_by Phil Bourjaily


_I have heard a lot of hunters say “Take those clay target guys hunting and they can’t hit a thing.” I’ll disagree. Most good clay shots are good field shots, too. The best display of field shooting I have ever seen was put on by Sporting Clays champion Andy Duffy over the course of the two days we hunted grouse together in Minnesota a few years ago.

But, there are adjustments to make when you switch from clay to feathers. After a summer of practice at skeet and sporting clays, I shoot too far in front of real birds at first. Why it happens I don’t know. Maybe it’s the optical illusion presented by clay targets moving faster than they appear to be. Whatever the case, clay targets often require more lead than you think they should, while real birds often need less.

I’m not the only one with that problem. My predecessor Bob Brister–a great shot–used to write about shooting too far in front of birds at the beginning of the season. I saw a perfect example on the last day of goose season last month. I took my friend Peter, who graduated high school five years ago with my older son. Peter had a terrific Sporting Clays season last year, making a spot on Iowa’s All-State team, but he didn’t have time to hunt much this fall, so he was still in clay mode when we put out the goose spread.

Long story short, I killed a goose out of a trio that split off a larger flock and was out retrieving it when the two survivors circled back and flew about ten yards high over Peter’s blind. He hesitated, because he is polite and I wasn’t there. I screamed “Shoot those geese!” so he lead them too much, shot three times, and they flew away.

Naturally, I was sympathetic. I said, “You clay target guys can’t hit a real bird, can you?”– a remark I will no doubt pay for on the sporting clays course this summer.