Common Wing Shooting Mistakes
By Nick Johnson
Wing Shooting is a fantastic outdoor sport that many of us grew up having the privilege to partake in. For some, myself included, pheasant hunting was what led me to love the sport of hunting, apply hunter’s safety and respect wildlife. Pheasants are definitely a popular choice for wing shooters, although many other species of game exist across the state and country to challenge shooters of all skill levels. From a beginning novice to a seasoned expert in terms of wing shooting, we all make mistakes and that is just human nature. Let’s take a look at a few common mistakes that are made that any hunter could use to improve their shot skills.
Shotguns come in a variety of sizes to suite the build of the shooter using it and it is ever important to ensure the fit is proper. Believe it or not, this makes more of a difference than you would think, especially to a new hunter. You want to ensure the shotgun you are using fits comfortably and snugly against the pocket of your shoulder and your cheek is able to find a good bracing position, or “meld” against the upper portion of the stock, giving you a clean line of view down the barrel with the barrel rib and sight pin on a flat horizontal plane to your eye.
You ideally want this to happen without having to adjust the gun after it is shouldered. What I mean by this is when you pull the shotgun up in a natural and fluid motion, you should be looking at your target, then check for sight position on your barrel. Find a safe, inanimate stationary target to aim at with the gun unloaded of course. Bring the gun up on this target and shoulder as if in a real-life shooting scenario. If you have a nice flat view horizontally down your barrel in the proximity of the target you picked out, your cheek has a good meld to the stock and the butt pad is firmly into your shoulder, then you have a gun that fits properly.
Make sure the gun and stock aren’t too long for the shooter, forcing them to reach outward with extended arms which can dramatically reduce the stability when trying to hold the shotgun upright and track a flying target. The same can be said for a shotgun that is too short. The shooter may have no problems shouldering such a gun but your line of sight down the barrel gets compromised and you end up having to tilt your head slightly to get a proper target bead which doesn’t help much with accuracy.
Luckily, shotguns are easily modified from the stock to suit most wing shooters. If a standard gun off the shelf or gifted by a family or friend doesn’t feel like it fits right, do not be afraid to modify the stock to suit, whether that’s taking a little of the stock off, adding additional shims to lengthen the stock, or maybe getting a custom stock all-together. Youth model shotguns are great options for kids and smaller adults as well and usually do not command a steep price tag.
Eyes Lead the Hands
Shooting a shotgun at flying targets is a completely different skill than shooting a rifle, shotgun or pistol at stationary targets. So much so, that you really need a lot of practice to train your eyes and body to become proficient and gain that muscle memory for different shot angles and speeds. Since shotguns generally don’t have a rear sight, unless applied aftermarket, your eyes become the point of focus as the rear sight. I’ve always been advised never to look at the front sight pin when tracking a flying target. You should be looking at your target and using the proper fit of the gun to be your accuracy and reference in this case.
This can take a lot of practice to get used to but trust me, eyes on the target, let the eyes lead the hands. Some folks like to wing shoot with one eye closed and that’s fine if it works for you. I personally shoot with both eyes open and that has always worked best for me.
Always Follow Through
One of the most common mistakes made in wing shooting is a hunter that stops the gun after the trigger is pulled. You should always follow through on the shot in the same path the target was moving after the trigger is pulled. This is something that isn’t always natural and may take a little practice. Not only will you shoot behind a flying target far less often but in the event the target is missed, your timing to get a proper second shot if possible is greatly reduced. This motion is easily practiced with clay targets and should be in the background of your mind whether shooting targets or game birds. Eventually it will become natural.
Learn to Lead
One of the hardest things to master for any wing shooter is the proper lead on a target. This isn’t something that happens right off the bat for the vast majority of shooters. Practicing on clay targets helps a ton in this situation and having a spotter with you to aid you in seeing if you were shooting behind, in front of or any combination of directions of the target and helping to correct it. Game species are markedly tougher than clay targets because their flight is a lot more unpredictable and you are often presented with a wide array of speeds, directions and elevations for this game bird.
Learn to adjust your lead by the speed and direction of the clay target or bird. It takes a lot of practice and you may be surprised how far ahead of the target you need to aim to make a lethal shot. The farther out the target is and the faster it is moving, the further in front of the target you should be aiming. I was taught at a young age to start your aim behind the target and swing with it, matching its speed and pull ahead if need be for a proper lead. This helps to eliminate having to slow the gun down back to the target which undoubtedly makes for an increase in missed shots. Practice makes perfect and always know what lies behind your target before taking a safe shot.
As a young hunter I fell victim to this trap many times. I was always very safe per guidance and training from my family, but I often rushed a shot on pheasants and missed a lot of birds in the process. Its easy to do, and hard to train yourself out of at times but learning to steady your aim and take an extra second or two ensuring a proper stance, gun shouldering and lead will make a huge difference. You want your motion to be fluid and move with the target. No so fast that you blow past and have to come back to it and start your lead again.
If you’ve taken gun safety or grew up in a family that promoted gun safety, then a lot of these will go without question but nonetheless they are important to note. I’ve had the misfortune of hunting with a few people over the years that displayed an utter lack of safety or respect for the firearm and it makes for a very uncomfortable time afield.
• Always ensure your gun barrel is pointed in a safe direction away from other hunters whether loaded or unloaded. Keeping it pointed towards the sky is about your safest option here. You should never hunt while waking alone or in a group with the gun pointed at the ground or out to the sides.
• It’s a good practice to wait to load your gun until you are ready to hunt. As soon as a hunt stops, or the group takes a break in the case of upland hunting, unload your gun and leave the breach open to show others it is not loaded.
• Leave the safety on until you are ready to shoot.
• Always know what is behind your target. If you do not, then don’t take the shot. Nobody’s life is worth risking a game animal over. I’ve been shot by this very circumstance from another hunter and take it very seriously.