Tips on effective shotgunning techniques.
It's a group of five mallards your guide has successfully brought over the decoy blocks, at least that's where you think they are when he blurts out, "Take 'em!"
"...think: slow, slow, slow. The natural tendency is to rush everything, but there is no need -- if you have practiced properly."
But when you jump up the birds aren't even close to where you figured they'd be. Instead they are directly above you, and it looks like they're moving out of shotgun range -- and fast.
Now what do you do?
To have the best chance in this scenario you should be able to easily perform a swing-through shot on ducks that are directly above your blind. That's because your gun's muzzle, probably pointing out towards the front of the blind, is way behind the ducks and a missed shot is inevitable.
Even though this may be a tougher than normal shot, you can still make it. First, create the same pre-shot routine that you would normally use in any other duck-shooting circumstance. This task first requires hard focus -- zero in on the bright, flashy plumage of the intended target (or bill if the duck's feathers are muted in color). At about the same time, but not until you've acquired the hard-focus, start your fore-end hand swinging the muzzle toward the target. As the muzzle follows the target, be careful not to start the buttstock toward the shoulder first. This shotgunning mistake is a natural tendency for many shooters, and can put your muzzle even farther behind the bird.
Tougher than normal shots may require more practice.
As you're tracking the muzzle toward the duck, the buttstock starts coming to your shoulder. When perfect technique is used, your buttstock will hit your cheek just as the muzzle blots out the bird. Don't hesitate here. Just pull the trigger. You might say, "Well, how is my lead acquired on this bird?"
Your lead is acquired by moving the muzzle so much faster than the bird. The final task is to stay in the gun well through the shot. In other words, use proper follow-through. But how is proper follow-through accomplished, to the point it becomes second nature?
A sporting clays course is a good start. Try it with a single incoming bird -- one that passes well overhead is good practice. You can also use a skeet field and work on your swing-through technique -- using either a High Two or High Three target. In this latter case you won't actually be shooting an overhead bird, but it's a crossing shot on a clay target that you have to swing through. Start with the muzzle back far enough so the target gets ahead of the gun almost immediately. When setting up for the high incoming clay passing overhead, it's important not to start the gun too quickly. That means starting from a low gun position, of course.
But don't forget the same pre-shot scenario sequence described above. Once you've achieved hard-focus on the target, start the fore-end and muzzle in the proper direction. Only after you are focused and have the muzzle moving in the right direction do you start the buttstock to your shoulder. When the buttstock gets to your cheek, you hit the trigger. All this is wrapped up with a proper follow-through. As you are going through this mini-procedure, think: slow, slow, slow. The natural tendency is to rush everything, but there is no need -- if you have practiced properly.
Let's go back to the scenario described at the beginning of the column. It's the second flock of mallards that your guide has enticed toward the decoys. Again, he yells out that much anticipated, "Take 'em." This time you are actually looking at the ducks, and they're winging right to left, in front of the blind but at longer range -- at least 40 yards.
While you can certainly use the swing-through technique on these birds, for many wingshooters the longer the range, the more difficult it is to determine lead -- at least for a shooter who hasn't used the swing-through method as part of his technique. When the swing-through method is not an option, you can employ the pull-away method. Here are a few tips to utilize this shotgunning technique.
The initial secret to the pull-away is to "mount the gun on the target." A little more explanation is in order. Once you've gone through your pre-shot routine, use your fore-end hand to position the muzzle right where you're looking -- the plumage, bird's bill, whatever. Of course, the longer the range the more difficult it's going to be to zero in on one small part of the bird's anatomy. But a hard-focus is always extremely important.
Shortly after the stock hits your cheek (the muzzle is already perfectly positioned on the bird), you simply "pull away" with the muzzle, then immediately hit the trigger. How far you pull away is dependent upon the bird's speed and its distance from the muzzle. This technique works well on long-range targets that are immediately visible from the blind. How do you practice this shot so it feels natural once you're on the water?
I can recommend two options: use either a sporting clays range offering a long 40-yard crossing shot; or move back 20 yards from a Station Four pad on a skeet field -- assuming it's safe to do so. Again, start from the low-gun position. It will take a few shots before you get comfortable with where you place the muzzle prior to calling for the bird. Your perfect muzzle position will make it easy to bring the gun up comfortably -- right to the clay's leading edge.
Again, don't forget the same shot routine -- hard-focus, and then start the muzzle with the fore-end hand right to the target. You'll then be tracking the bird briefly as the buttstock comes to your shoulder. Once you get the gun to your cheek, perform the pull-away, hit the trigger and then stay in the gun through the shot. As I mentioned previously, the pull-away tends to work particularly well on the longer duck shots -- goose shots, too. Of course, the pull-away can be employed on a number of other waterfowling situations as well. But stay with 40-yard targets for a while, working on the proper technique for the pull-away. Practice this shot 50 times a day, on three or four different days, and you'll find yourself becoming very comfortable with the technique.
Swinging through pays dividends.
Of course, the normal sustained-le
ad method will also work well on the long-range ducks -- as well as ducks at most any other range -- assuming your muzzle isn't too far behind the bird to begin with. If you want to practice sustained lead, use the same long-range sporting crossing shot, or move well behind Station Four on a skeet field. In this case, instead of mounting the gun on the target, the idea is to mount to a spot in front of the bird, a spot that establishes the amount of lead you want when you hit the trigger.
But never forget the routine. It always stays the same: hard-focus, and then fore-end hand moving the muzzle in the direction of the target, followed by the right hand bringing the stock toward your shoulder. As the stock touches your cheek the lead should be right where you want it, but most sustained-lead shooters will tend to track the target, though briefly, before pulling the trigger. Normally, you'll find you have to move the initial muzzle position farther out when employing sustained lead -- compared to the pull-away. This is because you mount ahead of the bird instead of on it.
Good luck, and let me know how you do while employing the techniques described above.
Nick Sisley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.