By Aaron Fraser Pass
The baseline formula for good shooting on moving targets is well established. First, acquire and start tracking the target with your eyes. Next perform a smooth, practiced, and precise gun mount that aligns the gun with the shooting eye. Continue tracking the target and swing to establish an appropriate lead. And finally, fire and continue to swing into a good follow through.
If all this occurs smoothly, your chances of making a good shot are very high. But any break or hesitation in this chain of events diminishes your chances of success. Consequently, the odds strongly favor seasoned shotgunners with a shooting form so practiced and perfected that it's virtually second nature. That's why most all-around good shots can shoot well on both waterfowl and upland birds without a hitch.
While the basics of shotgunning apply to all moving targets, there are variables presented by different types of feathered game and diverse shooting environments that require some adjustment in tactics—and perhaps gun choice. In my last column, I noted that goose guns tend to be long and heavy, and this is a good thing because geese, while not exactly slow, are not particularly maneuverable in flight. A steady swing and good follow-through wins this game.
In fact, much of waterfowling, for both ducks and geese, is an open-sky shooting situation over fields and marshes. The birds are seen (and acquired) a good ways off. The shooter starts to make mental calculations regarding speed, range, and angle of the target well before the shooting starts. The mount, swing, lead, and follow-through, while not afterthoughts, should be pretty well thought out beforehand. The true "art" of most waterfowl shooting is being able to see the correct angle of flight out of myriad possibilities.
The upland gunner, on the face of it, has an almost opposite set of shooting problems—and yet all the wingshooting basics still apply. The target is seldom seen prior to the shooter having to take immediate action. It is a fast-action scenario. The game can be in the air and gone in seconds, and the shooter has to apply shooting basics very quickly.
A rapid and precise gun mount is crucial in upland bird shooting, as is fast tracking and shooting. Ranges are usually short, so a super-precise lead isn't so important, but follow-through remains critical.
Most upland game birds are up-and-away targets, and the shooter must be conscious of rather small angles of flight—a bird that appears to be flying straight away often isn't. Finally, many upland species are shot in moderate to heavy cover.
Thus the typical upland gun should be light, fast pointing, and fast handling. However, shooters should always avoid extremes in their gun choice. Super-light guns can be jumpy, or hard to hold on track, and could easily stop or slow down on follow-through, leading to a miss.
So, do the challenges of shooting waterfowl and upland birds ever intersect? Actually, yes, they do. Not all waterfowling is an open-sky situation. In some parts of the country jump-shooting ducks along small rivers, ponds, or stock tanks is quite similar to shooting upland birds, most notably pheasants. Likewise floating rivers for waterfowl translates readily to upland bird-shooting scenarios. Finally, there is shooting in flooded timber. Here the birds are not flushing off the water but dropping into the timber to feed or rest. It is literally an in-your-face fast-shooting experience.
In all these scenarios a well-balanced, fast-pointing, quick-swinging shotgun, conforming more to upland standards than traditional waterfowl guns, would be a good choice.
TIMELESS WORDS The Old Man, from Robert Ruark's Old Man and the Boy series of books, once described quail shooting as an art and duck shooting as arithmetic.