To climb back onto one of my favorite soapboxes: recoil is the enemy of good shotgun shooting. I saw that again last weekend when I helped the local Pheasants Forever chapter with its youth pheasant hunt. My job was to give the kids a little shotgun instruction before they went hunting. Mostly I tried to make sure they could take off the safety and mount the gun and shoot at a pheasant while not endangering a dog. The kids ranged from 12 to 15 and from nearly adult size to tiny. There was a stack of Remington 870 Youth and standard size 20 gauges and regular 7/8 ounce target loads for them to shoot. Having done this before, I brought along a supply of Winchester Feathers and Fiocchi trainers just in case.

One younger kid in particular kept shooting over targets. That’s often a sign of head lifting caused consciously or unconsciously by wanting to get your face away from the gun that’s hurting it.

I asked him: “Does that gun hurt?”

“Oh no” he said.

That was a stupid question. Boys and girls both will rarely admit a gun hurts them, especially in front of other kids. You have to watch them carefully to tell for yourself.

“Try one of these,” I said, handing him a 20 gauge 980 fps Feather.” I promise you won’t even feel it go off. Now keep your head on the stock and your eye on the target.”

He crushed the next target so hard the other kids went “oooooh” as if watching a fireworks display. He broke four or five more after that.

When a gun doesn’t hurt its easier to shoot well. That’s not only true for new shooters. After my mountain grouse hunt in Utah, we spent a day hunting preserve birds at a more reasonable altitude. In the interests of science I chose a 3-inch pheasant load just to see a.) how far away they could kill birds and b.) how long it would take until they kicked me into missing. The answers were: a.) a long way and b.) I shot over a box of shells and somewhere near the end of the first box I know I missed at least one shot at a bird because I was reacting (okay, flinching) in anticipation of getting pounded.

Lighten up. You will shoot better.