I didn't watch my buddy as the covey of quail rumbled out in front of my setter Rebel’s nose. Some went left, some went right, and my pal took the straight, going-away bird. I knew he was going to kill it, as it was one of the easiest shots in the book. In skeet terms, his was a station-7 low-house shot. He missed with the bottom barrel, then he missed with the top. I gave him grief because that’s what friends are for, but truth be told, I've whiffed on that kind of shot, too.
If you're a wingshooter, most field and marsh shots you’ll see this fall are simple. They're either going-aways (straight or at an angle), incomers or crossers. Master those shots now and you'll put more birds in your bag this fall.
RISING, GOING-AWAY SHOTS
Why We Miss: Wild birds flushed from the ground present rising targets. The most common reason we miss is because we shoot under the bird. That can happen several ways. Mostly, we lift our cheek off the stock to get a sneak peak of the folded-up bird. We want to know if we hit it and then mark where it falls. Other times, we stop our swing. We pick up the bird, swing and mount our gun and blot out the target. But the bird is rising, and if we don’t follow through, we shoot under. A final reason is that we soften our focus and target acquisition. For crying out loud, it’s the easiest shot in the book! Well, that alone is a big reason for missing.
How to Hit: Target acquisition is the most important part. When the bird flushes, concentrate on its flight path. Keep the stock tight to your face so your cheek rolls over the top of the comb. Raise your muzzle from underneath the bird until you catch up with it. Blot it out, continue your swing, pull the trigger and follow through. You won’t need to wonder if you hit the bird; you’ll be able to see it fold up out of the corner of your eye. If you need a second shot, re-adjust and follow the same path.
Where to Practice: Trap is by far the best place to practice going-aways, mostly because the target presentation varies in trajectory. Some clays pitch slightly to the left, others slightly right and some fly straight ahead. Practice taking quick shots—as in, as soon as you pick up the clay pigeon coming out of the house. That way the clay doesn’t fly out of your pattern density and choke configuration. Another option is station-7 low-house in skeet. Those are straight-away rising shots. Try to break those quickly, too.
Why We Miss: Ducks dropping into your spread seem ridiculously easy. We miss because birds are close, their wings are cupped and they are slowing down to pitch into the dekes. All of that leads us to believe we should shoot right at them. But the duck is dropping, and after we blot out the target, we typically stop our swing. We miss by shooting over the bird.
How to Hit: When ducks are committed, pick out the bird you want to kill and concentrate on its flight path. When you mount your shotgun, swing along its line of descent until you catch up with the bird. Keep moving your muzzle until you block out the target and continue pushing beyond the bird. Squeeze your trigger when your muzzle is just below the bird and follow through. The key is remembering that the duck is dropping and so should your muzzle. The same principle can be used on upland birds that flush from higher up and drop into a draw or coulee.
Where to Practice: Head to a clays course and find the high incoming targets that drop in front. Another good place to practice is the springing teal station. Instead of breaking the clay when it’s suspended in the air (neither rising nor falling), wait until it starts to drop. You’ll need to shoot below the target for sure, and it’s excellent practice for decoyed ducks.
Why We Miss: Crossing shots involve lead, and sometimes our eyes play tricks on us. Buddies share comments like “one inch in front of the bird” or “lead by four feet.” Those are helpful to a degree, but to master crossing shots we need lots of repetitions so our eyes tell our hands where our muzzle should be. Misses on crossers are almost always behind.
How to Hit: The key here is to follow the four Bs: butt, belly, beak, bang. Acquire your target and start swinging your muzzle from behind. Keep swinging until your muzzle catches up with the bird’s butt, then its belly and up to the beak. Stay in the same flight path as the bird. When you have daylight between the beak and your muzzle, pull the trigger and follow through. Remember what you see when the clay breaks because that will be your visual cue for determining how much to lead your birds. Keep repeating until that view is committed to muscle memory.
Where To Practice: A skeet range is ideal. Instead of shooting a round, stay on stations 3, 4 and 5. Skeet fields pace out at 21 yards, so move on to crossing shots at five stand. Most of those will be at distances greater than 21 yards, and they will get your lead sharp across a number of different situations.
Summer homework isn’t fun, but shooting sure is. Head to the clays courses and dust some targets. Come fall you’ll be locked, cocked and ready to rock.