In a world of wingshooting perfection, our gun barrels would meet their mark despite all odds and unfavorable shooting scenarios. Every pull of the trigger is a direct and focused payload that undoubtedly hits where intended. A limit of birds always equals the number of shells spent.
You may laugh, not because this is false, but because this is downright unrealistic. As hunters, we face a vast realm of shooting conditions; some easy, some hard and some seemingly impossible. No two birds will ever flush, pass over or commit in the exact same manner and that’s what makes wingshooting so challenging. — So unpredictable.
Hunters are responsible for not only knowing their weapons and how to operate them safely, but to practice with them and become proficient enough to kill cleanly and ethically. Practice to the point where we know the weapon’s capabilities and limitations. Add in the tough nature of shooting a speedy airborne object and practice becomes a necessity whether it be clay or feather.
The Right Fit
Let me first address that you simply will not reach your full shooting potential if the gun doesn’t fit right. One of the most common mistakes wingshooters make is improper gun mounting. Without a properly fitting weapon, correct gun mounting becomes challenging or impossible. With long guns like shotguns, one size does not fit all. Be sure to seek help from a trusted firearms dealer who can aid in choosing a weapon of the right fit, or modify your current weapon to fit if need be.
Some of you are blessed with the right body specs to fit most off-the-shelf shotguns but many people do not realize that even the slightest adjustments in stock length or butt pad thickness can help immensely for a fine tuned, comfortable fit.
A general rule of long gun fitting states that when properly mounted, your nose should be roughly two to three inches from your thumb where your hand grasps the stock. When this occurs your cheek will be firmly planted on the stock, rest assured the gun is snug against your shoulder.
Your forearm grip should be deliberate, almost pulling the gun in and down towards your chest with the elbow pointed toward the opposite hip. This forearm position gives stability and the inward force you provide helps to compensate for muzzle jump from recoil and stay on target.
Focus is a general term than can describe many aspects of any shooting sport. In terms of wingshooting, focus becomes most important when identifying a target and where to aim.
One should always focus on, and identify a target before moving and mounting a gun. As my dad always told me, never aim your gun at something you do not intend to shoot. This even meant not “practice” aiming at a flushing sparrow or hen pheasant. By quickly identifying a target before the move to mount the gun is made, you can very quickly prepare your body posture and position for the shot opportunity. You can also make a quick mental check of objects behind and near the target to decide if the shot is safe or even attainable.
Where to aim on flying game is a blunder for many shooters to perform consistently. When a target is identified, most shooter’s eyes naturally focus on the body or the wings of the bird. The wings are attention grabbing and the body is the obvious larger portion of the game bird. Sure, you can kill a bird with a body shot if the pattern is able to enter the vitals thoroughly, but all too often the outcome is more crippling than immediately lethal.
One must train their focus on the head of the bird and use it as a point of reference for aiming. A good friend once told me while goose hunting to treat the head of the goose like it is the only thing flying; ignore the rest of the body. This wisdom has helped me to drastically increase my number of winged game taken, both upland and waterfowl.
Ah yes, the ever so popular topic of leading game birds. Unless some of you are physicists that can adequately calculate the exact point of lead it takes to kill a bird at a given distance, with the given shot load and the bird traveling at a given speed and angle, then I am assuming most of you calculate your lead based on instinct and perception.
The human brain is a wonderful biological computer that is quite good a judging lead in a split second. You could ask the question of how far to lead a bird to even the top skeet and wingshooters in the world and most of them will give the same general answer, “use your best judgment”!
Becoming adept at judging lead isn’t something that just happens overnight. It takes time. Practice. Repetition.
Skills that can only be learned with experience. Excuse my Yankees reference but do you think Derek Jeter just one day stepped into the shortstop position and became an instant star? Of course not, it took years of practice. The bottom line is, do not try to figure out lead by making yourself guess. Let sheer practice and experience guide your brain into subconsciously judging lead for you.
There are in fact, three different types of leads used that each have a place and a time for shooting scenarios along with personal preference. Knowing these types of leads and how they are applied most effectively can really improve any shooters success ratio.
In a sustained lead, the shooter mounts the gun and starts the lead in front of the target by what is perceived as the correct distance. The shooter maintains this lead distance in front of the bird and continues through after the trigger is pulled. This style of lead is preferred on close shots where minimal lead is required.
The shooter starts by mounting the gun and aiming directly on the target. As the target moves, the shooter follows, and then accelerates ahead. When the perceived lead is attained the shooter pulls the trigger and then continues the lead after the shot. The pull-away lead is preferred on longer shots where greater lead is required.
The shooter starts the gun lead behind the target, accelerating through the target and pulls the trigger when the perceived lead is attained. The shooter then continues the lead beyond the trigger pull. This style of lead shines through in many applications. It is great for fast flying game such as diving ducks and quail. It is also great for taking multiple birds in a flock by fluidly moving from one to the next.
Commonly Missed Shots
There are also leads that involve the flushing, fleeing or approaching game bird presenting the shooter with a diversity of shot placements. Many seem quite elementary but you would be surprised at how many of these scenarios end with a bird only missing a few tail feathers, sometimes completely unscathed altogether.
The Rising Shot
Upland hunters and duck hunters are both well accustomed to this type of shot, yet it should be called the tail trimmer because that is a common outcome after the shot is fired. Hunters often fall into the focus trap on this one where the body becomes the reference point of aiming. Instead, lead the bird’s head in its upward movement and I will guarantee you if this is done the bird will soon be on the descent.
This one the waterfowl gang knows all too well yet it is still a commonly missed shot, most often over the bird. When a bird is coming straight in to land, aim for the feet. You can comfortably bet that at some point, a portion of your shot string will hit the vitals. When a bird is crossing to land, lead low of the bill and head ever so slightly and be ready for that bird to stay put.
The Straight Away Shot
Upland hunters are well aware of the frequent outcome on this shot. Tail feathers fly, a leg may drop and the bird just keeps on chuggin. Straight away shots can indeed be a gamble but they are definitely a very attainable opportunity. In this case, the hunter should aim for the upper back of the bird just between the wings. Do this and the bird will get a lot more than a peppered backside.
Angled To and Angled From
When these shots are missed it is most often because the hunter misreads the proper lead. You want to lead a bird farther ahead on an angling away shot than you would an angling to. The larger the angle the bird is flying away from you the longer the lead will need to be and vice versa.
Back To Front
When vying to pluck multiple birds from a single flock, the whole concept of shooting back to front is extremely successful. When this happens, hunters can more easily and fluidly transition to the next available bird in range, given the first shot met its mark.
In this case, hunters first aim for birds in the rear of the flock, thereupon transition their shots to birds closer to the front of the flock that are still in range. This is a very hard concept to put in use as most hunter’s natural instinct is to take the bird most available in range. When performed though, you are giving yourself more shot opportunities before the whole flock evacuates.
This is where the swing-through lead really comes into play. When a flock is crossing, start behind the last bird, accelerate into the flock and pull the trigger on birds you wish to take while maintaining the swing. If a bird is missed, either stay on that bird or move further along in the flock.
Wingshooting is a style of hunting that we in Iowa have abundant opportunities to do so. From doves to geese, we are constantly challenged in the realm of shooting. Remember these tips along with proper gun fit, letting your mind naturally lead your barrel, practice often and have a great hunting season.