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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Shotgunner's Guide to Waterfowling

Here's how to consistently hit the most common shots in duck and goose hunting
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Doug Erck: The Going-Away Shot

Waterfowlers frequently encounter going-away shots when birds are passing overhead or flaring after a volley from a blind or pit. These shots are the nemesis of many hunters who can't quite figure out how to center these fleeting targets in their patterns.
Doug Erck of Mechanicsville, Virginia, says that's the problem: they try to figure. "They overthink the shot," says this National Sporting Clays Association–certified shooting instructor. "They know the bird is going away and they have to hold under it. So they start trying to calculate lead and determine angles. If you do this, I can almost guarantee you're going to miss this shot, usually by pulling the gun too far down and shooting under the bird."
Instead, Erck coaches shooters to let their instincts take over. "I tell my students to look hard at the bird. Concentrate on tracking it visually, then let your hand-eye coordination execute the shot. Push your gun toward the target, and when the gun mount is complete, pull the trigger. You will perceive that you're shooting right at it, but your internal computer will direct your hands to put the gun where it needs to be to get the proper lead. That's all there is to it."
Besides not overthinking the shot, Erck also cautions shooters not to aim. "If your eyes go to the gun, the gun stops. Those big high-visibility sights some hunters put on their barrels make you miss. They provide too much temptation to focus on your sight instead of the bird, and if you do, you're in trouble. In wingshooting, the gun barrel is not your friend. You've got to keep the gun out of your conscious awareness and out of your field of view. This is the only way you can truly let your instincts rule."
Erck is a longtime waterfowl hunter and DU member. He hunts ducks on the James and Chickahominy rivers and in several mid-Virginia swamps. He particularly enjoys shooting wood ducks as they dart through cypress trees. "This is when you really learn to depend on your instincts in shooting. When those woodies come darting and twisting through the branches, you don't have time to think about what you're doing. You just pick a target, follow it with your eyes, raise your gun and shoot. It's all about God-given hand-eye coordination. If you try to think about what you're doing, you're just going to poke holes in the sky."
Confusion leads to indecision, which leads to missed shots. This is why many veteran waterfowlers stick with one choke and load that works for them in a variety of settings. For example, a modified choke with a 3-inch load of steel 2s or bismuth 4s are effective combinations in a broad range of duck hunting situations. This is a matter of personal preference and practicality. When shots will be consistently close or long, you may be better served by changing to either more open or more constricted chokes. But for shots at various distances, sticking with a middle-of-the-road choke (like modified) may work best.

Moreover, patterning differences offered by switching choke tubes may be surprisingly small. The only way to know for sure is to pattern different chokes (with the same load) at various distances, and then decide if the difference is indeed noticeable enough to warrant switching chokes. If not, sticking with one choke and load combo will allow you to focus more on your shooting form than your equipment.

INTERNET To watch instructional videos on how to hit the most commonly encountered shots in waterfowling, visit the DU website at www.ducks.org.

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