Have you ever missed a shot? I know, dumb question. We’ve all missed. What did you learn from your misses? Despite what some people think, it is easier than not to miss with a shotgun and each miss can teach you something.
One of my worst misses with a shotgun came during a turkey hunt. I was an inexperienced turkey hunter, but somehow managed to call in two big toms from across 2oo yards of open field to the spot I was sitting in. I carefully lined up on the lead bird and squeezed off those few pounds of tension on the trigger. Feathers flew and I jumped up from my perch only to see both toms doing the full-tilt boogie back across the field.
How did I miss? In my second guessing I made an even bigger mistake by telling some of my friends about it. It took the rest of spring, summer, and well into the following waterfowl season to live it down. That was years ago and they still bring it up on occasion. The real culprit in the miss was that I had misjudged the yardage.
Mistaking how far away a target is a prime way to miss. And with waterfowl, it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to measure because you’re dealing with fast-moving birds. One tactic you can do to work on judgment is to observe birds as much as possible. One of the most useful training tools I have is a Bushnell laser rangefinder. I use it during the hunt too, but while scouting, I’ll often put it on a few birds sitting on a pond or on the shore just to get an idea of how they look from certain yardages.
During a hunt, I’ll set up decoys at specific yardages and use the rangefinder to make sure. It gives me a little reassurance that I know how far everything is in relation to my set up. Anything you can do to bolster your confidence is a great way to control misses.The next step in knowing your range is to pattern your loads and shotgun. This is something I do every season and several times throughout. You have to know how that shot is coming out of the muzzle of your gun and how it reacts at all of the ranges you feel comfortable shooting at. This will help you determine your effective range and goes right back to that confidence building that is paramount to successful hunting.
I like using Orange Peel Duck Targets from Caldwell. It gives me a realistic look at what my shot spread is doing at a given range and how many pellets are hitting in the kill zone at that distance.
Aside from misjudging the range, the biggest reason we miss is simply mechanical. It starts with how you mount the gun to your shoulder. You need to bring the gun up so that every time, the barrel aligns with your eye. It has to be a fluid motion that becomes instinctual. I know, you hear that a lot, but it is true, and it’s not as hard as you might think.
Let’s start with the basic mechanics. I’m right handed and like many of you, always mounted the gun across my body from right to left. Then I noticed how Olympic shooters always squared themselves to the target. It takes some getting used to, but if you square your shoulders toward the target and hold your gun more in front of you than across your body, it opens up your range of motion. It also allows you to follow the target with your body much easier.
When you follow a target with your arms, you’re messing up the mount of your gun to your shoulder. But squaring off and moving your upper body with the target, your mount is rock solid all the way through the shot. You can practice doing this in your house with an empty gun. Trust me, it takes some getting used to but is worth it in the end.
With your mount in order, the next issue that a lot of shooters have is taking their eye off the target. I’m a firm believer that the dot on the barrel of my shotgun is there for practice only. By the time I’m shooting at something, I’m not even looking at it. I notice it in my peripheral vision, but my eyes are solidly on the target and my body is moving in the follow-through.
My wife has a terrible time shooting clays. She misses almost all the time and she knows it. She also knows why. She over thinks the shot each time and forgets to follow the target. When she stops thinking about it and just does it, she makes more shots. Now in the field, she’s a stone-cold killer. She focuses on the goose, or the duck, and quite often makes the shot. Don’t overthink your shot.
Now practice does make perfect, or so I’m told. What works for me might not work for you, so take this with a grain of salt. I do a lot of practice mounts with my shotgun in my basement. Just bringing it up to my shoulder over and over again helps. Sometimes I will turn around and focus on something against the wall and bring the gun up. When I’m “on target” I can then recheck my mount and usually, the bead on the barrel is right where I want it to be.
When I go to the range for a round of skeet or sporting clays, I’ll start out the year with field loads and an open choke. By mid-summer, I’ve switched to a tighter choke, like I’d use in the field. By the later stages of summer, and with the seasons just around the corner, I’m shooting a round or two at a time using the same 3-1/2-inch loads I’d use on geese or ducks. Sure the guys at the range think I’m a little nuts, but I don’t have a bit of flinch at shooting heavy magnum loads and I know what my gun will do at a given range.
So there you go. With practice, you should be able to follow a target, mount your gun correctly, keep your eye on the target and shoot, know exactly what your gun will do, and what your load will do. You should never miss again. But you will. We all do. Sometimes you just miss. There are just some things we can’t control. Plus, no matter who you are, sometimes the excitement of the hunt just catches up to us and we miss. I once told someone that I never actually miss; goose feathers are made of Kevlar and the shot simply bounced off. I had her going for a while. Own up to your misses. Take the ribbing you’ll get from your buddies. It’s OK. Remember, hunting is not the same as killing. It’s not easy.
Images by Derrek Sigler