With hot summertime temperatures, some might be surprised that we’ve already got our sights focused on waterfowl and upland hunting season. There are those out shooting summer leagues at the shotgun range and others who are booking September teal hunts, November pheasant hunts, and January goose pursuits. As many approach the stand at the range, they think of their scores, winning a shoot, or how to prepare for hunting season.
I’ve never done much good at shooting clay targets out of the air. However, put a zinging Mini-F-15, also known as a Blue-Winged Teal, in front of my blind, and my A300 helps me knock them from the air. So, how is it that some clays range time might help me to become proficient at hunting live birds?
First of all, the range has no mercy on a shooter who doesn’t have a shotgun fit properly. Fortunately, clay sports like trap, skeet or sporting clays give you plenty of opportunities to practice mounting your shotgun consistently. Learning to mount the shotgun perfectly every time is key to aligning one’s eye down the rib, to the bead, and beyond to the target.
Spending multiple days, shooting rounds, at the range will help develop your shooting muscles and the muscle memory needed to continually mount your shotgun the same way every time.
Choking it Down
While we tend to use target loads at the range, we’ll choose the appropriate shot size four our hunts according to the aviary we pursue. One thing is for sure; we’ll use similar choke tubes both at the range and in the field.
A novice shooter will notice they receive a score for chipping the clay while shooting a broader pattern spread with an Improved Cylinder choke tube. If they pay close attention, they’ll see a seasoned shooter completely demolish the targets. Expert shooters often use Full Choke tubes, which create the tightest pattern. Most of the shot pellets are impacting the clay, thus turning it to dust.
Swinging the shotgun
The more time you spend shooting at the range, the more proficient you’ll become at leading birds, and at swinging your gun. When you are well practiced, you won't need to rely on using a wide-pattern choke in hopes of barely chipping your target. On the hunting field, a "chip" isn't good enough; you'll want a solid hit on the bird to knock it down quickly and with authority. Improving your swing and learning how to choke down your shot will aid in becoming a better hunter.
On the clays range when shooting many rounds, you’ll use lower-recoil target loads to preserve your shoulder. In the field, you’ll need to choose hunting loads to make good shots on live birds. The right shot size is determined based on the type of bird you’re pursuing. A dove is a small bird; thus small shot is effective. If you’re hunting Canada or Snow Geese, you’ll need a larger shot. You can learn more about choosing the right shotgun shells here and through one of the videos in our ultimate duck hunting resources page.
One thing that a shooter will learn at the range is patience. You may become frustrated when you miss a target at the trap range. It’s likely that your shooting will become worse the more the frustration mounts. This is where patience must come in. You’ll have to remember to learn from your mistakes and be patient with yourself.
Patience helps us wait for live birds, shake off the miss of a clay target, and also regain our focus after we’ve been caught daydreaming during a morning dry-spell in the blind. At the range, you always have to be ready. In the blind, you always have to be ready. You also can’t beat yourself up if you’re caught off guard, swinging left when the clay went right, or when the Pheasant hops up directly in front of you after the dog should’ve already flushed it.
Quality time at the range is all part of the learning experience. There is much we can learn at the range that in turn will make us more proficient in the field. This summer, take your Beretta and shoot some sporting clays. Heck, that hopper of a bunny just might help you when you’re after some scurrying quail. Get to the range and get prepared for hunting season.