Author’s note: Marty Fischer, the host of TNT Outdoor Explosion on the Pursuit Channel, a professional wingshooter, a National Sporting Clays Association Level III shooting instructor, and a longtime Mossy Oak Pro Staff member, has designed more than 150 sporting clay facilities. Here are his tips for taking more doves.
Leading a dove
I believe the most important factor in taking doves is properly determining lead. My philosophy is to start the lead at the head of the bird instead of behind it. Most people miss doves because they shoot behind the birds. When the target is presented to the hunter in a crossing fashion (flying from right to left or left to right), many hunters have heard that more lead is required to successfully take down the bird, and that the “Butt, Belly, Beak” aiming system best determines the lead on a dove. Even though that system may work on fairly close targets, it won’t produce an effective lead on doves at a distance. The “Butt, Belly, Beak” system dictates that the hunter should swing his shotgun, coming from behind the bird, past the butt, belly, and beak of the dove, and continue to swing as he or she pulls the trigger. This style of leading a dove also is called the pass-through system of determining lead and works really well on flushing birds, like pheasants and quail, that are usually quartering away from you. It’s not as productive, however, when you are shooting doves.
Instead, when you prepare to shoot a dove, concentrate your attention and focus on the head of the bird. This system takes some practice, since most of our lives we have looked at the entire bodies of birds in flight. But, if you can narrow your focus to just the head of the dove, then, once you get your gun to your shoulder, start your swing with your bead on the head you’ll get a better lead. when you begin with your bead on the bird’s head, you already have your gun moving at the same speed as the dove. When the lead feels right, continue to move the gun forward past the bird’s head. Squeeze the trigger of your shotgun, and continue moving it forward. Your gun barrel doesn’t need to stop after you squeeze the trigger, because the bird doesn’t stop. Remember, the farther the bird is away from you, the more you will have to lead the bird. Also, the faster the bird flies, the more you have to lead the bird. This style is called pull away.
Shooting sporting clay courses before opening day
Most dove hunters don’t think about hunting or shooting doves until opening day. I once wrote an article titled “The Outdoor Social Crowd,” because dove hunting tends to be an outdoor social event as much as it is a hunting event. Usually a great dinner is served before the hunt, where shooters enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship. Often many of these hunters have very little experience actually shooting doves.
If you don’t have an opportunity to go to a sporting clay range, then at least practice mounting your gun a week or two before dove season. After a dove shoot, many dove hunters have black, blue, and green shoulders because they haven’t mounted their shotguns correctly. A proper gun mount is never a mount to the shoulder. The front hand should push the gun forward and move the stock to the base of your cheekbone at the same time, causing the stock to fit directly on your shoulder. Mounting the gun this way will enable you to hold the shotgun more steady as you make the swing.
One of the biggest mistakes I see a dove hunter make is bringing his gun to his shoulder and moving his head around like a bobble-head doll, trying to find the place his cheek is supposed to be on his stock before he shoots. The head has to be still on the stock when you squeeze the trigger to aim properly. For instance, when you are taking a golf swing, you want your head to stay still until the club hits the ball. In baseball, when your strike the ball, and the ball is coming to you, you want your head to be still until the bat makes contact with the ball. The same is true when you mount a gun to shoot a dove. You want your head to be still and steady as the gun comes to your cheek. Then your cheek and the gun lock together as one and you can shoot more accurately. If you push the gun toward the bird, the stock will come up naturally and correctly to the face. However, you don’t want to push the gun toward the bird too fast, or the stock will come away from the shoulder. The stock needs to ride up the shirt until it comes in contact with the hunter’s cheek and shoulder. Remember that the rear sight on a shotgun is your eye. A correct gun mount brings the eye and the bead on the shotgun in line, just like the rear sight and the front sight on a rifle have to be lined up correctly to make an accurate shot.
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Image courtesy John E. Philips