To hit is history. To miss is mystery. — Shirley E. Woods, Jr.

In a lifetime of shooting with shotguns I can safely say I am a fair wing shot on the target range and a good wing shot in the field. I consistently hit a fair number of clays on the skeet range, stations 3-5 give me the most difficulty and I do not bother with station 8 as for me is is just shooting the air full of holes. In the field, with my hunting buddies, I usually limit out on Canada geese in gunning over land and water. In the uplands I do very well gunning for woodcock, though this has a great deal to do with having an exceptional gun dog to find and point the birds for me. This sets me up for the shot and as woodcock are consistent in towering when flushed, always heading for the open sky, I usually find the mark, though often with a quick follow up shot with my Winchester 20 gauge side-by-side double barrelled gun. The reality is you are not going to hit every target you shoot at, be it a clay bird on the skeet range or a game bird in the field. I have racked up a great number of spectacular misses, both on the skeet range and in the field, over the years as my hunting buddies can attest. Missing when you are shooting with a shotgun comes with the territory, but therein lies the fun that comes from shotgunning. If you hit every target you would quickly grow tired of the sport.

Before I ever picked up a shotgun I spent years reading up on hunting and shooting. My father had a collection of old hunting magazines and a few books on hunting at home. I remember learning about the need to lead the target when shooting with a shotgun. There were different methods one could employ when shooting with a shotgun. There was the sustained lead or pointing out, which I understood to mean pointing the shotgun a fair distance ahead of the target in order that the string of shot would intercept the target in flight. There was the fast swing and follow through where you mounted the shotgun and swung onto the target and maintained your swing, following through after you slapped the trigger. The key points in shotgunning were you point the gun, rather than aim, and slap the trigger, rather than squeeze as in rifle shooting. Also, as you point the shotgun you should have both eyes open and take care to keep your head down with your cheek on the stock. I remember a great emphasis on the proper amount of lead in shotgunning, reading a great many different opinions on the proper lead and was thoroughly confused by the time I started shooting.

My first efforts at shotgunning were on local farms, close to where I lived when I was in high school. I used to sit at the edge of a drainage ditch between two cornfields and pass shoot at the pigeons that flew by. I remember thinking it proper to point approximately 15-20 feet ahead (or what I surmised was this distance) while shooting at passing pigeons. As you probably surmise, I succeeded in filling the air with shot quite consistently as the pigeons continued on their way unharmed. This went on for some time until I spoke to a neighbour, a seasoned hunter, who told me to forget all that I had read about the amount of lead one needed in shotgunning. He told me I should try the fast swing and follow through; just swing on the bird and make sure to keep swinging as I slapped the trigger. Later that day I returned to the field and just as he had said, swung on a pigeon from a passing flock, slapped the trigger and followed through with the swing. The pigeon fell dead onto the field. I followed up on a second bird from a flock that was following the first one. The second bird met the same fate as the first. I sure was happy with the result! All the pigeons I shot in those days were taken home, breasted, cooked and fed to a particularly finicky Siamese cat named Pansy my mother had.

The best analogy for shooting successfully with a shotgun I came across was in a book on hunting for beginners. The author likened the shotgun to a broom and directed the novice hunter to use the shotgun as a broom in sweeping the target from the sky. This is a very apt analogy for the fast swing and follow through method of shotgunning. This is pretty much the method I employ, especially in chukar, pheasant and waterfowl hunting. When I reflexively mount the shotgun, keep my head down and follow through I get the desired result: a cleanly hit bird. Funny thing is I never remember when this happens, but I always know when I miss what I did wrong. The most common mistakes I continue to make, quite regularly, are stopping my swing and lifting my head. Another, less common, mistake is when I forget you point a shotgun and I try to aim. These common mistakes have saved the life of many an otherwise doomed game bird.

One memorable moment comes to mind from a Canada goose hunt in November 2011. I was out with my hunting buddy Jason Quinn and a friend of his visiting from New Brunswick. During the hunt a Canada goose flew past me not more than 12-15 feet. Jason and his friend witnessed me fire three shots at the goose, which flew away unharmed. If memory serves, I was aiming at the goose when I should have remembered to point. I expect that Canada goose learned a valuable life lesson that day and hopefully lived long enough to breed and pass on that knowledge to the succeeding generation. I took my spectacular miss in stride, as did Jason and  his friend. We still share a laugh when we recall the moment. To round out this post I will offer you a video I produced of me on a solo duck hunt in 2012. There is a moment in the video where I miss most spectacularly on a trio of black ducks.

Posted by Geoffrey

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