Duck Hunting photo

Photograph courtesy of Peter Anderson/Flickr

**I am having problems hitting ducks. For years, I shot the lights out with a Browning Gold and a Remington 870, with 24-inch barrels. But now I have a Benelli Super Black Eagle II, a Browning Maxus, and a Winchester SX3, with 26-inch barrels, and I miss or cripple a lot more ducks in the decoys than I did before. I can still shoot the heck out of them when they’re floating overhead, though. I know the issue is with me, not my guns. Can you help figure out the problem and how to fit my gun to correct it? **—Jacob King

You are probably right in thinking that the problem is you, not the guns. It usually is. Let’s rule out a few variables first, however.

Does your gun shoot straight? Since you mention three different guns, it’s unlikely that none of them shoots to point of aim—but put a full choke in your gun, rest it on a bench, and shoot at a target, or even at a golf tee stuck in a dirt bank 15 yards away. Make sure the gun shoots where it’s supposed to.

A good test of gun fit is to make an aiming mark on a bedsheet, hang it up, and shoot it. Stand 15 yards away and put a tight choke in your gun. Mount the gun as you would in the field and shoot at the mark without aiming five times. A hole should appear at the center of your pattern, and you can see if it’s off the mark on the sheet. The Maxus and SBE both have shim kits you can use to adjust the stock to better suit you. If you’re shooting high, you need more drop; low, you need less; left or right, you need to adjust the cast. If the shots are all over, you need to work on your gun mount.

Pattern your gun with the choke and load you’re using, too. Shoot some 3-foot paper squares with your choke and load at the range you normally shoot ducks. Your pattern might be too tight, making it hard to hit birds, or it may be too open, and they aren’t getting hit with enough pellets. As a rule of thumb, you want a pattern that puts about 75 percent of its pellets in a 30-inch circle at the range you’re shooting.

If all these tests come back negative (or positive, or whichever it is—if there’s no problem with the guns) then it’s you. You are correct to think that in most cases, a new gun isn’t the answer.

With waterfowl seasons ending soon, make a New Year’s resolution to shoot more skeet and sporting clays in the off-season this year.

Send your questions to Anyone whose question I answer will receive a Cabelas’ range bag.