by Nick Sisley
Here comes a goose -- straight in. It is pretty high. The honker could pass right overhead, or maybe it will fly just to your right or your left. What's the most effective way to take the shot?
Typical of high pass shooting, this shot is presented to thousands of waterfowlers every year. While most of us love to take our ducks and geese over a well-planned decoy spread -- incoming birds with feet fully extended -- if you are a serious wildfowler you probably also encounter your share of higher pass shots. I'm not talking about 60-yard tries, but 35-, 40- and 45-yard opportunities with the type of presentation I have described above.
Before you make your move, remind yourself not to hurry and to stay smooth throughout. Fix your stare on the bird's bill. Really concentrate with a hard focus. Remember that hard focus is like any other skill: The more you work on it, the easier it becomes. Of course, you can practice hard focus year-round.
When you zero in with hard focus on the goose's bill, the muzzle of the shotgun, as yet un-shouldered, should be just under the incoming bird. Still maintaining your hard focus on the bill, start the shotgun moving with the target, and at the same time or very shortly thereafter, start the butt stock to your shoulder. That's your gun mount.
If you have been reading my columns, you know I stress gun-mounting practice. A poor gun mount makes it very difficult to hit your target, but just like hard focus practice, you can practice your gun mount all year long -- and you should. The no-no is to start the butt stock to your shoulder first, because the result will be a muzzle dipping down and away from the bird. If that happens, all of the smoothness we're trying to incorporate into the shot will be lost.
So, the muzzle comes to the bird smoothly, just as the butt stock comes to your shoulder smoothly. Now the idea is to match muzzle speed to the bird's speed, all the while with hard focus on the goose's bill. Do that, and the muzzle is still easily seen in your peripheral vision. You don't have to match muzzle speed with bird speed for very long, but after you have accomplished that mini task, it is time to pull the muzzle farther in front and squeeze the trigger.
The technique is called the pull-away shooting method, and it is ideal for taking incoming overhead birds. If you have not practiced the pull-away method, I can tell you people tend to exaggerate the move. Try to refrain from doing that. The pull-away should be gentle and smooth.
Finally, stay tight to the gun until you see the goose tumble. If the bird is not hit, you are in the perfect position to take a second shot. Simply get on the bird's bill with the muzzle and pull ahead again. The reason for staying in the gun is that it's the acceleration of the pull-away that actually kills your quarry. Staying tight to the stock and with your hard focus on the bill finishes what you began at the start of these recommendations, although only milliseconds have passed in the interim.
These suggestions work wonderfully whether the goose or duck is passing directly overhead -- or slightly to one side or the other. In any of these three scenarios, I suggest you take the shot while the bird is still out front. Several bad things can happen if you wait too long. If you take the bird directly overhead, the recoil will punish you, and because waterfowl is the quarry, your shotshell load is probably going to be stiff. If you wait until the bird has passed and is behind you, the shot is totally different.
Having the bird pass slightly left or slightly right is probably good. Hopefully, you will be able to anticipate which side the goose is going to take. Be ready to shuffle your feet a bit. If you are a right-handed shooter and the bird passes overhead on the left, just make a minor foot shuffle, because you can swing farther to the left than you can to the right. Still, the best plan is to get your left foot pointed toward where the bird is going to be when you pull the trigger. Having your right foot at least partially aimed in that direction with your foot shuffle is beneficial, too.
If the bird is going to pass overhead on your right, and you shoot right-handed, the foot shuffle should not be minor, because you cannot swing very far to the right unless your foot position allows it. So make a major move with your feet -- again getting that left foot aimed at the area where you are going to pull the trigger. It probably will be natural for you to move your right foot even father to the right than your left foot.
In either scenario, the drill is the same. Zero in with your stare on the bird's bill. Smoothly start the muzzle from just below the bird to the bill as you make your gun mount. Match the goose's speed with muzzle speed briefly, and then perform your pull-away, staying in the gun until the honker crumples.
If you have not tried the pull-away shooting technique, it pays to practice. You have plenty of time between now and opening day, so make reservations at your nearest sporting clays course. Most of them will throw an incoming bird or two off a reasonably high tower or high hillside. Tell the course operator you want to shoot 25 to 50 birds at one of their high towers. You can practice on clays that come virtually straight in overhead and get the feel for taking the bird while it's still in front of the shooting station, and of course, practice all of the suggestions I've made for the pull-away technique.
Next, move off to one side of the station to practice on the same bird. Now it will be coming slight left or slightly right of your shooting position. Try one side, then the other. On either side, you will see the benefit of properly positioning your feet.
Clay shooting is also ideal for teaching you to take the bird while it is still in front of you. You will learn you can do it without hurrying and while still maintaining the smoothness in your swing.
It is also essential to keep the muzzle on the line the bird is flying. Too many shotgunners believe a bird can only be missed in front or behind. But it's just as easy to shoot below, above or to the right or left. You can miss to the right or left of the straight incomer. For a right-hander, it's easy to shoot under an incoming bird. It is easy to shoot either above or below a bird that's passing slightly to the left or right, but still incoming.
When it's windy -- 15 miles an hour or more -- a goose or duck can easily change its line of flight. I believe that is why shooting in the wind is so tough. It's not because the birds are faster with the wind or slower against the wind, or the shot column is being blown off course, it's because a lot of wind makes it easy for the bird to change its line of flight. It's easier to stay on the line with the gun's muzzle when the wind is light. But no matter the wind, staying on the bird's line of flight is critical.