Gary Goodpaster: The Decoying Shot
Retired DU regional director Gary Goodpaster of Collierville, Tennessee, has sidelined as a shotgunning instructor for some 40 years. Today he works frequently with hunters who wish to improve their field-shooting ability. An avid waterfowl hunter, Goodpaster knows the challenges of downing ducks and geese in virtually any setting and situation.
"In my opinion, contrary to what many duck hunters might think, the most challenging shots in waterfowling can occur when birds are descending into decoys. They frequently don't come in straight and level. Instead, they may constantly change speed and direction, especially puddle ducks like mallards that aren't really committed to landing," Goodpaster says.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that several birds in a flock usually drop in at the same time. According to Goodpaster, this makes it difficult to know which bird to focus on and how to shoot it. Likewise, sharing a blind with other hunters can create uncertainty about who will shoot first and who will shoot at which bird.
"All bets are off when the first shot is fired," Goodpaster says. "The ducks typically will flare and go into immediate escape mode. There's a tremendous tendency for shooters to panic when this happens and shoot too quickly, before they're on target."
When ducks or geese are coming in, a shooter should pick out one bird (on his side of the blind or pit) and be mentally prepared to make rapid adjustments when the action starts, Goodpaster advises. "Just be deliberate, try to anticipate what your bird is going to do, and don't get in a hurry," he says. "When ducks flare, there's still plenty of time to get on target and make the necessary adjustments for a clean, accurate shot. I think one of the biggest mistakes shooters make on decoying waterfowl is rushing their shots."
If he's hunting alone or if it's his turn to shoot first in his group, Goodpaster always prefers to shoot at a duck before the bird is disturbed. "I try to kill the first bird out of a flock before he knows I'm there," he says. "I don't worry about leading him much when he's coming in. I just lead him slightly in the direction he's going, and I shoot.
I don't want to give him any advantage of flaring. I just ease into shooting position, point, and shoot him where he's going. Only after I'm sure he's hit hard and falling will I look for another bird and try for a double.
"Again, the keys are to concentrate on one bird, be deliberate in getting on target, and be mentally and physically prepared to make necessary adjustments to your gun point as a bird tries to escape. Just remember to stay in control. If you do these things, you'll have more ducks and geese dropping belly up into your decoys."