Of course, for those guns to work their magic, you must first do your part. Here’s a quick guide to getting the most out of your three shells.
Waterfowlers should concentrate on making clean killing shots with their first shell. Whatever happens afterward depends on the circumstances, but you cannot double or triple if you don’t connect with round No. 1. This sounds simple, yet we sometimes fail at this. Make the first round count with these tips.
Be you: One-shot kills are far easier when you identify the best opportunity. That’s easy when you’re hunting alone or only one bird decoys. The process becomes more complicated when two or more hunters prepare to cut into a flock. Don’t worry about anyone else in the pit or blind. You cannot control where their shots will fly. Identify a duck or goose that’s in your zone of fire (the far right bird when you’re on the right side of the blind, for example), and concentrate on it. However, keep an eye out for other possibilities, as your ideal target might flare hard when the guns go off, or another bird might switch positions with “your” bird in mid-air.
Envision the shot: This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Anticipate how your ideal target will approach, set up and then behave at the moment of truth. Then visualize how you will react to and shoot at the bird.
Of course, even decoying birds don’t always follow the playbook, and even seemingly easy shots can get crazy if your blind-mates shoot early. Again, be ready to respond to whatever your target bird does, whether it lands, flares high or puts on the afterburners. That’s basic wing-shooting. Still, we sometimes forget those fundamentals when the shot we expected morphs into a different target.
Take your time, if possible: This is where most of us goof up, especially when hunting with a group. We’re excited to capitalize on a good opportunity or a bit antsy because we anticipate that our buddies will shoot before we do, so we rush our first shot.
Slow down. Keep your wits, and take an extra split second to ensure that you’re locked onto the best target and use sound shooting form. Resist temptation to snap-shoot at the bird (unless it’s necessary for a quick-moving target), and don’t worry about firing first. Just focus on your shot.
Read, react, follow through: Again, this is nothing more than basic wing-shooting. Focus hard on your target, let your hand-eye coordination dictate your mount and lead, and then follow through. And swing hard. That should be habit forged by round after round of skeet, trap or sporting clays in the off-season.
Worry about No. 2 (and 3) later: We get greedy now and then and think about doubling or tripling before we have the first bird on the ground. Avoid this common pitfall, and concentrate on the best first shot. Sure, identify opportunities for doubles and triples, but keep those in the back of your mind until your initial round connects.
Take 2 (or 3)
When your first shot connects and the stars align, opportunities at doubles or even triples seem easy. Usually, however, shooting multiple birds requires forethought, strategy and quick reflexes honed by shotgunning practice. These hints can help.
Prepare: This is Hunting 101 stuff, but to double in the field, you must practice at the range. Shoot at sporting clays ranges that offer lots of true pairs, and get used to the sight picture and body motion required to take doubles. Take the same attitude into the dove fields before waterfowl season, and hone your doubling and tripling skills.
Anticipate: Watch incoming birds intently to gauge how they might decoy. Note how they approach against the wind, and judge their body language. If they seem relaxed and content, they might put their feet down and sail right into your decoys. Birds that appear antsy, however, might merely streak overhead or past your blocks. You can still kill more than one, but you have to be ready for quick shots.
Another hint: Check your foot position before birds arrive. Right-handed shooters want their left foot pointing where they intend to shoot the first target. Twisting left or right against your body is a good way to miss three shots, not double.
Choose targets — but be ready: As birds approach, pick out your likely first target. Avoid temptation to take the “candy bird” — one that inevitably decoys closer and sooner than others. Better, focus on a slightly more difficult target and then switch to the easier bird after killing the first. For example, if bluebills decoy left to right against a stiff southerly breeze, focus first on a drake farther back in the pack, and then pull up on the lead bird. Or, when honkers float in from straight downwind, swing on a hovering bird 35 yards out before going to the front goose.
One caveat: Ducks and geese often do the old switch-a-roo as they decoy. The lead bird might slow down, and one or two others will pass it. Be ready for this, and adjust your target choice accordingly.
Shoot one first: As mentioned, you can’t kill two or three birds unless you kill one first. You’ll naturally think “double” when flocks decoy, and that makes it easy to miss. I can’t tell you how often I’ve shot holes in the air between a dozen or more buffleheads or teal. Basically, I got greedy and didn’t focus on the initial opportunity. (Hint: It’s far easier to double on a pair or small group of ducks or geese than with a large flock.)
Concentrate hard on making that first shot. Focus like a laser on the initial bird, and block out thoughts of others until that bird is down. Your peripheral vision and reflexes will let you get on another target. If you planned your shot progression well, the second opportunity will seem instinctive. And if birds decoyed close or you’re a quick shot, you might have a chance for three.
Finish strong: Dropping two or three birds usually spurs a celebration, but don’t be too quick with the high-fives. Reload quickly, and dispatch any cripples on the water. Nothing ruins a great shooting opportunity like losing a duck or goose.
This is especially important with diving ducks because … well, they dive — especially after being shot. When the action stops, review the scene to mark your birds. Shoot any duck that pops its head up. Keep shooting until it’s finished. If you can’t mark all the ducks, it’s a good bet that one already dove or swam into cover. Get your retriever on the job quickly, and keep watch for escaping cripples slinking along the water’s surface.
Once, Twice or Thrice
Make every shot count this season. Sound preparation, anticipation and execution will let you make the most of good opportunities. Will you make hay on every flock? No. But maximizing more opportunities can boost your season and turn so-so days into memorable events.
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