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The Crosser

The Crosser

Shoulder placement is key when making a crossing shot

It's shooting time, with the pink glow of dawn in the east, the bite of a north wind on your ears, and the familiar feel of that favorite shotgun in your hands. And here come the birds, big ones, gray/white with a black neck and a thin white cheek patch. You bide your time while your heart beats wildly. But then the time is right. You rise up from your crouched hide as the birds pass to your right, that special smoothbore swings into action. "Bam," "Bam," "Bam."

Different shooting situations require different techniques. Practice these awkward positions, even and especially during the season.

The flock flies on. Your mouth opens in disbelief. You wonder if the breakfast eggs are smeared on your cheek. What happened here?

Of course, the answer to that question could be many faceted, but there's a good chance that, as a right-handed shooter, your shoulders were the problem. They did not stay level. Instead those shoulders produced a sort of rainbow trajectory. When that happens the same thing happens to your gun's muzzle(s), another rainbow trajectory. Consequently, it was impossible to stay "on line" with that magnificent Canada that you were so bent on bringing down.

"Rainbowing" the shoulders is a very common problem with shotgunners--and especially with duck and goose shooting on crossing shots. The longer the shot the more "rainbowing" is likely to surface. This dilemma has razed its ugly face for me many times, so I constantly have to be on guard--to make certain it doesn't happen in the excitement of an important shot like I've just described.

With any crosser, but especially with longer shots, the left to right duck or goose is going to create the most problem--and just the opposite for southpaws--their "rainbowing" nemesis the right to left crosser. Why is this so?

The main reason for this problem is neglecting to take a body position that allows us to swing freely where we are going to pull the trigger. Typically, we set up our body position for a crossing bird--for where the bird is when we first see it. Why not? It's simply natural to do that. There's the bird. So maintain your body position and start the gun moving.

But what happens is that we can only move a relatively short distance to the right with our swing on this bird--before our muscles and joints start binding up--i.e. we start running out of swing. Our muscles are only capable of moving so far right--for a right-handed shooter. So what does the body do?

The body does the only thing it can't do when our muscles begin to get constricted with this move. The right shoulder starts going down so the swing can be maintained. That means the muzzle(s) also goes down--and thus away from the flight path of the bird in question. That's the most plausible reason for the example in this column's opening.

One big help to avoid this scenario is simple--when you see that bird is going to be a left to right crosser--first turn your body--to at least the point where you guess you are going to pull the trigger. Do that--and now you can begin your swing and start your gun mount almost immediately thereafter.

But it's still very important to make a level swing with your shoulders. I've watched lots of shooters get their body positioned correctly for a shot like this--but they still "rainbow" their shoulders. When that is true, "rainbowing" has simply become a habit. The way to break that bad habit is to go to the skeet range and practice the High bird from stations three, four and five--assuming you are right-handed shooter.

If you swing from the port side practice on birds from the Low house, stations three, four and five. All the while make your swing with the shoulders level. There's no other way to maintain contact with the bird's flight path. Rainbow the shoulders even slightly--the muzzle(s) comes off the bird's flight line. Anyone with a habit of "rainbowing" the shoulders will not find this easy to undo. But clay target practice is the key.

Some may think they keep their shoulders level through the swing on a crossing target (any bird really), but they don't. As I've already said, this is a very common shotgunning problem, a very important reason for missing the duck or goose we are trying to bring to bag. I see it all the time--both on clay targets and in wildfowling--and I see it happen with folks who should know better, so don't discount the possibility that "rainbowing" shoulders could happen to you. Of course, if you already shoot a high percentage on ducks and/or geese this "rainbowing" could be the reason you miss occasionally--and wonder why--since the sight picture looked so perfect.

Many shotgunners are programmed for only two misses--they think they either shoot in front or behind. But just as many shots are missed because the gunner shot over the bird, or in the case of "rainbowing" they have shot under the bird. Further--of the four missed possibilities, shooting in front, over, behind or under--missing can be a combination of two--like in front and over, in front and under, behind and over, behind and under. So expand your thinking about miss possibilities.

A secondary reason for "rainbowing" the shoulders can be muscle tension. In a previous column we talked about "Staying Loose." There's a lot going on when a wildfowl shot is presented. But just as in any other sport, a "quiet mind" will definitely help any shooter be successful--and certainly be more consistent. As the shotgun is swung in either direction there's a natural tendency for muscle tension to increase with our move. Mentally, it pays to guard against this. Think "quiet mind." Think "easy." Think "this is great."

Another common reason for missing the crossing targets we're addressing here is poor gun fit. Top shooters can adjust to most of the guns that are put in their hands. Many shotgunners cannot due this, maybe due to lack of experience, maybe because of long arms, short arms, short or tall of stature, long neck, no neck--whatever. If you are missing a lot of crossing shots and you have practiced and eliminated "rainbowing" of the shoulders and you feel you have no muscle tension, especially muscle tension as you near the end of a crossing shot swing--look at how your gun fits. Seek professional advice on this.

Yet a tertiary problem that can be associated with "rainbowing" the shoulders is the natural tendency to slow the swing as this "rainbowing' comes to the point of pulling the trigger. A slowed swing here is probably going to result in a miss not only under the feathered stuff in question but also being behind.

When we miss a bird - being behind and under, behind and over, in front and over or in front and under--the problem of the miss

is compounded in our mind. We see one reason for the miss we've experienced, like in front or behind, but it's very hard to see that we have also missed over or under as well. Staying with the target's flight line--not ever getting under or over the bird--takes the over and under miss out of the equation. It's very important to understand and perceive the why of the miss. If we don't understand the why of a miss we are figuratively spinning our wheels, so we don't know how to compensate on the next similarl presented shot.

Finally, there's balance to consider. As we swing on a crossing shot it's very easy to transfer our weight from one foot to another. When we do balance is lost. So practice your level swing without "rainbowing" the shoulders--and at the same time work on your balance. Say you start with 60-percent of your weight on your front foot. Maintain that 60-percent on that foot throughout the swing--no matter how far your muzzle(s) has to move. If you stay in balance--shoulders level--you are going to be surprised how few misses are going to occur on those crossing duck and goose shots--even the long ones.

Nick Sisley can be contacted at

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