Basics of Shotgun shooting

By Don Mallicoat-

Before I get to the main topic, a brief mea culpa. Last week I reported on the upcoming early migratory bird season and made an assumption. I reported that the regular dove season starts at noon on September 1st. On a big departure from the norm, the beginning of shooting hours on September 1 for dove will be ½ hour before sunrise and will be that way for the remainder of the season. My excuse for missing this is that the season listings had it as a note in very small print at the bottom of the page. No asterisk in the season info; nothing. So all you dove hunters, be prepared to get out there early morning on September 1st. Dove hunting involves shotguns (both legally and common sensibly) and to really be effective you need to practice. Gene Hill, the great Outdoor writer, once said the best shotgun shooting coach is a case of shells. That’s true if properly used. If you are interested in starting shooting or improving your shooting skills for wild game there are some basics you need to focus on.

If you are a rifle or pistol shooter prepare to flush your brain. Everything you have learned that has made you effective at those shooting sports will hurt you in shotgun shooting. Difference number one: with pistols and rifles align sights and squeeze the trigger. With shotguns you point the gun and pull the trigger. Huge difference. Difference number two: you focus of the front sight (crosshairs with a scope) and target with pistols and rifles. With a shotgun you must totally focus on the moving target whether it’s a clay, dove, grouse, or duck. I can just about guarantee if you focus on the bead on a shotgun you’ll miss the target. Foot position is more important with shotgun than rifle or pistol. The best way to shoot a shotgun is feet shoulder width apart with the weight forward on your leading foot. Here’s a tip I learned from a professional shooter: place your leading foot so it points where you want to break/hit the target. That way your upper body is straight, not turned, when you shoot. In target shooting there is a mounted and low gun position. Low gun means the butt of the shotgun is lowered off the shoulder to more simulate a field situation. This is how I shoot. I’ll explain later why. Let’s focus on a low mount because of its field approximation. If you are clay target shooting, I’ve found the best way to position yourself is feet properly placed facing where you want to break the target, and then turn your upper body to the point at which you want to pick up or see the target. Now here is where it all comes together. With a low gun mount you call for the target. When you pick it up in your peripheral vision, focus on the leading edge of the target. Not the whole target but the leading edge. Turn your upper torso to follow the path of the target and start bringing the gun to your shoulder. When the gun gets to your shoulder and your eyes are focused on the leading edge pull the trigger. Don’t try to over think it or estimate lead. Pull the trigger. Let’s look at a field example. This has happened to every dove hunter I know. You see a dove coming in toward you from a good distance. You sit there and calculate lead, mount the gun, track the bird, and pull the trigger and miss. Now think about the bird that comes from nowhere and you instinctively put the gun to your shoulder, pull the trigger and the bird drops. Why? That is why I shoot clays with a low gun. Shotgun shooting, unlike rifle and pistol, is instinctual. The brain is an amazing computer. If you follow some basics like body position and focusing on the leading edge of the target your brain will, in most cases, instinctively put all the factors together to hit where you are looking. Low gun lets you focus on the target, not the barrel and front bead. Those are some basics from a long time shotgun shooter who has learned lessons the hard way. I’m by no means an expert shot. My shooting friends will tell you that. But I do hit more than I miss and that’s what it is all about.

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