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How To Hit Waterfowl Targets

by L.P. Brezny

Learning the 75% Rule First and Foremost
There is a children’s story about a little steam engine that says, “I think I can, I think I can”, and after a time the little engine did what was considered almost an impossible task. Even though that storyline is built around teachings for small ones, the fact is when taking on anything, being a sporting activity or whatever, the mental approach maintained by the actor is a major part in determining success or failure by the project’s end. Shooting sports takes no backseat to this line of thought because, to my way of thinking, up to 75% of the process in hitting a moving target is mental attitude even before you bring a shotgun to your shoulder.

Waterfowl hunters are often prone to running streaks of missed or fringe hit birds. In almost every case the problem can be traced back to some element of a broken down self reliance system, or basically a general lack of one’s own ability to hit that drake mallard floating over the decoy spread with it’s feet down. There are steps that you can take to overcome some of the creeping mental crud factors as I like to call them, and one big element is taking up your shooting position with care each day in the field or blind. What has position to do with anything, you ask? Well, let’s take on yours truly, for example, during a bad day afield.

It was the opening day of the Minnesota waterfowl season and I was forted up on a small back water beaver gut that ran about 300 yards long, by 175 yards wide. With the wind coming in over my right shoulder ducks would come down the far end of the gut, close to my right being a long stretch across the decoys, then drop in or fly by. The problem was that my partner had positioned the two-man duck boat with himself covering the far right end of the spread. If I was to take any shots over the far right side I would have to pass my shotgun barrel directly through his position. You can be sure that it was not going to happen, and as a result of our positioning I was forced to pull off my targets at the mid point, or half way across the middle of the duck boat as ducks (teal for the most part) passed left to right at a 30 degree angle.

Over the course of the first hour of gunning I sent far too many spent hulls into the bottom of the duck rig that had not accounted for much more then giving me an extreme headache. Every time I tried to follow through with my swing on fast moving buzz bomb green wing, I would be forced to shoot early as the swing distance closed too quickly by way of the small space I had to get on the bird, and then follow through over the incoming fast mover.

My partner indicated several times that I seemed to be having a “real bad day”. He didn’t know my dilemma, but when it came time to work the dogs and retrieve a few ducks which were all harvested by him, I took the opportunity to readjust the boat so as to reposition myself with more swinging space to get on the birds which had stayed exactly on that pre-established flight line all afternoon long. Even with that position adjustment, I had fallen off my timing, lost my mental computer to a major glitch, and didn’t shoot worth a darn the remainder of the afternoon.

Still another time stands out in my mind when everything in my shooting mental inventory went by the way of the buffalo. We were hunting crow, a sport that I take up year round to stay on target so to speak. My partner and I were hunting over an owl decoy and several plastic crows when a single came rolling in over the trees and promptly began circling the owl decoy in tight turns. I leveled my 870 Remington which mounted a tight extra full choke (I just used up my 25% excuse figure), then pumped five rounds of #8’s at the circling black target. Missing every time, I reloaded the magazine and proceeded to dump an additional five more rounds toward the bird. By this time, I was just shooting blindly and not retaining any mental attitude as to exactly where my shots were directed in terms of making a positive hit.

At 10 rounds, the bird flew off without a feather out of place and my partner was sitting in a brush pile laughing to the point of hysteria. Again, what went wrong? Mental control or that 75% of shooting skill had gone south, and I was left with something close to a panic attack in the place of my normal controlled and workable shooting control. On waterfowl, I generally shoot about 1.7 rounds per bird harvested. When crows are the target there are some days I don’t miss at all.

Saving the Day
If a case of Magi’s drawers sets in, there are some things that you can do to fight further degeneration in terms of your ability to hit much of anything moving around you. One thing I do is quickly change guns. Yep, that’s how you’re reading it, clearly in print. If you own a couple of smoke poles get into the second gun as fast as possible, and I have found that often the problem dies with the change in tools. I think that we tend to imprint our problem with the gun that troubles started with and by changing shotguns some inner switch clicks on and we are then working under a new set of mental shooting rules. During a shoot at the Mid South Combat Institute a while back, I had an instructor say just that to our group of handgun shooters. This was very interesting because Mid South is not your average shooting school, they train the Navy Seals, Special Operations units in the military, as well as advance sniper and handgun training for street cops. In other words, these guys train to hunt men not game birds, and their hunted targets shoot back.

Another trick I use is to just shrug off the problem and stay behind your shotgun until things start to work out again. If possible, don’t strain too hard to figure out what is going wrong, but just shoot the problem away. Remember, it is not the Grand Nationals in clay bird busting, but duck hunting, and we have long past the requirement that we bring home the food for the table. If you want that outcome, go to the supermarket, as it’s a whole lot cheaper, my friends.

Shooting schools, do you need a quick fix course? While I’m not going to tell you that attending a shooting school or taking classes from a personal instructor won’t help you if your in a slump, or just can’t hit birds with any consistency. I’m not going to jump on the band wagon in terms of seeing to it that everyone with a shooting problem runs right out and gets enrolled in a clay bird busting course. Clay bird training is good for timing, coordination, and general smooth bore control, but it won’t fit everything in terms of hitting real world fast moving waterfowl when you’re in muck up to your knees, or sleet is driving into your eye to the point that everything in your sight picture is a blur. While those examples my be overdoing the subject just a bit, the real time and world of waterfowl gunning can be quite different then taking on a clay target over a very sanitary skeet, sporting clays, or trap facility. This past winter I had the opportunity to hunt Winchester Nilo Farms in Alton, Illinois. Nile has a program that includes some warm up time on clay bird by way of both skeet and sporting clays events. After a morning of clays and a hot lunch, it is time to hit the Nilo strips and hunt pheasants over some very high quality labs and pointers. What I observed during our hunt, which included a hands-on review of the new Browning Cynergy o/u upland and duck gun, was that I was set a bit out of sorts after coming directly off the clays course into the field. While I did dust off my first pair of flushed ring necks, I knew clearly that I was shooting a bit behind my first bird which required a fast follow up shot via the new gun system’s very fast two shot capability.
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