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A Shotgun Tip From the 'Total Gun Manual'

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October 09, 2012

A Shotgun Tip From the 'Total Gun Manual'

By Phil Bourjaily

Dave and I are doing lots of radio interviews now to promote the Total Gun Manual. One question interviewers keep asking is, “What is the most important piece of shotgunning advice you can give?”

I usually respond with some variation of “head on the stock, eye on target.” The other day, after a horrendous meltdown in the dove field (I finished with a limit, but it was not a good day from a birds-to-shells standpoint) I flipped through the book looking for a tip that would have saved me. It’s there, Tip 241, entitled “Swing Your Shooter” which reminds me of all the things I was forgetting to do as my frustration grew in the field.

It reads: Tip 241 “Swing Your Shooter”
A shotgun is not aimed but pointed or swung at the target. A proper swing starts before you begin the mount.

The first step is to lock your eyes on the bird. There is no reason to move the gun until your eyes can tell it where to go.

When you can see the target clearly and read its path, move the muzzle toward it as if you’re trying to hipshoot the bird. Keep moving – swinging – the muzzle along the line of flight as you raise the stock to your cheek. 

The muzzle should stay below the bird so you always have a clear view of the target. Move the gun in time with the bird. I cannot emphasize enough how important those two tips are.

Being precise with lead makes you slow down or stop the gun and miss, which is why many engineers have trouble shooting shotguns: they want to be exact. Instead of feet and inches, think of lead in three increments: some, more, and a lot. “Some” is the amount of lead you see when you shoot  a mid-range target. “More” is twice that, and “a lot” is twice as much as “more.”

The spread of shot provides some margin for error. Trying to aim at the last second practically guarantees a miss. Trust your eye-hand coordination to put the gun in the right place and shoot without hesitation.

Comments (7)

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from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

Mounting my shotgun seems to be an automatic motion. I really do not see the bead, calculate lead, and all that other stuff of which you spoke, but I think I do all of those things as an eye-hand coordination type response. It has taken a lot of years and practice to get where I am today. Maybe it is all a sub-concious act on my part, but it works for me. Perhaps if I had a computer wizard with me when I hunt he could figure all that stuff out, but by then the bird or bunnie would be in the next county.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I also wasn't doing real great in the field today. Finally got my limit of honkers plus three northern mallards but it must have taken alost four shots per bird. However, I did hear many hits "splat" the birds.

Tip no. 0.05: When crouched waiting for geese to come into range always crouch on the RIGHT KNEE if shooting right handed. If the right knee is in tough shape, buck up and put up with a bit of pain. That way when you spring up to shoot you're automatically in the proper position, left leg forward and right leg behind you. First bunch of geese came over me at daybreak about 25 yards up (or less!). First shot and I found myself sitting on my arse. Tried to pull across my body for the second shot and wound up about destroying my back when I fired from sitting position.

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from woodsdog wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I got the manual, I pre-ordered it via amazon.com, It is packed with useful and helpful information. I can best describe it as a bunch of good, practical gun books all in one. Its worth the three plus tens many times over in my estimation.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Harold wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

All I know is that when I'm doing things right, it makes me almost giggle. It seems like someone else has taken over my body. When "I" try to take over I can't hit squat!

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from rickyno5 wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I'm with you Harold. When I'm on my game I don't even remember what happened. I simply lift and shoot with my eyes never leaving the bird. Sometimes people will ask me how far I lead and I reply with "just enough". I really have no clue, but birds will fall much more consistently than when I try and calculate lead. When I'm off I've even caught myself trying to compensate for the pellets DROPPING! WHAT?!?!?!? When I have a few bad misses and can't quite seem to pull it together, I might as well pack up and go home haha. But again, when I'm on (a lot of the time) it's a very fun day in the field or at the range.

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from 99explorer wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I recently shot a round of sporting clays at a gun club that had a set pattern of flying and bouncing targets. I was using a borrowed gun, and had an observer positioned behind me at my station who called out the reason for each miss.
I thought the gun was a good fit, but on each miss the observer called out, "high." On my next visit to that club, I intend to find out if my lead is correct.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from springerman3 wrote 1 year 26 weeks ago

Phil,
I was there with you and I was not much better that day. I say throw it away but give good thought about what you may have done wrong. Learn from it yet know even the great shooters have bad days ( just not as many ) !
I did think about saying " how's that steel shot working for you " but decided not to.
This would be a good time to tell the story about how on the same field a few days later that a hawk swooped down and stole a dove I had just shot. Could not have been out there 5 -- 10 seconds, about 30 yards away. Now I know where the term " thieving hawk " comes from ......

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from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

Mounting my shotgun seems to be an automatic motion. I really do not see the bead, calculate lead, and all that other stuff of which you spoke, but I think I do all of those things as an eye-hand coordination type response. It has taken a lot of years and practice to get where I am today. Maybe it is all a sub-concious act on my part, but it works for me. Perhaps if I had a computer wizard with me when I hunt he could figure all that stuff out, but by then the bird or bunnie would be in the next county.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I also wasn't doing real great in the field today. Finally got my limit of honkers plus three northern mallards but it must have taken alost four shots per bird. However, I did hear many hits "splat" the birds.

Tip no. 0.05: When crouched waiting for geese to come into range always crouch on the RIGHT KNEE if shooting right handed. If the right knee is in tough shape, buck up and put up with a bit of pain. That way when you spring up to shoot you're automatically in the proper position, left leg forward and right leg behind you. First bunch of geese came over me at daybreak about 25 yards up (or less!). First shot and I found myself sitting on my arse. Tried to pull across my body for the second shot and wound up about destroying my back when I fired from sitting position.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from woodsdog wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I got the manual, I pre-ordered it via amazon.com, It is packed with useful and helpful information. I can best describe it as a bunch of good, practical gun books all in one. Its worth the three plus tens many times over in my estimation.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Harold wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

All I know is that when I'm doing things right, it makes me almost giggle. It seems like someone else has taken over my body. When "I" try to take over I can't hit squat!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rickyno5 wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I'm with you Harold. When I'm on my game I don't even remember what happened. I simply lift and shoot with my eyes never leaving the bird. Sometimes people will ask me how far I lead and I reply with "just enough". I really have no clue, but birds will fall much more consistently than when I try and calculate lead. When I'm off I've even caught myself trying to compensate for the pellets DROPPING! WHAT?!?!?!? When I have a few bad misses and can't quite seem to pull it together, I might as well pack up and go home haha. But again, when I'm on (a lot of the time) it's a very fun day in the field or at the range.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I recently shot a round of sporting clays at a gun club that had a set pattern of flying and bouncing targets. I was using a borrowed gun, and had an observer positioned behind me at my station who called out the reason for each miss.
I thought the gun was a good fit, but on each miss the observer called out, "high." On my next visit to that club, I intend to find out if my lead is correct.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from springerman3 wrote 1 year 26 weeks ago

Phil,
I was there with you and I was not much better that day. I say throw it away but give good thought about what you may have done wrong. Learn from it yet know even the great shooters have bad days ( just not as many ) !
I did think about saying " how's that steel shot working for you " but decided not to.
This would be a good time to tell the story about how on the same field a few days later that a hawk swooped down and stole a dove I had just shot. Could not have been out there 5 -- 10 seconds, about 30 yards away. Now I know where the term " thieving hawk " comes from ......

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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