How to Beat a Shooting Slump

By author of The Duck Blog

Tips to try when you're running out shells but the ducks are still flying

Not every shot connects, but duck hunters can become frustrated when the whiffs pile up. Photo by Bill Konway

The drake gadwall hung in the stiff southeast wind, seemingly motionless at 25 yards as its primaries clawed for air to aid an unlikely escape. Meanwhile, I swung my barrel easily through the target and slapped the trigger, confident in the outcome.

But a funny thing happened on the way to that duck dinner.

Round No. 1 caught air — lots of air. Round No. 2, despite a quick adjustment, disappeared somewhere into the prairie sky. And Round No. 3 was simply a frustration shot that might not have even scared the fleeing bird.

I sank to my knees and uttered something unprintable on a family-oriented website. My retriever — I swear — sighed audibly. It had been an awful miss, and it wasn’t my first of the day. In fact, my rapidly shrinking shell supply indicated I was in a full-blown shooting slump, and I felt helpless to correct it.

Hey, it happens. And it’s incredibly humbling and frustrating. But if you want to keep collecting ducks, you must work your way out of occasional slumps. Here are some thoughts — from substantial painful experience — on how to do it.

Identify the Mistakes

Slumps often arise when you commit the same mistake repeatedly. Maybe you never quite got far enough ahead of those fast crossers. Perhaps you lost focus on easy incomers and shot the water below them. Or maybe you waited a bit too long on high overhead opportunities and took off-balance pokes while falling backward.

You get the idea, and you know what to do. If your shots don’t feel comfortable or your sight picture seems off, identify where you’re failing, and don’t repeat the mistakes. And don’t think too much about it. That can lead to hesitancy or measuring leads when you should simply trust your instincts, acquire the target and pull the trigger.

Think Basics, and Correct What You Can Control

This goes hand in hand with identifying mistakes. Sometimes, simple situation or form problems can cause a string of misses.

First, refer to basics. Are your feet positioned somewhat correctly (that is, as well as you can place them while standing in muck or jammed in a layout blind)? If not, adjust. Are you shouldering your gun correctly and smoothly? Take a few practice mounts to make sure. Is your setup causing trouble, with the sun in your eyes or a crosswind creating tough chances? Adjust it.

Basically, control everything possible to stack the odds in your favor. After that, you simply have to shoot.

Get It Out of Your Head

Embarrassment and self-loathing after a string of misses can prolong a slump. And when your buddies jab you a few times about awful whiffs, that’s all you can think about. (Like those jerks never miss.)

Stop it. Wing-shooters, like NFL defensive backs, must have short memories. Quit worrying about your shell count or the trash talk from the other end of the blind. With sufficient practice and experience, you don’t need to feel insecure. Forget the misses. Ignore the chatter. Focus intensely on the next opportunity, and make it count.

Keep Shooting

Nothing solves shooting slumps like burning through more rounds. Above all, keep shooting. In fact, shoot more. Hit the gun club one afternoon, and run some target loads through your duck gun. The clays you break will boost your confidence. Run your dog on some pheasants and prove to yourself that there’s actually shot in your shells. And get out in the marsh or timber the next day, eager for redemption. Sometimes, you just have to shoot your way out of a situation. That might be the best way to break a slump.

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