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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Master Five Important Shots

These tips from expert wingshooters will help you master waterfowling's toughest shots
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  • photo by Chris Jennings
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Some tips to master these five tough shots:
  1. The Crossing Shot
  2. The High Overhead
  3. The Flushing Shot
  4. The Dropping-in Shot
  5. Layout Shooting

1. The Crossing Shot

The mid- to long-range crossing bird is one of the most frequent shots duck and goose hunters encounter in the field. As with all shots, individual waterfowlers use different techniques to shoot crossing birds—the two most popular being the sustained-lead and swing-through methods. Yet, regardless of shooting style, this textbook shot still proves one of the hardest for hunters to make with consistency.

When it comes to helping shooters improve on crossing birds and other shots, all three shooting instructors teach what is known as the instinctive or English technique. This method incorporates the sustained-lead approach to shooting and relies largely on a shooter's instinctive ability to point accurately at a moving object.

As Bruce Bowlen, senior instructor at the Orvis Wingshooting School in Manchester, Vermont, explains, "All people are blessed with one degree or another of natural hand-eye coordination. We all have the ability to look at an object and point right at it." This ability, Bowlen continues, is what allows a person to hit a golf ball, tennis ball, or baseball. In shooting, he says, hand-eye coordination enables most people to instinctively point a shotgun where it needs to be in order to hit a moving target with a shot charge.

In practice, this instinct-based method differs from the swing-through method, which entails starting the gun barrel behind the target, swinging through the target, and pulling the trigger after the barrel has passed in front of the target. By contrast, the instinctive method teaches that shooters should always keep the barrel pointed ahead of the target, match their gun/hand (swing) speed with the speed of the bird, and then pull the trigger.

But there are many ways shooters disrupt this process. One of the most common is a hunter's tendency to take his or her eye off the bird. Bowlen says looking at the gun barrel to see the bird-barrel relationship is the temptation that most often causes shooters to loose sight of their target.

"If you lose visual contact with the bird, your swing will stop or slow down," notes John Woolley, a former English gamekeeper and world champion sporting clays shooter. "This reaction almost always causes you to shoot behind the bird." Avid waterfowler and professional sporting clays shooter Wendell Cherry agrees with Woolley and adds, "The whole game of shooting is focus and tempo. This means that on crossing shots you have to maintain visual acuity on the crossing bird and get the gun, both hands, and both ends of the gun moving at the same speed that the bird is flying."

For waterfowlers using the swing-through technique, Gary Goodpaster, DU's regional director for western Tennessee, recommends taking a slower, more studied approach to shooting long passing shots. Goodpaster, who has hunted ducks and shot clay targets in competition for more than 40 years, says, "Through the years, I discovered that on shots 35 yards and longer, I was frequently swinging the gun too fast to shoot far targets effectively. So I created a modified swing-through system for those long passing shots. This involves slowing down my swing speed, really making sure that I am in front of the bird, and seeing the lead that experience has taught me I need to drop the bird."

In addition to mechanical mistakes, Goodpaster observes that misreading a duck's flight path frequently causes hunters to miss a crossing shot. "A bird could not only be flying left to right but also climbing or dropping at a very shallow angle," he says. "Some people don't pick up on this and read the bird as flying perfectly parallel to the water. So you may need to take a lead that is not only in front but a little above or below the bird to accommodate it climbing or dropping."

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