A Little Swing and a Puff of Feathers

Here's why good shots don't move much.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Watch a good wingshot in action. What you notice (what I always notice, anyway) is how little the experts seem to move. There's no frantically snatching the gun to the shoulder, no scrunching of the head to the stock, no home-run swing; just a small, economical motion and a puff of feathers.

Want to shoot like that? You can, but you'll have to start by relearning your gun mount. Too many of us treat the mount merely as a prelude to swinging and shooting. We jerk the gun to the shoulder as quickly as possible, hold it still for an instant while we mash our cheek onto the stock, then start chasing the target or, worse, aiming. It's a rushed motion, yet paradoxically it kills our gun speed, leaving us behind the target and swinging like mad to catch up.

A good gun mount encompasses the acts of shouldering and of swinging the gun in one motion. Fast without being hurried, a good mount takes full advantage of our remarkable ability to point accurately at a flying object. If you mount the gun properly, all you have to do is focus on the bird and your eye-hand coordination will automatically put the gun on target.

How It's Done
Few of us learn to mount the gun correctly as beginners. We start shooting as kids with the gun at our shoulder, breaking targets thrown by Dad. That's a fine way to start, but it doesn't teach gun mounting. Neither do American-style trap and skeet if you shoot them as the rules allow, by putting the gun to your shoulder and wiggling your face onto the stock before yelling "pull." Want to know what you should have been doing all along? Here it is:

First, you need to learn to raise the gun to your cheek, not your shoulder. Do this in front of a mirror, with a gun you have triple-checked to be sure it's unloaded. Stand facing the target, which, in this case, will be the reflection of your right eyeball. Your feet should be barely shoulder-width apart, your left foot about half a step in front of the right and pointing at the target. (I am assuming right-handedness throughout. Left-handers, you know the drill; reverse these instructions.) Hold your gun more or less horizontal to the floor with the butt tucked lightly under your arm.

Begin the gun mount by pushing the muzzle out and to the target, a move instructor Steve Schultz likens to a bayonet thrust. As you jab the gun to the target, your trigger hand raises the stock to your cheek, not your shoulder. Ideally, your head remains still, although most of us have long enough necks that we need to push our heads forward slightly to meet the gun. If you've kept your eyes on the target, you should see your right eye floating over the muzzle in the mirror as the butt makes contact with your shoulder.

Learning to Swing
Now that you've learned to raise the gun to your face, you're halfway to a good gun mount; remember, swinging and shouldering happen together. Actually, the swing has to start a fraction of a second before the mount, because you will never hit anything with a shotgun on purpose unless the muzzle tracks along the same path as the target. So, beginning from the same ready position you assumed in front of the mirror, first push the muzzle along the bird's flight path with your left hand. Your right hand follows and raises the gun. Your eyes stay fixed on the bird, and you slap the trigger as the muzzle passes the target. Practice the swing and mount with an unloaded gun by pretending the line formed by the juncture of a wall and the ceiling is the flight line of a bird. Stand facing the wall, and back up 10 feet or so. Set up with your left foot pointed at the spot where you'll kill this imaginary bird. Swing the muzzle along the horizontal line as you mount the gun. Say "bang" as you pass the target and follow through.

Competitive shooters, by the way, include gun-mounting practice as an important part of their daily routine. Twenty dry-firee repetitions will make your arms tired; top guns do 100 or more. U.S. Olympic hopeful Kyndra Hogan (who stands 5-foot-4 and weighs maybe 110 pounds) told me she practices her regimen of gun mounts faithfully-often with her father's 10-gauge! Those of us shooting for game, not gold, needn't go to extremes, but a few minutes of practice a day with an unloaded gun helps ingrain the right moves until they're second nature.

Live Firing
At first, practice your gun mount on the incoming targets at stations one and seven on a skeet field before progressing around the arc to more difficult crossing targets. Or, wait until the trap field is empty and shoot a round from a few steps behind the house. If there's no gun club nearby, it's easy enough to set up your own trap.

As you graduate to these real, flying targets, remember, there's no reason for your hands to move an inch until they know where they're going. Call for the target. Lock your eyes onto the bird and let your hands follow. Resist the temptation to aim or to second-guess yourself. Your eyes will never lie to your hands, making every good mount a moment of truth.