Part I: Theory In Practice
Some shooters learn to lead a predictable skeet target or a passing duck mechanically and become passable shots if the targets remain fairly consistent. Others blame missing on an ill-fitting shotgun, cross-dominant eyes or a porous new choke. Many I’ve met simply grow frustrated, shoot even less and then proclaim, “I’m a rifleman, not a shotgunner.”
Indeed, on paper it seems impossible to calculate the angle, speed and distance of a flying target fast enough to hit it. Yet, like throwing a football, if you learn to focus your concentration properly, trust your hands and ignore your nagging brain as it begs you to aim, with practice you can become a great wingshot. But before you learn how to drop more birds in the field, it helps to understand the theory behind a relatively unexplored method on how to do it.
Then last summer I visited Seven Springs resort in western Pennsylvania where noted shotgun instructors Gil and Vicki Ash teach their Optimum Shotgun Performance (OSP) Shooting School. I soon learned that Gil and Vicki’s method of instinctive shooting contains many of the infantile notions about wingshooting that I harbor, except their theory is bona fide via science and results. Although they don’t have a name for it, I call it the “see and shoot” method. Essentially that’s all it is; you focus on a target and shoot it without looking at the gun. It does away with chasing the target with the gun, increasing barrel speed at the last moment or worrying about lead lengths in terms of feet and inches.
This theory suggests that wingshooting is not a precision sport—your shotgun fires a swath of pellets—so the sooner you quit trying to be perfect, the faster you’ll have success.
Complex Algorithms Made Easy
But to do this you first must learn how to mount the gun properly every time. (See sidebar and flashlight drill on p. 48.) Only after you have learned to bring the gun to cheek smoothly while the hands, body, head and eyes follow the target (or bird) will you have consistent success.
Sounds simple, right? Like you can’t miss. Of course you can, however, because there are a dozen things that can go wrong. The most likely reasons are due to focusing on the gun, not seeing the target well, improper mounting or not inserting the barrel ahead of the target. If you miss, try to identify what you did wrong and correct it. When you make a hit, take a mental snapshot of what you saw and how it felt so you can duplicate it. This will help your brain coordinate what it sees with where the hands should be. Above all, remember to slow down, relax, focus only on the target, and whatever you do, don’t let that dreaded space between your ears get in the way of your success!
Correct Body and Gun Position
Head, Eyes and Hands: Focus on the front portion of the smallest detail of the target you can clearly see, and never take your eyes off it until you have fired. Move your head and body, not your eyes, to follow the target. Place your forefinger along the fore-end as if you are pointing at the target with it.
Gun: Keep your gun at the low-ready with the stock just under your armpit and the muzzle about level, above the dogs but below the target when it gets moving.
Leads: There are three categories of leads—defined as zones—in OSP’s system: Zone 1 (front edge of target) for incomers, slow- and close-quartering shots or out-goers; Zone 2 (2-8 feet) for close crossers and medium-quartering shots; Zone 3 (over 8 feet) for fast, long crossers. You will be amazed, however, that when you master this system you don’t have to consciously think about lead at all. Just see the target, and shoot it.
Part II: Techniques to Drop More Birds
Perhaps you, like me, have devoted most of your adult life to duplicating that moment over and over while loved ones continue to wish you’d just grow up. To paraphrase something Hemingway once wrote, from our first experience with upland birds and waterfowl, we’ve been consumed by them, and the thrill of each bird we kill is as good as the first. We’ve sought to refine our shooting technique through endless repetition, read books on shotgun theory and bought more dogs and shotguns than any mother-in-law would ever approve.