It is being hailed as quite possibly one of the biggest years for waterfowl migrations in memory with record numbers of ducks being pushed south in bits and pieces by time and weather. And as hunting seasons open and more hunters take to the nation’s ponds, flooded timber and open bays, any sportsman who loves to shoulder a shotgun won’t want to miss out. However, if you’re not part of the diehard waterfowling masses, and even if you are, you may not have done the best job at keeping in shooting shape during the offseason.
I know for myself, tending to be more occupied with larger game earlier in the fall, my preparation for duck hunting often equates to getting a late evening invite over the phone to be at such and such a boat landing before dawn the next day. The result is admittedly some pretty atrocious wingshooting the first outing or two. Hoping to dodge the embarrassment this year, I turned to renowned shooting coach Marty Fischer for some advice. Besides being an avid wingshooter and co-host of “TNT Outdoor Explosion” on the Pursuit Channel, he’s also one of the world’s most sought-after designers of sporting clays courses, a National Sporting Clays Association Level III instructor and author of the “Shooter’s Bible Guide to Shotgunning.” Here’s what he suggests every shooter do before heading to the water for ducks or geese.
1. Practice Your Mount “The absolute best thing you can do to get ready for the season is gun mount practice,” said Fischer. “What’s best is you can do this at home, too, since you don’t actually have to fire your shotgun.”
Fischer explained that a poor gun mount is one of the biggest reasons wingshooters miss, because their body, head and the shotgun are not all aligned as they need to be for proper aim and shooting. Establishing a proper gun mount is as simple as bringing the shotgun up by using your front hand to push the fore-end toward the target and lifting the buttstock of the gun to your face with your rear hand. Raise it to the base of your cheekbone without lowering your head. Bobbing your head up and down each time you prepare to fire will lead to an inconsistent mount and aim.
“You want your hands to work together as a team. If one outworks the other, you will make a mistake,” Fischer said. He also stressed the importance of bringing the gun to your face, not your shoulder, as many shooters naturally tend to do. “If you bring the gun to your face, it comes to the shoulder naturally since it has nowhere else to go.”
He recommended practicing each mount in sets of 25 in order to develop muscle memory. Do so by aiming into a mirror or at a selected object on the wall. Naturally, you always want to ensure that your firearm is unloaded prior to practicing in the home. The shooting coach also suggests going beyond simply standing and aiming, as duck and goose hunters will frequently begin their mounts in the field from different positions than standing. If you will be shooting from a blind, practice going from sitting to standing as you mount. If you will be shooting from a boat, practice mounting your shotgun from a sitting position, and if you are going to be shooting from a layout blind, lay on the floor, put a pillow beneath your head, lay your shotgun across your body and practice going from laying down to sitting up and shooting.
“Practicing your gun mount and developing that muscle memory is vital. When mounting a shotgun you are making a motion with your arms that you don’t mimic in any other activity in your life. A gun mount doesn’t mimic anything,” he said.
2. Exercise Those Eyes “This will sound funny to some people, but I think it is really important to exercise your eyes as well,” Fischer said. He explained that the eyes are understandably the most important part of shooting a shotgun. “Until your eyes lock on the target, your hands have no idea where to go.”
Fischer suggests developing exercises that will help you train your eyes to quickly and critically focus on sharp details. It can be something as simple as putting the ceiling fan on low and then focusing on a single blade as it circles, or going outside and consciously focusing on moving objects as they travel such as birds or vehicles or, in the autumn, falling leaves on a windy day.
3. Make Range Time Of course, not all practice can be passively done in or around the home. Like a football team in a scrimmage game, you have to head outside and shoot in scenarios that will best mimic the types of shots experienced during actual hunting. Fischer noted that a lot of guys head to the trap or skeet range, though he concedes that would not be his recommended option.
“Don’t shoot trap to practice for waterfowl as you will get suckered into premounting your shotgun, which works on the range, but isn’t practical in a real hunting situation,” said Fischer. He noted that skeet shooters are also accustomed to premounting their guns and because targets are always coming from a known direction and speed, often put lead on their target before they even see it.
Fischer shared that he had a duck hunting partner once who practiced on the skeet range and as a result had a tendency to actually shoot ahead of his target when duck hunting.
Instead, Fischer recommended hunters hit the sporting clays course where shots come from a variety of presentations, designed specifically to replicate the approach of birds when hunting. Because every course is different, shooters also must react solely to the shot before them rather than fully anticipating shots from a set station like they encounter in skeet.
Oh, and don’t take your fine over/under when you go. Take the same exact shotgun you’ll be using when waterfowling. Practicing with that shotgun will breed the familiarity you need to be a consistent shot on the marsh.
4. Perform a Dress Rehearsal Odds are when you practice your mount or actual shooting, you are either going to be in a warm house or outside on the range where the weather is apt to be a little nicer than you’re willing to endure during an actual hunt. Few of us are going to go outside and practice when the wind is howling, the rain falling and the temps hovering near freezing (though we really should). Either way, we’ll likely be wearing fewer clothes than what we’ll need to see us through a subfreezing morning in the duck blind or wading in flooded timber. And those extra clothes can change everything about how our shotgun shoulders.
For that reason, turn up the AC, get up early when the temps are cooler or stand in a walk-in freezer with the waders, heavy coat, gloves and other gear that you’ll be wearing when you hunt and practice mounting your shotgun. When you first start, you’ll be amazed how often the buttstock gets caught up in your coat or how you fumble with gloved hands.
To prevent hang ups, Fischer recommended replacing your normal recoil pad with a thinner one or, barring that, simply sliding your fore-end hand back a half inch. The adjustment in your hold will naturally pull the gun slightly forward, keeping the stock from catching in the crease of your jacket beneath your arm.