Waterfowl hunting involves long stretches of waiting and mere seconds of action. Correctly managing your time when a shot presents itself can mean the difference between a full bag and a busted hunt.
Here are some thoughts on how to prepare for those all-important seconds when ducks are dropping into the decoys.
Before the Shot
Keep your part of the blind uncluttered so you can spring into action quickly and safely. Make sure there's a clear spot where you can set your coffee in a hurry without spilling it. Have shells handy for fast reloads. Your gun should be where you can reach it and, as birds get close, your hands should be on it. As birds make their final approach, use the time to get yourself mentally ready. Think "trigger thoughts" such as pick a bird or look at the bill.
When to Take the Shot
Someone in the blind should be in charge of calling the shot, and that person can help shooters manage their time by keeping up a running commentary. That way, it's not a total surprise when he or she yells "take 'em." If you are the shot caller, realize that your hunting partners will take a second to get up and on target. That's especially important with birds that are bearing down on the decoys without slowing to land. I have hunted with shot callers that let incoming birds get within five yards of the blind. When you pop up out of a blind and find yourself eye to eye with the ducks, it can often result in missed or mangled birds. It's better to call the shot at about 15 or 20 yards if the birds look like they're going to keep coming.
When the shot caller says "go," take the advice of Colorado guide Jeff Colwell: "Get up fast, then take your time." Colwell was talking specifically about shooting from a pit blind, but the advice applies to all kinds of blinds, especially those with poor visibility, which can prevent you from picking out a bird before the shot. Forget about trying to come up shooting. Think of it as a three-step process. First, get up. Then find and focus on your target. Then mount your gun and shoot.
Shooting doubles requires additional considerations. Rather than planning on shooting a double, I always choose one bird that looks good in my safe shooting zone. After shooting, I stay with the bird until it folds. Then I look for another bird only if there's time.
The bigger the group, the greater the chaos when the guns go off. Flocks scatter, and sometimes the bird that you planned to shoot falls before you pull the trigger. On those volleys when you're too late, resist the urge to take long shots at departing birds. Those going-away shots are rarely effective. Take a pass and be ready when the next bunch comes in.
Gun Mount and Gun Speed
Shooting instructors will tell you that the average hunter moves much too quickly with a shotgun. It's counterintuitive, but the best way to speed up is to slow down. Practice mounting an unloaded shotgun at home so that you can focus on the target with full confidence that the gun will shoot where you're looking when it hits your shoulder. Work on a smooth, efficient mount in which you bring the gun to your face first. This move lets you take advantage of the fleeting instant when a shot may present itself much better than a mount in which you slam the gun to your shoulder, push your face onto the comb, and then look for a target.
When to pull the trigger is all about timing. Your goal should be to move the gun in time with the target. Ideally, you'll move the gun with the bird just long enough so the bird seems to slow down. Gil Ash, with Optimum Shotgun Performance, calls this "stabilizing the shot." I've also found that the longer the shot, the more slowly I need to move the gun. When it feels right, don't think. Shoot and trust that the time is right.