November is the month of the shotgun. All across Indiana, countless scatterguns are being dusted off to chase waterfowl, upland game and even the occasional turkey. As you prepare for the hunt, whether headed to the field next door in Clinton County for bit of rabbit chasing or the sagebrush of eastern Oregon to pester chukars, here are ten tips for better shotgun shooting:
Point #1: Make sure the gun fits- Every shooting authority and instructor will tell you that proper fit of the shotgun is critical to consistent shooting. A formal fitting session is best if you have the time and money but you can do a fair job at home with a large sheet of paper or one of your wife’s old bed sheets.
Make a 2-inch aiming point on the center of your target, step back 16 feet and blast away using light loads and a tight choke. After several shots, you should clearly see if the pattern is centered. If the main shot spread seems to be above or below the point of aim, you will need to adjust the height of your cheek rest (comb) using either padding or alternately, a saw. This assumes the angle of the butt plate is already correct for the weapon.
If the pattern is significantly left or right, you will need the “cast” (lateral bend) of the stock adjusted. Leave this job to a qualified gunsmith as it is beyond the skills of the back-room gun plumber.
The length of the stock (“length of pull”) in relation to your body is also critical to proper fit. You can easily lengthen the stock using recoil pads and spacers while a saw is the only remedy for a too-long stock.
Point #2: Point, don’t aim- This is the first rule of shotgunning because scatterguns are meant to be pointed rather than aimed like a rifle. If you attempt to carefully center that ivory front sight bead on a flitting quail, you will undoubtedly miss. Instead, watch the target and superimpose the bead between your eye and the bird.
Point #3: Practice, practice, practice- Remember the old joke: “How to you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer, “Practice, practice, practice,” also applies to shooting sports. The ability to consistently hit a target is a perishable skill that requires periodic practice in order to maintain proficiency because with each passing day after the last shot, your skill slowly deteriorates. For off-season shotgun practice, sporting clays is arguably the best way to keep your edge for the hunting season. It’s also a highly enjoyable pastime in itself.
Point #4: Shoot one bird at a time- This isn’t so much an issue for pheasant and grouse hunters but most other game birds travel in tight groups. That means regardless if you bust a covey of bobwhites or are ready to blast away as a flight of mallards set their wings over your spread, it is imperative to pick one single bird from the group. Make yourself choose a single target before pulling the trigger because merely pointing your gun at a mass of rapidly-moving blobs is a common reason shooters make “impossible misses.”
Point #5: The eyes have it- This is the second part of admonition to shoot at a single bird. Once you have picked out a bird, look for the eye. If you can see the eye, the animal is close enough to shoot.
Point #6: Don’t stop swinging- When shooting at moving targets, it is imperative to continue swinging the weapon after the shot. This is known as “follow-through” and is vital to hitting the target rather than behind it.
Point #7: Test your load- Rifle shooters literally spend hours testing their favorite loads and tweaking the multitude of variable before heading to the field. Shotgunners, on the other hand, simply grab a box of shells or several handfuls from their buddy and go blithely into the wilds, later wondering why they missed or wounded game. The shotgun isn’t a precision instrument like a rifle but different loads have significant impacts on pattern and range. Do enough research, hopefully backed up by patterning or field testing, to understand the limitations of your current ammunition.
Point #8: Don’t rush- It might seem counter-intuitive but try not to rush your shot. Even if you are flushing woodcock in heavy cover, train your brain to take a few milliseconds before firing to check that your gun is properly mounted, pointed at the target and moving with the animal.
Point #9: Get instruction- Even pro shooters periodically go back to school. While practice and self-critique is vital to shooting improvement, there is a limit to how insightful we can be with ourselves. Spending a few hours being coached by a shooting instructor can improve your game considerably. Failing that, at least make a video of yourself shooting a round of trap or skeet. Reviewing it later with a critical eye will probably reveal a few bad habits.
Point #10: When something is wrong, change it! – If you miss several consecutive shots, stop and analyze your shooting then change something. Lengthen your lead, adjust your body position, change ammo, shoot slower or modify one of the million factors involved in hitting a target. Don’t become increasingly frustrated as you continue to miss while shooting “the same way you always did.” Obviously, it ain’t working so change it!