Waterfowl hunters are obsessed with getting ducks close to the decoys. We worry about the realism of our decoy spread, keeping our face hidden from ducks overhead, and whether or not we are on the “X”. Getting ducks within range is vital to our success but it’s only half of the equation.
Once ducks and geese are close, it’s time to pull the trigger. Shooting accurately and confidently is what separates a day of lifting a heavy duck strap from a frustrating day of bird watching. These five shooting tips will help you become a better waterfowl hunter and make days in the blind more enjoyable.
If The Gun Fits Shoot It
Every summer thousands of duck hunters make the decision to buy a new gun. They head off to their local gun shop or sporting goods store and start swinging shotguns and looking down the barrel of their next investment. Most are wearing T-shirts and summer garb as they choose the gun they will tote while wearing heavy parkas and waders. In today’s economic times there are a lot of hunters opting to use a friend or relative’s gun as well. Oftentimes, these guns don’t fit the shooter and lead to frustration while hunting.
A shotgun should slide right into position when shouldered. Shotgun shooting is instinctual. The gun barrel should become an extension of the shooter’s arm. Great rifle marksmen are often poor wing shooters. Rifle shooting is more technical. If you find yourself stuck with a gun that doesn’t fit correctly all is not lost. Find a reputable gunsmith and get fitted correctly while wearing clothing you’re likely to wear in the field. A gunsmith can properly add to or trim a shotgun stock.
Practice Makes Perfect
Shooting a shotgun well is all about repetition. Knowing where your gun fits on your shoulder, where the sweet spot of the bead is, and how the gun swings is critical. Waiting until opening day to shoot won’t teach you anything. Dove hunting is great practice for duck and goose hunters. The wing beat of a dove is similar to a duck. Most importantly, there is usually plenty of shooting practice to be had when dove hunting.
Another good option is sporting clays, skeet, and trap shooting. Sporting clays offer a more realistic shooting experience. But skeet is a good way to shoot a lot of clay targets at varying angles in a short period of time. Shooting trap isn’t noted for mimicking waterfowl hunting situations.
However, for new hunters or struggling shooters, trap can build confidence far easier than skeet or sporting clays. A few years ago I felt like I had my best season of field shooting. I shot in a trap league the entire off season that year and started the hunting season with full confidence in my shooting abilities.
Wait For Shooting Opportunities
The previous two tips pertain to preseason preparation. Once the hunt begins, the biggest mistake many water fowlers make is shooting too soon. They take shots at birds that are too far away, too high, or too fast. There are a couple rules of thumb I use when hunting ducks and geese.
First, if the wings are still beating don’t shoot. Wait for a bird to lock up it’s wings. That is when you know it plans to land and is beginning to slow down. An old time trick is avoid pulling the trigger until you can clearly see the eyeball. Hunters rushing shots have saved the lives of thousands of ducks.
Avoid Flock Shooting
Flock shooting is common among novice duck hunters. Late season flocks of thirty or more mallards or geese descend to within range and the excitement causes hunters to shoot blindly into the flock. Flock shooting is also prevalent in teal hunting. It usually leads to head scratching and wondering “what happened?” Flock shooting is counterproductive and can lead to violations in some cases.
In my home state of Wisconsin only one hen mallard and one canvasback is allowed in the bag every day. If I shot into a flock and dropped two hen mallards, I could face hefty fines. If a flock of redheads buzzed over my decoys and I open fire into the flock only to discover there were two canvasbacks in the flock, I would be setting my self up for more citations. When a flock of ducks or geese is overhead, pick out an individual bird and concentrate on downing him. Once the first bird falls, acquire a second target and do the same.
Swing Through a Target
Whether it’s golf, basketball, or wing shooting, follow through is everything. Ducks are moving targets and most are shot while swinging a shotgun left or right. Stopping the swinging progress as the trigger is pulled is a sure fire way to shoot behind the bird. This mistake is often made when multiple ducks are in the air.
The shooter rushes his shot in an attempt to drop several birds and ends up with nothing because the shots are always behind. Try to envision wing shooting like putting a golf ball. Swing through the target while firing to ensure a hit. Swinging through also helps you pick up the target again in the case of a miss. If I’m hunting a thick swamp, I’ll often put a second shot into a bird if it looks like it is sailing to avoid losing a cripple. Swinging through makes this much easier.
Successful shooting makes waterfowl hunting more satisfying. Missing birds is frustrating. Crippling ducks and geese is heartbreaking. These tips will make you a better wing shooter and make your next waterfowl hunt more enjoyable.