I have written a lot about how to hit doves over the years. Let’s talk today about how to miss them. There are many ways to miss, but one I have often cautioned readers against is mounting the gun when the dove is a long way out and tracking it as if you were some kind of anti-aircraft weapon. Do that and a couple of things happen. First, you have a lot of time to think, and conscious thought is the enemy of good shooting. Second, the longer you spend tracking the bird, the slower the gun moves and the more you are tempted to aim, and to look at the bead and double check.

As soon as you look at the bead, the gun stops and you miss behind.

I made this very mistake in textbook fashion the other day. I had gone by myself to a public sunflower field and, to my surprise, found it devoid of hunters and swarming with doves. I had only brought two boxes of shells, and I got off to a bad start. For a while I was afraid I might run out.

There were a lot of doves, my shooting got better, and after an hour and a half I was down to my last bird. It came floating in, completely unaware of me lurking in the sunflowers, a perfect bird to end on. I wanted to be extra sure so I ignored all that good advice I have written and mounted the gun and tracked the dove all the way in, thinking about what a perfect, easy, even unmissable shot it was. And, of course, I was thinking about that, and about being done (target shooters call this “going into the future”), and not about making the shot. As it was, I got to practice emptying my pump gun as the dove flew away.

What I should have done is what I always tell you to do: watch the dove come in and focus on its head. I probably should have even recited some kind of mantra like “shoot it in the beak” to keep myself on task. Then I should have raised the gun slowly in time with the bird and shot as the butt touched my shoulder. That would have worked.

Fortunately, another dove arrived about five minutes later, this one also floating in against a stiff breeze and that time I practiced what I preach.