November 17, 2022
Sometimes that saying, “you can’t beat the house” feels like prophecy when you miss birds that should be a simple bet. It’s that feeling of going from a hero to zero, and giving your friends jokes for several hunts to follow.
My suckers bet that I plundered happened last year while goose hunting in a cold South Dakota cornfield with the 16-gauge shotgun. The weather: A brisk five degrees below zero with a strong north wind that gave you a good bite on the cheek if you looked its way too long. A lone giant Canada goose locked onto the landing pocket on my side of the decoys. Before I pulled the trigger, victory was already in my mind. “You got this easy,” I said to myself as the bird was hovering with landing gear out. I squeezed the trigger, but the bird kept flying, quickly tucking that landing gear away. I doubled down, still no dice. I decided to go triple or nothing and came out with empty pockets.
Embarrassing without a doubt, especially with friends and family around. I feel like all of us waterfowl hunters have built up quite thick skin and a sense of humility from these situations. If you haven’t, give it a few years and you’ll quickly come to realize there’s always another flock that will humble you.
When talking about shooting mistakes, there’s an endless string of excuses to say when things don’t go as planned. Most commonly, “the birds were too far (or close)”, “you should have called the shot sooner or later”, and the classic “I thought you were shooting that bird.” Also included in this list are issues with the choke tube, the gun, weather, and wind.
Watch now to learn about the most common shooting mistakes and how to correct them!
Types of Swing
Before we get into the common shooting mistakes, let’s talk about the two main types of swinging a shotgun. You can think about what you’re doing now and perhaps try one or the other—or both—of these swings to dial in your shooting.
Swing Through: This is the most used with the phrase “tail-body-beak-bang.” Simply stated, you start aiming behind the bird and work your way up through the bird and pull the trigger when you have the correct lead. Many hunters prefer this method because it is the most natural swing after mounting the gun and helps enforce a good follow-through after the shot.
Maintained Lead: More often I see this method being used by experienced waterfowlers and shooters that have hunted several years. With this method, your bead starts in front of the target after mounting the gun and you essentially match that bird’s speed with the lead already established. When you lock onto that maintained speed of the bird, you simply pull the trigger and keep that maintained lead going forward as your follow-through.
Common Shooting Mistakes Waterfowl Hunters Make
#1: Stopping Your Swing and Lifting Your Head
We’ve all done it. The birds are dropping in like something you’d see on a Wildfowl Instagram post. Everything looks perfect and you’re just enjoying as the show unfolds with nothing prettier than birds cupped up dropping into the decoys.
When the shot is right, you pull up thinking it’s a done deal. You get on the bird and without thinking stop the gun swing when you pull the trigger, lift your head, and watch as you think that bird will fold. However, that bird keeps flying unscathed.
Using the simple rule of keeping your head locked on the stock and following through will increase your shooting success substantially, plus you’ll be quicker for your follow up shots. One thing most don’t realize is you’ll see the bird either drop or keep flying in your peripheral view which allows you to stay on the bird or effortlessly go to the next.
#2 Going Outside of Your Shooting Lane
If you’re hunting with friends, always stay in your shooting lane. To set the example, you’re hunting with two friends and you are in the middle of the blind. There are six birds that come in, the buddy on the left will shoot the two birds on the left side of the flock, you will shoot the middle two birds, and your buddy on the right goes for the two birds on the right side of the flock. Sometimes easier said than done, but use this strategy to bring down more birds each volley and keep a safer shooting environment.
#3 Not Picking Out a Single Bird/Flock Shooting
This is an easy mistake to make. Birds are locked up coming in hard. The sights and sounds of several birds or thousands of birds in a flock can be overwhelming. Your heart starts beating faster and you feel that adrenaline rush pumping through your veins as you start looking through the birds voraciously to find the correct bird to shoot. You hear those words “cut em,” and without hesitation you pull up ready to rock and roll without having a bird picked out. You pull the gun up to find yourself aiming at the middle of the flock and squeezing off three rounds. Just as quick as it started, the dust settles, and you find your shots merely sliced through thin air.
My advice, take the time to pick out a single bird. I promise you have more time than you think. I’ve seen my dads gun jam on the first shot, watched him eject that round, load another, and pull up on the bird and stone-cold drop it at 35-40 yards.
#4 Not Enough Lead
I can’t stress this enough…get in front of that bird! If you miss or cripple a bird, my highly specific guess-timations average around 60-70% of the time it’s because you don’t have enough lead on that bird. It’s a fickle topic as many times we think we have enough lead, but using the ShotKam and watching footage from buddies using it has shown me that’s simply not the case.
My advice I give to hunters, “Quarter or double the lead of what you think you need.” You’ll know if you have too much lead on a bird if the bird flips his head up or tries to alter his course. If he doesn’t do these obvious signs, it’s usually because you shot behind him.
#5 Random Shooting
Let’s set the stage for this example, you and a friend are in the field goose hunting and a perfect flock of six comes in feet down. Three birds split your way and three his way. Most hunters work “up” the flock by starting in the middle and working their way out to the outside bird. Sometimes that works well, but it typically leads to the last shot being a Hail Mary as the last bird sees the light at the end of the tunnel on his escape route.
I’ve found that there’s an easier transition moving bird-to-bird using the maintained lead when the next bird is already in your crosshairs. It allows for a shorter swing with less twisting on your body and you have the same lead on the next bird. When it works right it feels like an almost effortless action moving bird-to-bird from the inside out.
#6 Improper Gun Mount
The next mistake is a very common failure to properly shoulder and mount the gun. Working with thousands of shooters throughout the US, I see it all the time. There’s a tendency to bring the gun up to our shoulder and then lean or tilt our head into the stock. Let’s work on it.
I want you to practice slowly bringing your gun up, but instead of shouldering and tilting your head in, I want you to bring the shotgun up until the stock connects with your cheek. At that time sink the butt pad into your shoulder. Practice 20-30 of these pull ups per day and within a week or two you’ll notice an easy motion bringing the gun up to your cheek.
Using this method will enforce correct eye placement down the rib and will produce a better result when firing the gun. If your head is tilted, it typically brings upon several issues of canting the gun, improper eye alignment, and poor shooting habits. Now, I know some phenomenal shooters that tilt their head, so if this method works best for you, I urge you to do what’s going to give you the most confidence shooting.
#7 Not Enough Practice
To ensure good mechanics during the hunting season, be sure to get out and practice in the summertime. Too many times I see friends put the shotgun away for the summer, only to pull it back out during the fall and must re-learn their muscle memory and swing style again. As we fast forward through the hunting season, their shooting gets better and by the time they get it down again, it’s time to hang up the shotgun at the end of the season—a vicious cycle to say the least. Get out, practice with buddies, and make a challenge for each other. If you can, get out dove hunting or early season goose or teal hunting to dust off the ol’ cobwebs.
The last bit of advice I have for you is to always try and improve on your weaknesses. Figure out your problem shots and learn how to better shoot a shotgun on the trap range. Just remember every top waterfowl hunter you know was once an amateur trying to learn the ropes.