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Break Bad Shooting Habits, Bag More Ducks

6 pitfalls to overcome for that perfect shot
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  • Keep your eyes (not your head) on the prize this season.
    photo by Paul Boniface
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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

5. Watching with your head, not your eyes

Sharp-eyed ducks will flare away if they see hunter movement. Often, it's the hunter's moving head, turning this way and that as he scans the sky, that birds see. When your partner whispers, "Don’t move! Three on the right!" every instinct tells you to move your head for a better look. But such movement often causes the birds to leave.

"Learn to watch with your eyes, not your head," a veteran waterfowler once coached me. "Keep your noggin still and tilted downward; move only your eyes. Fewer ducks will spot you, and more will drop in for a visit."

That's good advice. It's also wise to wear a full set of camouflage clothing, including gloves and a face-net or camo face paint. This is one more advantage that will improve your ducks-killed-to-shots-fired ratio.

6. Not studying your quarry

Waterfowlers who are top-notch shooters in the field also tend to know a great deal about the habits of the ducks they hunt most often. They know how their quarry will react to various weather patterns, the types of foods they're most likely eating, the ways their flight patterns will change throughout each day and each season, and, with a good measure of certainty, whether or not the hunting is likely to be good on a given day.

They know these things because they've made it a habit to learn everything they can about the ducks they pursue. They know that being a good hunter means studying even minute details about your quarry's habits.

The reason these hunters tend to be excellent shooters is because they have studied hundreds of ducks dropping into their decoys. They know what the birds will do, how they'll approach the decoys, which way they'll flare and whether they'll go high or low. The knowledge thus gained enables each one to know approximately where he must point his gun before it even touches his shoulder. This is why most great wingshots are veteran hunters. And it's also the reason many excellent skeet and trap marksmen fail so miserably at connecting with game birds.

Take, for example, the veteran mallard hunter. He knows a decoying greenhead will almost always tower straight up when the gunners stand to shoot, reaching an almost stationary point before leveling off. Know this point and you have an almost standstill target.

Diving ducks seldom tower when surprised. They curve away in a broad arc, relying on speed for their escape. The best shooters know how to adjust to the differences in behavior.

Dabblers such as pintails, shovelers and wigeons will spring up and drive into the wind immediately when flushed off flooded fields or potholes. This allows the gunner to focus his attention on a small arc instead of a complete circle, increasing the odds of connecting.

Divers coming in with wingtips barely above the water's surface will usually decoy perfectly, enabling the gunner to hold fire until the nearest ducks are well within range. He then fires his first shot at a bird near the rear of the flock and his last shots at front birds that are still within shooting range. Divers crossing high and fast will usually pass. Thus the hunter must be prepared to shoot at the exact moment the flock passes closest to the blind.

Knowing these types of things can prove extremely beneficial to the hunter. But the benefits are realized only if the hunter consciously studies the behaviors of the birds he's pursuing. "Pay attention and learn" - that phrase sums up the cure for this bad behavior.


Will getting rid of bad habits allow you to kill every duck you draw a bead on? Not likely. There still will be times you'll take down your gun and wonder how in the heck you missed such an easy shot. Even the best marksmen in the world miss occasionally. And some days, they miss frequently.

One thing's for sure, however: If you take time to analyze your bad habits and try to correct them, you'll become a better shooter. And being a better shooter is part of being a good sportsman. We may not bat a thousand each time we're up to the plate, but true sportsmen feel an obligation to try.

Break bad habits, bag more ducks. That's a goal we all should make part of our hunt.

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