The best cure for shotgunning problems is to ask an expert to look at your swing. Charley Perkins, manager of brand marketing at Orvis, teaches 70 company associates to shoot every summer, and he spends more than 30 days every season with guests at his duck camp on Arkansas's White River. He sees lots of people shoot and has solid advice for curing their misses. As owners of the Orvis Company, Perkins's father and grandfather trained him in the Churchill method taught at Orvis Shooting Schools. Here are his thoughts on why the method is ideal for waterfowl hunting, and how it can help you shoot better.
Perkins says many hunters lack a good plan for getting their gun into action, creating unnecessary movement from the beginning. "Too much movement is inefficient and it can flare ducks," he says. "Whenever you can, get ready for the shot by tucking the gun butt lightly under your arm and pointing the muzzle slightly above horizontal in the direction of the bird."
Stance matters too. Keep your feet no more than shoulder-width apart and point them at 12 o'clock and two o'clock if you are right-handed. Your weight should be slightly forward, putting you in an athletic stance facing the target at a quartering angle, not turned sideways and rigid like a rifle shooter, which can bind your swing. "Waterfowling isn't as unpredictable as upland hunting," Perkins says. "You know where you're going to shoot decoying ducks. You can set your feet beforehand."
Mount and Swing
In the Churchill method, a shooter mounts and swings the shotgun with a single motion. "Essentially, it's a swing-through method, where you start the gun behind the target," Perkins says. "The swing and the mount happen at the same time. You move the muzzle to the bird as the gun comes to your face. You can shoot when the gun touches your shoulder. It's very smooth and fast, but you don't have to rush." He notes, too, that if you learn to push the gun out and toward the bird during the mount it's less likely to become tangled in bulky clothes.
The Churchill style is an "instinctive" method, relying on hard focus on the target and trust in your eyes and hands to move the gun where it needs to go. "There's no conscious lead," Perkins says. "Focus on the duck's bill. Shoot as the gun passes the bird and the shot feels right." Matching the speed of the gun to the speed of the target solves the problem of different leads needed for faster or slower birds. If the bird is fast, you have to move the gun faster to pass it, building the extra lead you need.
Practice Makes Perfect
For the Churchill style to work, your mount must be perfected through practice. "When my father and grandfather taught me, all we ever did was field-type situational shooting with a low gun," Perkins recalls. "It was years after I started shooting that I found out that people shot clays with pre-mounted guns." Practicing your gun mounts with an unloaded gun is equally important. Concentrate on smoothness, not speed. Perkins practices at home, and he will even warm up once he is in the blind. "I get funny looks sometimes if I do 50 mounts before shooting time, but I know it helps my shooting," he says.
Keep Your Head Down
Head lifting is one of the main causes of misses Perkins sees in the field. "People lift their head off the gun to see the bird fall, and they're surprised when it doesn't," he says. "If I'm trying to help someone who is also a golfer, I'll ask, ‘If you lift your head to see how far the ball goes, you don't hit it very well, do you?' The same thing happens when you lift your head off the gun." He tells people to keep their head on the gun and their eye on the bird until it hits the water.
Recoil is another cause of head lifting, especially among new shooters. "People pull their head off the stock to get away from the kick," Perkins says. "For my guests who haven't hunted much, I recommend lighter, 1 1/8-ounce loads for their 12-gauge."