Match the pace of the target, then fire.
When you set up on a clay target, you already know: 1) where the target is going to come from, 2) where to place the muzzle, 3) where to look for the bird initially, and 4) where you are going to break the clay. For your best chance of smashing that clay, you should know all four of the above. It's a little difficult know all four on any given duck or goose shooting situation, but it is a shooting philosophy worth thinking about.
Let's talk ducks. Is the shot at a bird coming into the decoys -- lowering and then extending its feet to plummet even faster? Or is the duck crossing in front, say from left to right? Or how about an escapee for the second shot, quartering away from left to right?
Since we are talking real ducks and not clay targets, Nos. 1 and 3 above are already defined. You already know 1) where the duck came from and pretty much where it is going, plus 3) you are already looking at the duck, hopefully with an intense stare at its head. So only Nos. 2 and 4 are left: 2) where you are going to place the muzzle and 4) where you are going to kill the duck. Muzzle speed comes into play.
Many excellent shotgun shooters come from behind, pulling the trigger as the muzzle overtakes the target. Such folks are known as swing-through shooters, and I've seldom shot with an experienced swing-through shooter who wasn't an excellent duck shot. That said, I know most shooters tend to be of the sustained or maintained lead persuasion. Of course, experienced shooters are able to kill ducks both ways.
But let's say you are a sustained lead-type shooter like most of us. The idea is to be in front of the bird, more or less, depending upon the duck's speed, angle and distance -- right from the beginning. Again, this is where muzzle speed matters. Let's call it "controlled muzzle speed."
The idea I'm promoting is to match muzzle speed with duck speed. How do we accomplish that? It's not easy, so I suggest you practice the concept on clay targets. To make these suggestions easier to understand, let's use the imaginary face of a clock.
Check the accompanying illustrations. You, the shooter, are at the six o'clock position.
I'll outline several scenarios incorporating this shooting philosophy.
The quartering shot has the target flying from seven o'clock to one o'clock. Again, you are shooting from the six o'clock position. This bird does not require much lead, so let me suggest you give the target a 1-inch lead. Of course, I'm talking 1-inch at the muzzle to the bird. The 1-inch lead gives you a helpful reference, so bear with me.
Set up to practice this shot on clay targets. Don't start with a long bird. Start with a bird you break at 20 to 25 yards. With a new concept like this, you have to walk before you can run, so forget 50-yard practice initially. The setup is the quartering bird flying from seven o'clock to one o'clock. Or, if necessary, set up a clay bird flying from five o'clock to eleven o'clock. Set up your muzzle position so when the clay comes out and you start your move, and when the gun mount is completed, the muzzle will be 1-inch in front.
Keep that muzzle 1-inch in front briefly, and then quickly pull the trigger.
What you have done when successfully making this shot is match muzzle speed with bird speed. Use the same approach on a quartering-away duck: get the muzzle 1-inch in front, match muzzle speed with bird speed briefly, and then hit the trigger. Because it is probably a new concept to most of you, it will pay to practice on clay birds.
Deep Quartering Shot
Many of the ducks we shoot at are flying from eight o'clock to two o'clock. Let's call it a "deep quartering shot." You can set up this type of shot on a clay target course as well.
Give the target 2 to 3 inches of lead at 20 to 25 yards. Your muzzle position is critical -- as the clay comes out and you mount the gun, you want to be 2 to 3 inches in front.
In a real duck situation, it is a bit different because you already see the bird. But if it's a deep quartering duck, just get the muzzle 2 to 3 inches in front, allow yourself a brief time to match muzzle speed with target speed, and then hit the trigger.
Full Crossing Shot
Let's go to a full crossing shot, a duck that flies from nine o'clock to three o'clock. As the clay comes out, insert the muzzle 3 to 4 inches in front, match muzzle speed to target speed, and hit the trigger. Now you have a reference point of how many inches at the muzzle to lead most any duck shot you are going to see: 1-inch for a quartering bird, 2 to 3 inches for a deep quartering bird, 3 to 4 inches for a full crossing bird. All will work on a clay target or a duck at 20 to 25 yards -- standard range for decoying ducks.
At longer ranges, don't worry on the quartering bird -- within a reasonable distance, the 1-inch lead will still work. With a deep quartering or full crossing shot, more lead will be required, but don't worry about how much until you practice all three shots at 20 to 25 yards. The key is matching muzzle speed with target speed. Any time you don't, you are going to be racing the muzzle to catch up or be too far out in front and have to slow down or stop. Either means it is going to be very tough to make the shot successfully. If you are too far in front, the shot string is going to go in front of the bird.
Practicing what I'm suggesting will cause a light to go off in your head. You have finally figured out what it takes to lead various duck shooting angles. It doesn't matter how fast or slow the duck is moving. As long as you match muzzle speed with target speed, the system works.
A duck coming to the decoys is moving downward. Such a shot is simply a crossing shot in a different direction. So shoot just like you would a duck flying from nine o'clock to three o'clock. Insert the muzzle three to four-inches in front -- in this case, below -- match muzzle speed with duck speed and hit the trigger. You can practice this shot on a sporting clays course. Don't forget, however, that a clay target is really going to accelerate the more it falls. A
duck won't. So to practice properly for this shot, don't let the clay fall too far before breaking it.
Focus on the Target
Possible problems? Shotgunning shooting is a visual game. To ensure your chances for success, you have to look at the target. I mean really look. Zero in on the duck's head.
Because I've given you various leads in inches, many of you are going to have a tendency to check the lead to see if it really is 1-inch -- or whatever distance. Don't do that. Stay locked on the target or duck with your eyes. You will see the proper lead with your peripheral vision. Match muzzle speed with target speed and then immediately upon doing it, hit the trigger. If you don't pull the trigger as soon as muzzle speed matches bird speed you will probably keep riding the bird farther than necessary. Practically every time that happens, you will take your eye off the duck and look at the muzzle to check the lead. If you do it even for a fraction of a second, your muzzle speed will slow and no longer match the duck's speed.
And you'll miss.
Nick Sisley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.