re out of sync.
This problem is easily corrected with some pre-season shooting practice. A dove field is one of the best possible training grounds for waterfowl hunters. Doves present the same relative angles and distances as ducks and geese, and because of the liberal bag limit on doves, shooters get to practice these shots repeatedly.
Shooting sporting clays is another practice option. Contact a sporting clays manager, and ask if you can come and choose certain stations to shoot over and over. Select those stations that are most relevant to waterfowl hunting: in-coming ducks, overhead geese, springing teal, etc. Stay on a station until you’ve mastered it, then move on to the next. Such repetition locks in your mind the right sight picture for breaking targets consistently. This transfers to your waterfowl hunting.
3. Don’t get in a hurry
A key reason for missing ducks and geese is shooting too fast. Some hunters think they have to shoot quickly before the birds flare out of range. The truth is, when hunters wait that extra second or two when waterfowl are coming in, then rise up to shoot, there’s plenty of time to take three deliberate, well-spaced shots before the birds get too far away. Consciously slow your pace. Don’t be jerky when mounting your shotgun. Don’t rush your shots. Try not to compete with your hunting partners. Just take your time, and focus solely on hitting your target.
4. Shoot one bird at a time
When a flight of ducks comes into the decoys, many hunters shoot … at the flight! They don’t single out one bird, and concentrate strictly on it. An incoming flight of ducks is 95 percent air. This is why you need to lock in on one bird and stay with it until it drops. Don’t “flock shoot.” Don’t switch targets. Don’t let the excitement of the moment shatter your focus.
5. Shoot the trailing bird in a flight
Take the last or highest bird in an incoming fight. When ducks or geese are about to land, most hunters focus on the closest, lowest, easiest shot, and two or more hunters wind up shooting at the same bird. Instead, take a trailer with the first shot. Then your shotgun will be in the right plane to shoot flaring birds on the second and third shots. Also, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you downed birds that no other hunters were shooting.
6. Rely on instinct to calculate lead
There is no mechanical system for figuring and holding proper leads. It’s all instinct. When tracking a bird, focus on the front of the target (look for the bird’s eye), swing the gun and allow your mental computer to calculate the right amount of lead. It’s like throwing a rock through a rolling tire. You don’t think about lead. You just look at the tire, and throw the rock, and your internal processor automatically determines how far to lead it. It’s the same with shooting waterfowl.
7. Don’t stop swinging
Stopping the swing with the shotgun is one of the most common reasons for missing ducks and geese. You must follow through with your shot! Try stopping your club when hitting golf ball, and see what happens. This wrecks your timing and coordination. The same thing happens when you stop swinging your shotgun. Keep the barrel moving after firing. Having good follow-through is the proper conclusion to any athletic effort, be it shooting at a duck, swinging a golf club or throwing a ball.
8. On long passing shots, lead more than you think you need to
On long passing shots, the main reason for missing is shooting behind the bird. Force yourself to hold more lead than you think you need, and again, keep the barrel moving.
Practice long crossing shots on a skeet range. Stand 10 yards behind station No. 4 the one in the middle and fire repetitive shots at targets crossing at 90 degrees. This allows you to experiment and learn how much lead is needed at this distance and target speed. And it builds confidence in your ability to make this difficult shot.
9. When waterfowl are coming head on, blot them out and fire
When a bird is coming head-on and level, wait until it’s in good killing range, then mount the shotgun so the barrel is below the target, and swing up and through the bird. When the front of the barrel blots out the target, pull the trigger. If a bird is coming head-on and descending (dropping into decoys), hold slightly beneath the bird so your shot column intercepts its glide path.
10. Attend a shooting school
This is perhaps the best single tip for becoming a better shot. Several shooting schools are available around the country. At a shooting school, a certified shotgun instructor will provide one-on-one tutoring. These instructors are trained to analyze shooting form, spot problems and correct them. Attending such a school is not cheap, but shooters can expect immediate results from their investment.
Here’s the bottom line on becoming a good shot on ducks and geese: how well you shoot depends on how much effort you put into it. Sure, talent plays a role, but dedication and effort can largely make up for a lack of natural aptitude. Dedicate yourself to improving, then put the 10 tips above into practice. Your shooting average will go up, and the birds will come down.