See if this sounds familiar: Ducks swing over your decoys, so you rise, mount your gun confidently and — miss the first shot. It happens frequently; probably more than we’d like to admit.
Often, you redeem yourself on the second or third rounds, and then your buddies crack cheesy jokes about the first shot being a warning. Still, you wonder how you blew the initial — and often best — opportunity.
This might be the No. 1 culprit. Sometimes, ducks take you by surprise, or you mistakenly believe you must hurry to shoot. That causes poor execution and predictable results.
Solution: Slow down, and don’t panic. You almost always have a bit more time than you think. Even if birds catch you flat-footed, identify the best target, and then calmly use good shooting form: Mount your shotgun, bore holes in the target with your eyes, swing through the bird and let instinct dictate when you slap the trigger.
Multiple-bird situations can fill your head with visions of doubles or triples. However, it’s tough to double or triple if you whiff with the first round. Many times, you flock-shoot instead of picking out one target and focusing on the initial chance.
Solution: Again, slow down, and analyze the situation. Pick out one bird, and act as if you only have one shell loaded. You can move on to the second and third shots afterward. Hint: With big flocks, you’ll often be tempted to shoot the “candy duck” — the bird that commits completely at close range while others are still incoming. Instead, try to choose a bird toward the back of the flock that’s in good range. If you succeed with shot No. 1, you can always refocus on the candy duck, which will likely flush or flare but remain an easy target.
My buddies and I laugh often about the old bluebill switch-up, when two incomers suddenly switch positions at the moment of truth. Experienced wingshooters shouldn’t have a problem with this, as they can quickly change gears to the bird on their side and make the shot. But this is more difficult than it sounds, as you’re often so focused on the duck you assumed you’d target.
Solution: Pause a split second before shooting. Experience will dictate which bird you should take, so don’t get flummoxed or, worse, goof up your buddy’s shot by shooting at the duck on his side. Calmly and confidently take the shot on the target in your zone.
Before any shot, keep a cool head, swiftly sum up the opportunity and then react. Call shots with authority, or make sure someone in your group does so. Then pick out one target, and make it count.
Sounds easy, right? No worries. Remember, the first shot is just a warning.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.