Raising the buttstock to your face -- instead of the other way around -- may improve your shotgunning.
On many waterfowl shots, touching your cheek softly to the gunstock can be beneficial to your shooting.
"You take him," I suggested in a soft whisper to Bill, my goose blind partner. He is a gifted shot, is a natural when shotgunning. Evidently, some one had told him to bury his head hard into the stock, probably at every shooting opportunity. Interestingly, this was a high overhead goose, maybe 35 yards, and the honker flew dead center over the blind. I was perfectly positioned to watch my partner shoot behind--on both shots--with his cheek deep into his gun's buttstock. What probably happened here?
By burying one's head hard into the stock it's much easier to shoot behind this bird--because you have no built-in lead. But you can build in some natural lead on such a high straight overhead bird if you hold your head in a more erect position. The higher the head is, the more "rib" you are seeing over the gun, and the more "in front" you'll place the shot pattern. This premise does not hold true on every shot, but it certainly does come into play on a high overhead incomer. So here's one example of when burying your head hard into the stock might make this particular shot more difficult. I'm not suggesting you hold your cheek off the stock here, but I'd like you to try shooting this bird with a so-called erect head with cheek still touching the wood.
In a waterfowl blind you often have to jump up to shoot at the last second, although I definitely suggest you do not hurry this procedure, or any other part of taking the shot. So in a duck or goose blind it might pay to think about having an erect head once you do start your gun mount. This will give you a bit of built-in lead for the "rising" duck or goose that's trying to escape.
Of course, some of you like to have your duck and goose guns stocked so they center the pattern one, two or three inches high. Doing that will help put some built-in lead on the shots we've talked about so far, too. But an erect head, seeing plenty of rib, will put the most lead into this shot, compared to a gun that shoots a bit high naturally.
Let's talk a little more about how to make this shot successfully, because it takes more than an erect head and a built-in lead. It's impossible to "measure" any lead or forward allowance on the incoming, high overhead bird. Why? Because you can't really see it once the upward moving barrels blot the bird out. Consequently, the best way to take this shot is to start the gun moving first, blend in the gun mount, with hard focus on one part of the bird (I suggest either the head or neck) and getting the gun's muzzle(s) either to that spot on the bird where you are focusing or inserting the muzzle just behind the bird.
In the first instance (starting the muzzle on the bird's head or neck) simply pull ahead. Actually, there's no difference with situation number two, where the initial gun insert is just behind the bird, just increase the speed of the swing until the bird is "blotted out," and then pull the trigger. Don't hurry. Have confidence. Stay in the gun through the shot.
Good balance is important on this shot. Keeping the gun on the "line" of the bird is always just as important as the lead. However, it's easy to move the gun slightly off the line of the bird and lose your balance because you are swinging the gun more or less up overhead, and if your feet aren't already positioned perfectly, getting slightly off balance can easily move the gun's muzzle one or two inches left or right off the line; and one or two inches at the muzzle(s) is magnified out to 35 yards.
So if standing in a field or elsewhere, take up a firm position with your feet. Stomp out good footing in the grass, a plowed field, wherever. If in the confines of a blind, take care to come up into the shooting position well balanced. In either case, first work on moving the muzzle(s) toward your selected bird. As the muzzle moves your arms necessarily follow, plus the rest of your body. Naturally, your gun mount to the shoulder is shortly blended in. Avoid trying to shoulder the gun, then starting the muzzle(s) to move. If you do that the overall gun mount will be very jerky, plus you'll end up with the muzzle starting farther behind the bird than necessary. Work on perfecting a gun mount that is smooth, effortless, like you're not trying much at all. Of course, once you put a great gun mount together, the shot becomes so easy as to be anticlimactic.
Another place an erect head position can be beneficial is on a crossing bird. With your head in such a position it's easy to see the target throughout the swing whether you are of the swing-through, maintained-lead or pull-away persuasion. As with the previously described high overhead direct incomer, the higher the head on the crossing shot, the higher the gun will shoot. So it can be easy to shoot over this crosser with an erect head position. You can take care of that possibility by simply keeping the bird in view just above the barrel--right through the shot. By doing that the muzzle can be lower than the bird, but because the gun is now going to shoot high (compared to where it would shoot if your head was buried in the stock) you have the best of both worlds: seeing the bird all the way through the trigger pull.
Don't forget the "line" of the bird in this instance either. Again, proper balance all the way through the shot is a key. Don't allow yourself to begin falling forward with loss of balance, and don't allow a shoulder to drop, especially the right shoulder of a right-handed shooter on a left to right crosser; the left-hander should avoid dropping the left shoulder on a right to left crosser. Dropping a shoulder or otherwise getting out of balance results in pulling the muzzle(s) off the line of the bird.
But let's say seven mallards have started to drop into the blocks. You smoke the closest greenhead, but there's a strong wind behind you. Before you can trigger off that second shot the rest of the flock has made a near 180-degree turn. So this time it's a straight going away, slightly rising shot. Head buried in the stock you inexplicably miss. What happened?
Like Bill, your head was buried in the buttstock. You shot right under this bird. With a more erect head position you see more of the rib, so the gun is shooting a bit higher than it normally would (compared to your eye looking in a lower position down that rib). Thus the more erect head can give you a bit of built-in lead for the slightly rising straightaway shot.
It's always important to have your head on the stock. But squeezing your head ultra-tight to the stock certainly is not the best technique in the shots presented here. Also, the tighter your head is screwed into the stock, the more you are going to feel recoil. Another factor in putting your head real tight to the stock is th
at it almost always involves lowering the head to the gun, whereas raising the buttstock to the face is the way most instructors suggest as the proper way to mount the gun. Proper shotgunning technique involves little or no head movement, thus another reason to raise the stock to the face--instead of the other way around.
Nick Sisley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.