February 19, 2016
It seems almost impossible - 653 clays broken in 3,600 seconds. An hour devoted to nothing but shattering 108 mm targets, one after another after another. David Miller of CZ-USA set a record that likely won't be broken any time soon, for the level of concentration required to complete a task like this is phenomenal.
But not only is David Miller a shooter, he's a hunter, and as such he understands how breaking 3,653 clays relates to improved performance in the field.
Unless you find yourself in the middle of a snow goose tornado of mythical proportions in a place with no bag limit, you're never going to shoot thousands of shells in an hour. More likely, you'll be lucky to get your limit of ducks and geese, probably firing (depending on how well you shoot) less than a box of shells.
So what does a guy that breaks several thousand clays in an hour have to teach you about hunting waterfowl? A lot, actually.
Miller's experience taught him a new appreciation for what it takes to remain on target and focused when it really counts.
Here are three important keys that he shared with me that can help us all kill more birds with less shots this fall.
Whether you're making a hard passing shot on a bull pintail that just won't commit to the spread or breaking your three-thousandth clay in as many seconds, concentration is key. It's also one of the things that makes waterfowling so hard.
When you've been waiting all morning for a shot and birds suddenly appear just off the deck of your blind, the impulse is to jump up and rain steel shot on the targets, and that's a recipe for missed birds and cripples. Even if you're only going to take one shot a day (perhaps especially if you only get one shot a day) you need to stay target-focused.
"Every target I truly watched I hit," Miller says, "the others that I did not see I missed."
Over the course of several thousand shots Miller gained a new appreciation for just how important concentration really is. If you're going to make your shots count you must maintain focus, which can be tough when you're watching a group of teal dropping from all angles into a spread.
The first step is to pick a single bird and stay completely centered on that target, resisting the temptation to spray steel shot into the center of the group. This is easier to accomplish when you're firing at a single incomer, and it's much harder when you're overwhelmed by a dozen birds whistling down upon you.
This skill is perfected at the clays range, where you learn to lock on one target and track it until the shot. Anyone who has ever shot doubles on the skeet range can relate to just how easily your concentration can be broken because if you begin anticipating your second shot before you break the first clay there's a good chance that you'll miss both birds.
And that's why learning to shoot true pairs is so important to a waterfowler. Your job is to break one clay, then immediately move to your second target. The same holds true in a duck blind.
"What I did was count to sixteen — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc.," Miller says. "My guns held 16 rounds, so that is how I kept myself in time."
Beat Recoil Fatigue
Firing thousands of shots in an hour is a great way to determine how recoil effects each shooter. Miller shot the clay targets from the hip, but his guns were outfitted with a strap to keep his hand in place for the duration of the shoot.
Recoil fatigue is one element that most waterfowlers overlook, perhaps ignoring the pounding that they are taking with each pull of the trigger. The recoil generated by a 3-inch magnum steel load can be daunting over time, and 3 ½ inch shells only exacerbate that problem.
Even if you haven't fired the gun, the fear of recoil can cause shooters to flinch and miss wide, and no choke or high-powered shell can overcome the effects of a flinch. Hitting more birds means handling recoil, and that's a skill you develop long before you head to the blind or the pit.
The first step to avoiding a flinch is to find a gun that fits you properly. The good news is that modern waterfowl guns are often supplied with shims that allow you to find the perfect fit and help keep your pattern centered.
As the season lengthens and hunters wear heavier garments length of pull needs to be matched to the type of clothing that you wear. A gun that fits you well when you're breaking clays in a t-shirt in the summer may be too long when you're wearing a heavy coat in December, and that means you'll have a harder time mounting the gun properly.
Improper gun mounting is one of the most common causes of painful recoil, so be sure that the gun fits when you're wearing the same clothes you'll have in the field. Additionally, you must learn to handle the effects of recoil. That means you need to take an aggressive, weight-forward stance and maintain a good cheek weld so the comb of the shotgun doesn't continuously slap you in the face.
Gas guns help prolong the recoil curve, but regardless of the gun you shoot you need to handle recoil properly. Everyone, even the most experienced shooters, anticipates the shot, but the very best shooters learn to control this. When the gun is properly mounted with your face on the stock and you are shooting aggressively you'll be able to roll with the punches instead of absorbing the sudden rearward impact.
This is another skill that's learned during summer practice, and spending more time shooting light loads will help you mitigate fatigue.
Having the right equipment also helps reduce the impact of recoil. That starts by selecting a load you can handle. The additional charge weight in a 3 ½ inch shell is only helpful if you can put that pattern where it belongs. As you select your gear for the upcoming season, be brutally honest regarding what you can (or can't) handle. It beats taking a brutal beating from a gun that overwhelms you and missing a bunch of birds.
Of all the elements of successful wingshooting, this is perhaps the most overlooked. Simply stated, if you can't see the target clearly, you won't make good shots.
"I recently finished a coach training seminar for ten high school trap team coaches in Iowa early last week and it was interesting that none of them knew what the number one most important tool all shooters must have eyesight," says Miller.
Bad eyes equate to bad shots, and improving this also starts long before opening day. That might mean simply buying a pair of field glasses with your prescription, or, if you are cross-dominant, it may mean learning to switch shooting hands.
I've seen the effects of bad eyesight firsthand in the duck blind when the birds were circling one poor shooter couldn't see them clearly until they were almost on top of the blind, and then he was forced to snap-shoot. When I was a trap and skeet shooter in college, there was a general rule that you had to be well-hydrated before every competition.
Why? Because dehydration dried out the eyes and diminishes your ability to focus. I have found that this simple trick makes it much easier to shoot well, and for that reason I try to keep a bottle of water in my blind bag.
It may seem like a minor detail, but having the ability to see clearly can make all the difference in the world when shooting ducks and geese, especially when you're taking multiple shots at several moving targets in rapid succession.
The next time you get ready to head to the blind, bypass your single cup of Columbian-blend coffee and down a bottle of water instead. You might be surprised at the results.