Recently, Beretta columnist Bill Miller explored different types of wingshooting techniques from a practical perspective of hand-eye coordination and mechanics. Now it's time to look at how those techniques apply in the field for different situations. Tom Keer explores the topic in more detail.
I didn't mind that the week of snow that fell in knee-high drifts ended my grouse season. It had been a great few months of snap shooting over solid points. While inland coverts were now a frozen tundra, the nearby ocean hadn't yet iced over. Add to the fact that the cold snap pushed big flocks of sea ducks, Canada geese, and Brant into the bay it was easy for me to make the switch. All I had to do was to trade my 28 gauge for a 12-gauge, my lead shot for steel, and my blaze orange for camo.
That first day of hunting was a hot mess for about 15 minutes into legal shooting time I had a flock of oldsquaw buzz my spread. In an instant, I mounted my gun and shot. Miss, miss, and they were gone. My second chance came 10 minutes later when a half-dozen bufflehead whizzed by. I missed them all as well. Instead of sulking, I thought about why I whiffed, and the answer was a simple fix: I was snap shooting just as I had been doing for the past few months on grouse and woodcock. Once I got my head on straight, I switched to sustained lead. I was much happier when a knot of brant pitched into my blocks, but unfortunately, they were not.
Matching your shotgunning technique to the birds you're hunting helps put more game in the bag. Here are four common styles to choose from which to choose.
Snap shooting is the defacto technique when you're hunting in thick, primary and secondary growth. If you don't shoot quickly, then the birds disappear in the thick cover, trees, and leaf canopy. The jungle provides birds like grouse and woodcock with confidence, and they'll hold tight. That said, there are lots of limbs and leaves to block your vision. These birds flush quickly and closely; their flights are dodgy and erratic, so you'll need to take a quick shot. Pull the trigger as soon as your stock hits your shoulder, and your muzzle is a hair in front of the bird. For better pattern spread match snap shots with open chokes and light loads. Practice on a skeet field's station one/high house and station seven low/house. Try and hit the clay as quickly as you can.
The Brits refer to swing through as the 4B's: Butt, Belly, Beak, Bang. That's self-explanatory, for when a pheasant, quail, or waterfowl is in view move your muzzle from the bird's butt through its belly, and past the beak. Pull the trigger when you have some daylight ahead of the beak. The most important part of this technique is the follow through, which is keeping the muzzle moving after the shot. Wingshooting is like any sport, with follow through being important to success. Swing through is an excellent technique for mid-range birds. On a skeet field, practice on stations two and six with targets coming from both the high and low houses.
If you're shooting birds at moderate-to-long distances, sustained lead provides an edge. Study the flight plan of your bird to determine if it is rising, descending, or flying at a consistent height. Because the bird is farther away, you'll need to factor in the lead, and determining lead takes practice. Estimate the distance in front of the bird, maintain a consistent muzzle speed that is in front of the bird, and squeeze the trigger. Sustained lead requires more practice to determine the correct lead, so spend some time on a skeet range or a clays course to perfect. It's best to stick with one target presentation until you are consistently breaking clays. Skeet stations three, four and five are the most helpful for learning to shoot sustained lead.
If you're having a difficult time determining the proper amount of lead or you are stopping your swing when squeezing the trigger, try the technique called pull away. The muzzle of your shotgun is first pointed at the flying bird or target. Then, slowly but consistently accelerate your muzzle ahead of the bird, squeeze the trigger and follow through. Some shooters think the name pull away means a fast, jerky motion should be used. Instead, smooth and steady wins the race.
Match your swing to the birds or clays you're shooting, and change them as often as necessary. It's the only way you can keep from missing as I did...