Shotgun suggestions that are sure to have you knockin' 'em cold come fall.
You have hit the first greenhead hard. The second is making a beeline away--behind you. How to you make the shot?
For waterfowlers getting "up there" in age, a 20-gauge might be less cumbersome in the duck swamps.
At clay targets--when you really "smoke" the bird your squad mates are prone to shower down praise. Is this the way you want to hit a duck? You track a crossing goose, keep tracking the bird. You pull the trigger when everything looks perfect. But not a feather is touched. What did you do wrong? You're retired--been retired for almost 10 years. But you're not hitting with that old 12 bore like you once did. How can you get your shooting eye back to where it was when you were 50?
These any many other shotgunning problems can be helped--and appreciably. Let's look at the first one I've posed. You've socked the first greenhead of a pair that came to your dekes and your calling. Instead of turning 90 or 180 degrees to make its escape the bird flies right over your hide--going away directly behind you. What most of us do in this situation is get our feet all tangled up--to the point where we are almost tripping and falling down as we take the shot. As last month's column on footwork suggested, you now have to get your whole body turned around, and you can't do that without appreciable foot movement.
So--as you begin getting the gun's muzzle toward the bird's current flight path--you have to do some fancy footwork. This might require a couple of left and right foot moves, especially since you have to turn 180 degrees. But let's assume you do that. Now what? The tendency is to shoot right at this bird. If you do that the shot pattern is likely to go above the escapee. On this particular shot the hold should be slightly under the bird. The lower the duck's flight path the more you might have to hold under--within reason. If this particular escapee is beginning to tower all those "under" bets are off. Depending upon where your gun shoots--a towering bird might best be taken holding right on the duck. This is assuming your shotgun shoots a tad high. If it shoots right on--then you'll have to hold slightly above the bird. Never forget your footwork, however.
When shooting clay targets the way to get the most and quickest praise from those shooting with you is to really smoke the bird--make a cloud of black dust--or in the case of biodegradable targets--white dust. You can kill plenty of ducks this way, too, "smoke" them right in the middle. But the preferred way to kill a duck, any bird really, but especially a goose, is to place the shot string well forward. Birds are quite elongated--compared to a clay target. Consequently, it's maybe easier to concentrate on their eye, their head, at least the head and neck area--dependent upon how far away the feathered target is. So that's where we need to be looking--at the eye of a close-in bird, at the head of one at mid-range, at the head and neck of the bird that's farther away.
Ducks and especially geese come down dead when they are hit in the neck and head. Smoke their midsection and they are likely to come down just as dead. But which bird would you rather eat? Also, don't forget you have a somewhat lengthy shotstring. If you miscalculate a little trying to hit the head and neck--and are slightly behind where you wanted to be--the latter part of the shotstring is going to connect with the body. If you try to hit the bird in the body--and you are mistakenly slightly behind the shotstring touches nothing but air--or at best a few tailfeathers. So I think it behooves us all to try and make so-called head shots. If we do we'll be a lot more effective than if our mindset is on making a so-called body shot.
Number three--you track that goose--keep on tracking until the sight picture looks perfect. You trip the trigger--nothing! What went wrong? First off, the technique is not proper. This is the way I make a lot of dove shots in South America. I see the bird coming in, note whether it is going to pass on my right or left, get my feet set accordingly, get the muzzles on the bird's beak, begin the gun mount--and then track and track and track--before hitting the trigger. Again, this is improper form, even if I am successful with the technique. This approach has me shooting at a flock of doves only once because by the time I pull the trigger the second time it's too late for a second shot.
The correct approach is to see the bird coming, get the muzzle on the dove's (or duck's) beak, at the same time getting your feet swung around to where you are going to pull the trigger, start the gun to your shoulder, and when the butt stock makes contact--hit the trigger. I've been practicing this approach on clay targets, so that the next time I'm in South America I can put that practice into play on the real thing.
The result of this latter approach is that it's not only classic in form--you will shoot that bird much quicker. Now you still have time to perform a little more footwork and still get on a second dove. The same approach should be taken with ducks and geese. Do all the initial moves correctly, and then fire quickly, as soon as the butt stock gets to your shoulder and cheek.
A second negative about tracking and tracking a duck without pulling the trigger is that eventually you are going to run out of swing. The gun is either going to slow down or stop. For a right-handed shooter this will happen more quickly on a left to right crosser--compared to a right to left crosser.
You are retired--have been for several years. In your 50s you received a lot of praise because you were a pretty darn good shot. You've switched to a number of different 12-gauge guns, but you can't seem to get your shooting eye back. What's going on here?
As we get older it's only natural that we are bound to slow down. We don't react as fast. We don't move as fast. I'm not talking seconds here. I'm talking mini-seconds--critical fractions. A mere minimal difference in time and timing in this context is what spells the trouble with missing.
For some the answer could be simple--move to a lighter gun. Of course, the thinking is that a lighter gun will help you (me) move faster. Because of our non-toxic shot requirements we can probably only go to 20-gauge lighter guns--not 28 gauges. However, with Hevi-Shot and some other non-toxics, especially those heavier than even lead, a 20-gauge can be very, very lethal on the duck marsh.
How much lighter do you have to go? Maybe there are two factors here. If you are shooting an 81„2-pound waterfowl shotgun now, and you are well into Social Security monthly checks, maybe you only have to go to a 12-gauge seven pounder, or one a few ounces more than that. If you are already shooting 71„2-pound duck and goose ordnance you probably won't see much difference unless you move to s
omething like 61„2 pounds.
In the last issue I talked about Sir Joseph Nickerson, one of England's greatest all-time bird shots. He finished his book, "A Shooting Man's Creed," the year he died--1989. For most of his life he shot matched A.A. Brown 12-gauge over and unders. Much later in life he went to matched 20-gauge Woodward over and unders. He shot them as well or better than he did his old 12s. The last three years of his life he switched to matched Purdey 28s--and ended his career shooting better than he ever had. So--a lighter gun for old timers like me--and some of you--it's something to think about.
Nick Sisley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.