What to do when the gun is not in your hands.
From the upright position...
There are times in duck and goose shooting--when we're cradling our smoothbore in both hands--the birds are coming--we're ready. Even at predicted times like this there are still shotgunning basics that can go wrong. In previous columns I've tried to address the issues that can hopefully make us all better, more effective mounters of the gun.
But in waterfowling there are undoubtedly a number of occasions when we don't have the gun in hand. Maybe we're working birds with a call. Maybe we're watching an approaching bird or birds--and we dare not move for fear that the motion will spook the ducks or geese we have worked on for maybe hours--to say nothing of the figurative blood, sweat and tears that have gone into your personal waterfowling effort--for maybe days, weeks, even months.
As mentioned in the title--it was a reader who wrote in with the question of how to best handle proper gun mounting--when you were not actually holding the wildfowl gun in both hands. Obviously, it's a good question, and not one that's all that easy to answer.
To review just a bit--when we have the gun already in hand--we want to have the muzzle somehow pointed in the general direction of the incoming birds--but obviously in front of their flight path. We begin the mount by starting the muzzle(s) first, and then almost instantaneously blending in the butt stock coming to the shoulder and cheek. But it's very easy to have the pistol-gripping hand move faster than the hand on the fore-end. So we want to be wary of this. Instead, we want both hands to be working in conjunction with one another--not opposed to one another. Instructor and top shooter Wendell Cherry says if the hands don't work together--this affects the eyes. Conversely, if the hands do work together--that makes it easier for the eyes to stay glued to the target. And top instructor Chris Batha suggests pulling back ever so slightly with the pistol-gripping hand--while pushing the fore-end hand ahead ever so slightly. Doing this, Batha says, is a big help in getting the hands to work together. If the pistol-gripping hand does more work than the fore-end gripping hand--the muzzle(s) is likely to take a "dipping" or "up and down" movement with the target--which is not a good thing.
Another mantra we want to work on with the gun mount is to slow down as much as possible. Admittedly, this can be very tough to do on some waterfowl shots. But at the very least we want to be thinking about slowing down--and always fighting off the impulse that we need to hurry. There's a lot more to developing the perfect gun mount, or even just a good one, and I think you get my point.
But now--back to the reader's question--what can we do to be most effective with the upcoming shot--when we are not actually holding the gun? In my first shotgun column for Wildfowl I offered suggestions about shooting from layout blinds. One of those tips was to put the right-handed shooters on the left-hand side of the decoy spread, the left-handed shooters on the right side of the dekes. This is because a right-handed shooter can swing farther to the left (sitting or standing), and a left-handed shooter can swing farther to the right, which gives the shooters considerably better coverage no matter which way the ducks or geese come in--or which direction they leave.
The same philosophy should be implemented from a layout ground blind or a layout shooting box on the water--assuming two or more shooters are in either blind and they shoot from opposite shoulders. So what if both shooters shoulder the gun from the same side? The shooter on the left should have his muzzle pointing left. The shooter on the right should have his gun's muzzle pointing right--a simple safety consideration.
But--what to do when birds come in--scaup to the layout shooters--ducks or geese to the field blind shooters? The best philosophy is to think about making a proper gun mount, even before you actually pick the gun up. Think about the general direction you want to get the muzzle pointed. Think about how you are going to start the butt stock to your shoulder--milliseconds after you get the muzzle moving in the right direction. Think about how smoothly you are going to make this motion. Think about how hard you are going to concentrate on the bird's head--heck you can even start doing that before you make your first move with the gun.
...and while on your back
This isn't going to be easy for any of us, and it's certainly not going to be as easy a chore as when we already have the shotgun in our hands. But you could practice this. Use a skeet field. Lay down in the vicinity of station 2--note sketch A. If you are a right-handed shooter have the gun across your belly, muzzle pointing left. Call for the Low House target. As it appears--start by sitting upright. At about the same time start moving your muzzle, and it's going to be a fairly significant muzzle move. But don't allow the muzzle to get behind the bird. Think "in front" from the get-go--and keep the muzzle tracking there. As soon as you have the muzzle in front of the target and swinging in the opposite direction (because of where the muzzle was pointing originally when you were on the ground you have to move it to the right to get back to the front of the bird and then reverse direction of the muzzle to get it tracking with the bird)--immediately start the butt stock to your shoulder. If the scenario has unfolded perfectly you can probably hit the trigger about the time the comb of the stock touches your cheek.
This may not work for you the first time--or the second--or the third. But keep thinking about what you are doing. You will find this is excellent practice for shooting out of a layout boat or a layout field blind. If you are a left-handed shooter lay down in the vicinity of Station 6--the gun's muzzle pointing to the right. This time call for the high house target. Same deal--get the muzzle turned around toward the proper direction--but don't let the muzzle get behind the bird. Keep it in front. Immediately after the muzzle starts moving in the proper direction--start the butt stock to your shoulder. Again--touching the trigger, if everything has gone perfectly, should occur as the stock's comb touches your cheek. Missed the first time or two? Not to worry. Stick with the fundamentals of what I have suggested. The target breaks will come.
Of course, if you are a right-handed shooter there will be plenty of times when you will have to shoot from the right side of the decoy spread--because your partners are all also right-handed. So--right-handers need to practice from skeet Stati
on 6 as well--starting from the on-your-back position--muzzle pointing right. Call for the high house target. The same fundamentals are involved. Pick up the gun. Get the muzzle moving back toward the bird. But not too far back. Stop well ahead of the incoming target. Now start the muzzle moving with the bird. Immediately start the butt stock to the shoulder. As the stock's comb touches your cheek the sight picture will hopefully be perfect, so touch the trigger.Since left-handers are in the minority--like 20-percent of shotgunners--they probably don't have to practice from skeet Station 2 while lying down. That's because in almost all the type of shooting scenarios that we are talking about here left-handers will be on the right side of the decoy spread.
But what about getting the proper gun mount in a duck or goose blind? The best philosophy is to always be ready--shotgun in hand, muzzle pointing in a safe direction. Of course, we all know that is not going to happen 100-percent of the time. We're going to be caught by surprise a lot. The gun is going to be vertical in its blind slot, and we dare not move for fear of spooking the incoming flock.
There's not a big difference here--compared to what I've already described to make your layout shooting more effective. We still have to get the muzzle moving in the right direction. Again, the initial muzzle movement might have to be in the opposite direction the birds are flying, but depending upon how close they are--you might be able to take the muzzle directly to the bird's leading edge. At any rate, once you start the muzzle moving with the bird you plan on taking, this is when you immediately start moving the butt stock to your shoulder. Hopefully, the sight picture will be perfect when the stock's comb touches your cheek and then you can hit the trigger.
You can practice this shot, too. Most skeet fields have a gun rack not too unlike how shotguns are stored vertically in a waterfowl blind (see photo). Take the rack to the vicinity of skeet Station 2. Place your wildfowl gun (or any other gun) in it. Call for the Low House target. Pick the gun from the rack when the bird appears. You may or may not have to move the muzzle in the opposite direction initially. Once you have that muzzle ahead of the bird and tracking, immediately start the butt stock toward your shoulder. With a little of the practice I've suggested you are going to improve your shooting--when the shotgun is not in your hands and the birds are diving for the decoys.
Nick Sisley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org