Duck Shooting: Mission Impossible?

Shooting “sitting ducks” is a term often used to describe shooting a target nearly impossible to miss. Most ducks, however, are shot while they are flying and shooting a flying duck is tantamount to a mission impossible.

The duck is getting closer and it’s time to shoot. Shoulder the shotgun, swing on the bird, get the lead just right and bam! The duck keeps on flying.

Don’t feel bad about your poor shooting. Let me explain.

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When firing at a moving target such as a flying duck, the shooter has to compensate for the speed of the load of shot, the speed of the duck and other variables when pulling the trigger. If he or she simply aims the gun, as one would do when shooting at a sitting duck, the result will be a miss.

Loads of shot are fast, but not instantaneous. By the time an aiming shooter fires and the cloud of shot pellets travels the distance between shooter and duck, the bird will have moved far enough to escape being hit. To score a hit, the shooter has to anticipate where the target will be located when the shot gets there. In essence he or she has to shoot where there is no duck to make sure the shot arrives where there is a duck.

Hypothetically simple, one would think. If a shooter knows how far away the duck is flying and how fast it’s moving, plus the speed of the shot, the “firing solution” to use a military term, would be a simple math problem using formulae involving speed, distance and time.
Most ducks easily fly 30 miles per hour. Most shotguns fire shells with a muzzle velocity of 1300 feet per second. Flying ducks are commonly shot 30 yards from the shooter.

Solve a series of simple math problems, then shoot. First convert 30 miles per hour to inches per second. Thirty mph X 5280 = 158,400 feet per hour. Divide that number by 60 to calculate the speed of the duck in feet per minute (2640) then divide that by 60 seconds to calculate the speed feet per second, then multiply that answer by 12 to get inches per second. The duck is flying 528 inches per second. Save that number.

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Now do another math problem to learn how long it will take a load of shot to travel 30 yards. Thirteen hundred feet per second divided by three feet in a yard equals 433.3 yards per second. The duck is 30 yards away, so divide 30 yards by 433.3 and you learn it will take 0.07 seconds for the shot to get from the end of the barrel of the gun to where the duck will be 0.07 seconds in the future.

The final calculation is to multiply the first number (528) by the second number (0.07) to produce the number 36.9 which is the distance in inches the duck will fly in the time it takes the shot to travel from the end of the shotgun to the place the duck will be occupying .07 seconds in the future.

All a hunter needs to do is pull the trigger when the shotgun is pointed at a spot 36.9 inches in front of the duck. Right? These easy, mathematic conclusion skips some basic facts.
Perhaps the duck may actually be flying 25 miles per hour or 40 mph. Change the speed, change the math. Recompute.

Perhaps the duck is only 20 yards away – or 40? Recompute! Still simple math.
But what if the duck was slowing down looking for a spot to land among the decoys? What if it was accelerating, trying to escape? Recompute, but it’s no longer simple math.

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The above computations were based on a duck crossing in front of the shooter at exactly 90 degrees. The whole formula changes and becomes infinitely more complicated if the duck is approaching at a 45 degree angle – or 30, or if it’s getting farther away leaving at a 117 degree angle.

Realize, of course shot pellets don’t travel at a constant velocity. A pellet leaving the barrel of the gun at 1300 feet per second may only be traveling 850 feet per second at 30 yards. It’s easy math to figure how long it takes a load to travel a specific distance if it’s going a constant speed. It takes more math skills than I possess to complete the actual calculation.
Most important is that all these calculations have to be made in the head of the shooter in second or two.

The next time you miss a duck, don’t despair unless it was sitting. Hitting a flying duck is almost humanly impossible.

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Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at


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