Shotgunning: Ducks over Decoys

Be ready when the moment of truth arrives

© TODDSTEELEPHOTOART.COM

Visions of ducks cupped up over the decoys sustain us through the off-season. This year, when the moment you've waited for all those months finally arrives, you'll want to make the most of it. 

Following are 10 tips to help you improve your success shooting ducks over decoys—five for you and five for your gun.

1. Don't Rush the Shot

We get excited when ducks come into the decoys. But excited hunters don't make good shooters. When the shot caller yells "take 'em," you need to make haste with deliberation. As a guide once told me, "The secret is to get up in a hurry, then take your time." If birds have decoyed well, they'll be hanging or backpedaling when you stand up. You'll have time to find a bird, make a smooth gun mount, and shoot.

2. Stay in Your Lane

If you can see well enough out of the blind to pick out and focus on one bird from the flock, do it. If you can't see out very well, come up looking for a bird in your shooting lane. When hunters limit their shots to between ten o'clock and two o'clock in front, everyone will be more likely to shoot at different birds in the flock.

3. Shoot at the Bill

Decoying ducks are close and they're not moving very fast as they finish into the wind. There's no need to give them much lead on the first shot. Shoot right at the bill and the duck will fall. That advice goes double during teal season. Because teal are so small, they look farther away than they really are, and they aren't as fast as they appear to be.

4. Pick One Bird and Stick with It

If you miss, stick with the same bird and shoot again until it falls. Switching from bird to bird rarely goes well. Also, be sure a falling bird is dead before you look for another one to shoot. Even if there's a good retriever in the blind, scattering a bunch of cripples across the water during a big volley is a good way to lose birds.

5. Know When to Lift Your Head

We all know that head lifting at the end of a shot makes you miss, but there is a time to pick your head up off the gun. If you make a good first shot and don't see a second bird to shoot at right away, drop the stock off your shoulder, raise your head, and look around for another duck. It's much faster than looking down your gun barrel for more birds.

6. Pattern Your Gun

Patterning a gun at 40 yards makes no sense if you're going to be shooting ducks at 20. Test your gun at the distance that you will likely be shooting. Ideally, you want your gun/choke/load combination to put 70 to 80 percent of its shot into a 30-inch circle at that distance. 

7. Open Your Chokes

Several years ago, I conducted an informal poll among some guides. They told me that their clients' average shots were inside 25 yards. Not surprisingly, every one of them (except the sea duck guide, who wanted birds hit as hard as possible, then shot again) said their clients used too much choke. Improved cylinder or light modified are good choices for shooting over decoys. 

8. Choose Your Ammo Wisely

Experiment with smaller shot if you want broader patterns at close range. Some ammo, like Federal's Black Cloud Close Range shells, are made to pattern well at distances commonly encountered when shooting over decoys. I've found Winchester Blind Side and Xpert loads often shoot more open patterns than many other shells. Bismuth is a whole different animal and patterns more like lead than steel.

9. Cut the Kick

Less recoil means faster follow-up shots. If you want to take more than one bird from a decoying flock, lighten up, at least with your first shell. A 2 3/4-inch load is enough for any bird inside 30 yards, and it will allow you to recover fast and find a second target.

10. Mix Loads

If you're concerned about reaching out and making longer second and third shots, you can always follow up your first shell with tighter-patterning shells like Black Cloud, HEVI-Shot, or BB loads.