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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Break Bad Shooting Habits, Bag More Ducks

6 pitfalls to overcome for that perfect shot
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  • "Many ducks are missed because hunters worry too much about the details of each shot...Shoot, shoot and shoot some more. The more you shoot, the more your instinct will take over."
    photo by Chris Jennings
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Bad habits to break:
  1. Shooting a poor-fitting gun
  2. Failing to focus
  3. Analyzing each shot
  4. Shooting too far
  5. Watching with your head, not your eyes
  6. Not studying your quarry

3. Analyzing each shot

Many ducks are missed because hunters worry too much about the details of each shot. Let's take lead, for example. Maintaining the proper lead is necessary for clean kills. But if you try to compute the proper lead in your head each time you shoot, you'll get frustrated because each shot is different in terms of flight angle and speed. Some shots are going away, some are head-on and some are passing at 90 degrees. Some shots are at ducks zipping by at full speed, while others are at birds hovering over the decoys. If you must consciously think about how much lead to hold, you're probably going to miss.

Instead, shooting should be instinctual. You shouldn't waste time figuring answers. Let unconscious reaction take care of firing the gun. Focus on your target and follow it with your shotgun. Your brain will automatically figure out how much lead to hold, and if the bird is within range and you have good shooting form, you'll connect.

In his book, Modern Water Fowling, John Cartier explains this better than I can. "We aim rifles," he said. "We point shotguns, in the same manner as we point our finger at a passing airplane. Shotgun technique is directly opposite that of a rifle. With a rifle, you place your single bullet with perfect aiming and slow precision trigger squeezing. With a shotgun, you 'throw' a cloud of shot with lightning reaction."

Shooting practice is perhaps the best cure for the over-analytical hunter. Visit a shooting range as often as possible. Sporting clays courses are particularly good as they often have stations with targets that simulate ducks floating into the decoys, flying straight overhead and passing at various angles. Shoot, shoot and shoot some more. The more you shoot, the more your instinct will take over.

4. Shooting too far

Lots of duck hunters are overeager. They can't wait to shoot, no matter how far the ducks are. Some buy heavy-load shotshells, thinking these will allow even longer shots. But that's simply not the case. The chance of a shot failing to connect increases with distance. Most of these "sky busters" miss or wound more ducks than they kill.

It's important to wait until ducks are well within range before firing, and that normally means 40 yards or less. That's a shorter distance than most hunters think it is. Pace off 40 yards sometime and see. It may help to place a marker of some sort within your hunting area that will help you know the distance beyond which you should not shoot. After a while, you'll be better able to judge the right distance in a snap.

To rid yourself of this bad habit, don't get overanxious. Focus on a single bird and quickly try to determine if it's within proper shooting range. If you don't think it is, let it pass. Don't waste shells on a bird you'll probably miss or wound.

Another good practice is to allow one person in your party — someone who is a good judge of birds' range — to call all the shots. Often, this is the main caller in the party. No one shoots until that person says, "Shoot!"

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