Sharp Shooting: The Best 'Other' Birds for Waterfowlers

By author of The Duck Blog

Hunting Various Species Can Hone Your Wing-Shooting Prowess

Shotgun games — skeet, trap, five-stand and sporting clays — provide fantastic practice and repetition for building wing-shooting skills. But sometimes, there’s no substitute for the real thing.

So what can you do when the season is closed or ducks and geese aren’t flying? Well, you’re a hunter, so pursue other birds. That has its own rewards, of course, but it also sharpens your shotgunning eye for your next trip to the duck blind or goose pit.

Of course, the flight characteristics of many other gamebirds don’t mimic those of waterfowl. Grouse and woodcock, for example, offer great upland sport, but gunning them is unlike shooting mallards or honkers.

Here are some thoughts on the best “other” birds to sharpen your waterfowl shooting skills.

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1 | Coots

Yes, mudhens. Hey, they decoy, take off like many diving ducks and zip over decoys just like other fowl. And they can provide valuable practice for young hunters.

That practice carries with it a lesson: Eat what you shoot. True, coots aren’t the finest-tasting fowl in the marsh, but their breast and leg meat is just fine in stews, jambalaya or other recipes. In fact, some old-timers prized coot gizzards more than the flesh of any other waterfowl.

Photo © David Hoffmann Photography/Shutterstock

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Snipe and Rails

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2 | Snipe and Rails

In some corners of the world, snipe and rail shooting is considered grand sport. That’s no surprise, as these nimble birds are swift, agile targets. Moreover, they frequent many of the same settings as ducks and geese, such as marshes or creek banks. Jump-shoot them on foot, or have a buddy paddle you through cover. Or pass-shoot them while duck hunting. They’re not half-bad on the table, either.

Photo © Dilomski/Shutterstock

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3 | Crows

Crow shooting can be similar to waterfowl hunting. You try to call birds close for decoying-type shots or pass-shoot them as they fly between roosting and feeding spots. Crows aren’t especially difficult targets, but they’re exceptionally wary critters and will pick out poor hides instantly. That emphasizes concealment and shooting from blind-type settings. Also, incoming flocks of crows help you sharpen your shot-calling abilities, demanding that you don’t wait too long or get hasty when birds approach.

Photo © Maciej Olszewski/Shutterstock

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4 | Pigeons

The ol’ rock dove has received quite a bit of hunting press lately, and it’s about time. Modern pigeon specialists set up field spreads and hunt the birds from layout blinds, just as if they were pursuing Alberta greenheads or Manitoba honkers. And the birds, although not greenwing-fast, make sporty targets. Plus, you help a farmer or landowner every time you cull troublesome pigeons at his place.

Photo © Mircea Costina/Shutterstock

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Driven Game-Farm Pheasants

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5 | Driven Game-Farm Pheasants

Hey, don’t laugh. Tower or driven shoots at game farms have become increasingly popular, and there’s no shame in that. Remember, it’s not a hunt. Rather, it’s a shoot. And if you’re shooting pheasants that will later grace your table, what’s the harm?

Moreover, those driven pheasants can be difficult targets. High overhead shots demand perfect form, and sizzling crossers make you keep that gun moving. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s much like duck shooting. In fact, waterfowl hunters usually perform best at tower shoots. Try one. It’ll test your mettle and provide lots of tasty white meat for the freezer.

Photo © Mark Christopher Cooper/Shutterstock

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6 | Doves

To me, doves represent the most challenging waterfowl-esque target. In fact, I think if you can kill streaking mourning doves consistently, you can shoot any duck or goose that flies. They zig. They zag. They fly straight at you. They zip past and then really turn on the afterburners. Doves provide fantastic crossing and overhead shooting practice. Most important, dove hunting is pure fun, and it provides some of the best wild meat anywhere.

Photo © Harold Stiver/Shutterstock

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