Easy Come, Easy Go

Hitting birds coming in or going away isn't difficult if you know the angles involved

© Chris Jennings

By Aaron Fraser Pass

Waterfowl hunters encounter a variety of shots that qualify as either "incomers" or "outgoers." A bird coming into the decoys with its wings cupped and feet down is one of the most common examples. Beginning waterfowl hunters are often told to lead slightly below decoying birds and "shoot at their feet." This sounds too good to be true—and usually is. 

That's because decoying birds seldom present a truly head-on target. Ducks and geese can be picky about where they finally put their feet down and are constantly making corrections in pitch, speed, and direction during their final approach into the spread. Shooters must watch for these deviations and adjust their swing accordingly to account for varying degrees of lateral movement. 

Determining the trajectory of a descending bird can be especially difficult when the bird is "falling" out of a featureless sky with no reference point. The best advice is to look carefully at the bird. If you can see more of one side of the bird than the other, then it's sliding off to one side as well as descending. 

Once you have determined the flight path of an incoming bird, all the standard wing shooting advice applies. Mount your gun smoothly, swing through the bird, and pull the trigger when the appropriate lead is achieved. If you are engaging your target at reasonable range, your pattern spread will compensate for some degree of error. But if the bird is really close, your pattern will be narrow and any misjudgment in either the lateral or vertical movement of a bird can mean a miss.

For overhead shots, the most important variable is the altitude of the target, which translates into shooting range. Low incomers are pretty easy to hit if you engage them at enough distance for your pattern spread to accommodate for slight miscalculations in the angle of the bird's approach. On a low, incoming shot—often presented by teal and wood ducks—simply cover the bird with your muzzle and maintain your swing and follow-through as you pull the trigger. But if you let the bird get too close, this shot becomes much more difficult. Hitting low birds as they scream directly overhead requires catlike reflexes as your shotgun pattern will be tight as a fist.  

The opposite is true for high overhead birds. In this situation, you want the bird to be directly or nearly overhead when you pull the trigger. A long lead and smooth swing are required to make this classic shot. Inexperienced shooters often struggle with this shot because they misjudge the height of the bird. You can practice range estimation by stepping off familiar objects like trees in your yard or, even better, determining the exact distance of various objects with a laser range finder. Of course, if you have any doubt about whether a bird is in range, pass up the shot. 

"Going-away" birds present their own challenges. Flushed ducks often go straight up. Catch them early, and you can shoot right above them for an easy kill. Give them too much time to get vertical, however, and you will be shooting at the "down end" of an upward moving bird. And again, it's hard to discern lateral movement against a featureless sky.

Similarly, birds that come from behind and go away from you look deceptively easy. The most common mistake here is to simply shoot right at the departing bird. Even in level flight, these birds are often narrowing their angle toward the horizon. True straightaway shots seldom present themselves in the duck marsh, and shooters must coordinate their "down lead" with adjustments to either the right or left to accommodate any lateral drift.

HARD TARGET When shooting ducks and geese that are going away, pellets often have to punch through tough feathers, bone, and other non-vital tissue to reach the vital organs. Hence, pellets and loads with good penetration potential are needed for this shot.