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Fine-Tune Your Wing-Shooting in Just 3 Boxes of Shells

Short on time? Here's a wing-shot workout to help up your odds of downing more birds this season.

Fine-Tune Your Wing-Shooting in Just 3 Boxes of Shells
Achieve wing-shooting mastery with three boxes of shells.

If you have limited time for anything besides work, kids, dog training, household chores and (checks notes) your spouse, make your precious minutes at the clay-target range count. Here’s a way to save some time and money while improving your odds of hitting more birds this season.

It’s all predicated on a concept I was taught as a musician: Only perfect practice makes perfect. If you’ve ever churned away at scales on the piano or bar chords on the guitar, you know there are only so many repetitions you can do well. After that, you’re phoning it in and all the “good” earlier rounds are erased by the sloppy later ones that booger up your developing skillset. Or maybe you play golf, where the same holds true for your swing.

In fact, for any activity that requires your brain, eyes and hands to work in concert, it’s the same: Burnout is real, and it happens real fast. Any number of motor-learning studies confirm that shorter, more focused practice sessions lead to increased proficiency, whatever the task.

shotgun shooter at target range
One of the keys to productive off-season range time is to mimic the mechanics you’ll use in the field this fall. (Shutterstock image)

In the bird fields, every shot counts, and the same holds true at the range, where we lug out a case of shells and burn every single grain of powder, flinging lead into the air in hopes of “getting better” as our concentration wanes and our shoulder throbs in pain.

Truth is, few people have the discipline, intestinal fortitude or stamina to practice a lot and do it well. So try this strategy and shoot less, hit more targets now and drop more birds next season.

Box #1

Shoot all 25 shells in your first box of ammo at straight, going-away targets. That’s what most of the birds did last season, right? Work on foot position—about shoulder-width apart, pretty much squared up in the direction you think the bird will fly. Start with a low gun, not pre-mounted as in trap. Take a half-step toward the target with your lead foot as you shoulder the gun and pull the trigger.

Change things up by being “less ready” when the target flies, even walking up to the shooting station if you’re allowed. Make the little step and shoot. That half-step not only gets you facing the correct direction, it’s a physical reminder to get your face “in the gun.” Gently-rising targets also help your cheek and gun stock meet cordially, ensuring a good sight picture.

Box #2

Next, shoot some low birds by adjusting your thrower or shooting rabbit or “chukar” stations at ranges that have them. Quail, sharpies and Huns are notorious for flying at brush-top level. Focus on your gun mount and keep your eyes on the prize as it flies. No distractions, just tunnel vision. Start with your gun in a “ready” position that puts it a little more forward than you’re used to, so gun movement is minimal and there’s less chance for a waving muzzle. Slow down and deliberately move the gun’s butt to the pocket your shoulder creates as you mount.

Your front hand should carry most of the gun’s weight, essentially thrusting at the target. That minimizes the muzzle’s up-down rocking motion caused by your trigger hand pushing up as you mount. These are the hardest to hit (at least for me) because I’ve got to work hard at putting my face to the gunstock—“wood to wood” as the old timers say.

Gun mount is a perfect homework assignment (don’t worry, we’ll grade on a curve). Work on this with snap caps and dry firing so everything becomes second nature. Step, acquire the target with your eyes, mount and pull the trigger in a smooth, slow-motion dance. The trigger pull is a critical part of this effort, not only to put an exclamation point on the act but to ensure your two hands are coordinated with your eyes.

Hunter with hunting dog
Since most birds tend to flush and fly straight away, make dialing in that shot a priority this summer. (Photo by Scott Linden)

Box #3

For the third box, add gently crossing shots. Seldom will you be so out of position to make a radical hard left or right crossing shot. Dial in a smooth swing that is less hands-and-arms and more about the whole body naturally accompanying your eyes to the target. It’s easier if you’ve already nailed foot position and gun mount. Focus on the target’s leading edge. There’s no need to think too much about how much lead you’re using at most birdy distances. Remember the adage “butt-beak-bang” and you’ll probably do just fine.

Crossing targets force you to move your entire body and head as a cohesive unit from the hips, not the shoulders. The gun doesn’t really “swing;” its movement is the product of the hips, shoulders, head and eyes working together. A bonus when you do that slowly is you’re less inclined to peel the gun stock from your cheek on those left-to-right crossers (for a right-handed shooter). Again, this is a fantastic at-home assignment. Track the intersection of wall and ceiling, mount the gun and pull the trigger as you hit a corner. Just be careful you’re not “riding” the target with the mounted gun, which can lead to errors. The moment your gun hits your shoulder, say “bang.”

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Then quit. Gas up the lawnmower and get started on those chores. If you want more practice, save your bottles and cans to buy more ammo and go back to the range in a few days. Your shoulder and your head will thank you when that next pheasant falls to a well-placed shot.


  • This article was featured in the June-July 2024 West edition of Game & Fish magazine. Click to subscribe.



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