Shooter at the range. Photo By Todd J Steele.jpg

Todd J. Steele


Summer is the perfect time to sharpen your skills with a shotgun. Mark Stevens has spent years coaching youth shotgunners in Minnesota. He shares the following tips to help you make the most of your time at the range this summer.

Build a Firm Foundation

Stevens has identified what he believes is the single most important skill required to consistently hit targets: footwork.

“If your feet are not placed properly and your foundation is not right, you’re going to have a hard time hitting targets,” says Stevens, who works with the Minnesota Youth Shotgun Association. “And the same is true when you are in the field. If your foundation is not solid, you will lose your balance while swinging on a duck or a goose.”

Stevens recommends developing the habit of shooting with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, with the foot opposite your dominant eye (this is usually the left foot for right-handed shooters and the right foot for lefties) six inches in front of the other. “If you shoot a lot while seated in a boat or a layout blind, practice shooting from a chair, but, again, maintain that solid foundation,” he says.

Focus on the Target

When a flock of wood ducks or teal buzzes the decoys, it can be tempting to “flock shoot” in the hopes of hitting a bird, but that often results in a miss. “Your chances will be much better if you focus on one bird,” Stevens says. “In the summer, practice locking your eyes on the target first, just as you would pick a single bird out of a flock. Then, bring your gun up quickly. Do not look at the bead at the end of the barrel; keep your eyes locked on that target.”

Suit Up

While it might be a little uncomfortable in hot summer weather, Stevens encourages beginning shooters to wear their hunting jackets during practice sessions, at least part of the time. “Opening morning is not a great time to realize that mounting your shotgun in a bulky parka is a lot different than when you’re wearing a T-shirt,” Stevens says. “Maybe wait for a cooler day or evening when you can get all your hunting gear on, but it is really important to practice shooting in what you’re going to wear on a hunt.”

Mix Up Your Targets

To prepare for the different types of shots that you will encounter during
waterfowl season, Stevens says to shoot a variety of targets over the summer. A good way to do that is to divide your practice time among the three most popular clay target sports: trap, skeet, and sporting clays.

“The trap range is great for working on the basics, but I encourage young shooters to try to get to the skeet range to practice crossing targets,” Stevens says, “and sporting clays is really good for working on incoming shots.”

Safety First

Last but not least, Stevens is adamant that young shooters practice using the safety on their guns at all times while at the range. “It’s a habit that we all have to build, and it is something that we work on all summer,” Stevens says. “Please use your safety.”