By Chris Jennings

The reality of waterfowl hunting is that everyone misses. Being able to overcome a miss involves confidence and a fundamental understanding of each shot. There are a variety of shooting techniques to study, but remaining true to shotgunning basics is a time-tested approach for improving your skills.

"The fundamentals of shooting are very basic," explains Terry Hetrick, a National Skeet Shooting Association certified instructor and personal shooting instructor at the Tennessee Sporting Clays Complex. "It's like most things, practice is the best way to improve. Even when dealing with advanced shooters who are having problems with targets, I start with simple steps."

After 40 years in competitive shooting and winning numerous state and national titles, Hetrick continues to stress shotgunning basics to his students.

"My first lesson to everyone is to not shoot like I play golf. I am invited to play golf twice a year, and I get my clubs out of the basement without touching them and go play. That's no way to approach anything," he says. "There are facilities much like [the Tennessee Sporting Clays Complex] all over the country, and I recommend coming out to the range, if for nothing else than to make sure your equipment is working properly. This will get you tuned up for the hunting season, and you can do it year-round."

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Seeing a target is the first step to hitting it, and Hetrick focuses on teaching people how to use their vision effectively.

"The gun is merely a tool, and your eyes are the greatest asset you have," he says. "The first lesson I work on with shooters is learning how well you are actually seeing the target."

When waterfowl hunting, many times this means seeing the bird-sometimes many birds-as well as the direction they are traveling, their speed and the angle of descent or ascent. While Hetrick understands that a mallard drake decoying in a snowstorm makes for a much different shot than a left-to-right crossing target on a sporting clays range, it's still all about target acquisition. Making visual contact and maintaining contact is crucial for shooters.

"I have many people who are caught looking at the end of gun. If you look at the end of the gun, you can't see the target. That's like trying to drive a car, but staring at the steering wheel," Hetrick says. "Your instincts are what make you a great shot, and applying those instincts on a good visual target is the first step to hitting it."

Need Somewhere to Shoot?

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has created a state-by-state digital directory of shooting ranges in the United States. Customize your search by selecting the type of firearm, state and zip code to find shooting opportunities near you. For more information or to find a range in your area, visit This app is also available for iPhone users.