A Lapse in Judgment
"Misjudging yardage and calling the shot when the birds are not close enough," Berka notes, "is another frequent cause of missing. Remember, once the shot is called, the birds will often flare as you rise to shoot and may gain distance and altitude before you can pull the trigger. Practice estimating yardage or use decoys on the perimeter of your spread to help judge when birds are in range. Know your maximum effective range and only take shots inside that range."
Tom Knapp, the shotgunning virtuoso of Benelli fame (tomknapp.net), also thinks many hunters miss because they misjudge the distance to the target. He uses the shotgun's sight as a measuring stick. "Place two life-size decoys at your closest and farthest expected shooting distances," Knapp explains. "Then raise your gun and see the size relationship between the front bead and the decoy. On the closest decoy, perhaps 20 yards away, the bead may cover the decoy's head, whereas on the farthest one, maybe 40 or 45 yards away, the bead may cover half the entire decoy," Knapp says.
"Know your maximum effective range and only take shots inside that range."
"On a bird over the closest decoy, simply aim at its head. The length of the bird's neck will be enough lead. On a bird over the farthest decoy, your front bead will cover the lion's share of the duck's body, and you'll know immediately to extend your lead. Importantly, if you miss, add more forward lead on the second try. All too often, hunters will miss three consecutive shots because they thought they had the correct lead on the first shot. Make sure to try something different on the subsequent shots."
Mind Games of the Muzzle
Gil Ash of OSP Shooting School (ospschool.com) coaches more than 2,000 shotgunners a year, and the majority of them are wingshooters. He notices that many hunters miss at the brief moment when focusing on the target and mounting the gun. The problem is a combination of visual concentration, American history, and muscle memory.
"The most dreaded phrase in a duck blind is: 'Okay, here's a single—he's all yours.' The duck is spotted 300 yards out and you miss him, but on a dove hunt, your buddy yells at you suddenly with a dove flying over your head, and you instantly drop it," Ash says. The difference between the two shots is that the shooter had too much time to stare down the barrel as the duck was coming in, and as a result, he choked.
"Excessive muzzle awareness causes everything to stop and makes people miss 99 percent of the time, and 99 percent of the people are trying to line everything up," Ash says. He believes this problem results from America's rifle-shooting heritage. Many American hunters grew up with air rifles and .22s and graduated to deer rifles. Ash believes this causes many American hunters to want to aim a shotgun like a rifle, but shooting a rifle and a shotgun are as different as casting dry flies and crankbaits.