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I had a miserable stretch of wingshooting sometime in the late 80s when I missed something like fourteen pheasants in a row. The reason was simple enough: I was a bad shot. My dad taught me to shoot. I never practiced. It’s no surprise I was terrible. Many of you may be in the same place I was. If you want to get better at wingshooting, now is the time to start—while the season is still months away. And I have a plan for you.
Ammunition, target fees, and gas to get to a gun club all cost more these days, so I’ll make this wingshooting program as cost-effective as possible. By the way, this curriculum is modeled after an actual game plan I came up with for a hunter I have been coaching via e-mail since last summer. It’s working for him, judging by the pictures of grouse and pheasants he’s been sending me since we began corresponding.
First, I will hope and assume that you have already read what I have written about ad infinitum on unloaded gun mount practice and the three-bullet drill. If not, you can find plenty of videos explaining them. Gil and Vicki Ash have a good one on the three-bullet drill. There are a lot of videos about gun mounts, including some that I’ve done. These drills, especially gun mounts, are some of the best, most cost-effective (as in free) wingshooting shooting practice there is. Do them. Now, on to our three-step summer wingshooting program.
Step 1: Buy a BB Gun
The Goal: Learn instinctive shooting
If you’re trying to learn instinctive shooting, or two-eyed shooting, or if you’re trying to switch sides so you can shoot on your dominant eye-side, a BB gun is a cheap, fun, valuable teaching aid for wingshooting. A Daisy Red Ryder costs $30. BBs cost about $00.002 per round. First, cut the sights off your new gun. Start with stationary targets at 5 yards. A pop can works. Rather than aim the gun, lay the forefinger of your front hand along the forend and point that at the target. Do that, and hitting with your sightless gun is easy as long as you keep your eyes on the target and point with your finger. Instinctive shooting is all about learning to trust your eye-hand coordination.
Work your way up first to smaller objects, like golf balls on the ground, then try flying targets. Two aluminum pie plates taped together so you can throw them like a slow frisbee works. You can take this sightless BB gun shooting as far as you want to. I’ve shot very easy, close incoming clays with my Red Ryder, and some people practice until they can shoot dimes out of the air.
Step 2: Shoot Backyard Clays to Improve Wingshooting
The Goal: Groove the gun mount, translate your BB gun training
If you don’t have a portable trap, find someone who does, or buy a very inexpensive hand thrower for $20 to $30. Hand throwers have improved to the point where you can toss fairly consistent targets for wingshooting drills. Take turns lobbing clays for a friend in a place that’s safe to shoot a shotgun.
Start with a premounted gun if need be, and work on carrying over what you learned from shooting the BB gun. The shotgun is loud and kicks a little, but the concepts are the same: look at the target, point the finger instead of aiming with the gun. Start with slow, straight or gently quartering targets with your puller right beside you, then start stepping off to the left and right for shots where you’ll have to move the gun along the target’s line of flight.
When you can, start shooting from a low gun position and work on your gun mount, similar to actual wingshooting in the field. Remember always that the first move to the target is to push the muzzle toward it.
Step 3: Shoot Trap for Better Wingshooting
The Goal: Shoot longer, unknown angles, get your eyes off the gun, learn your way to the gun club
If you are serious about getting better at wingshooting, sooner or later you’ll have to start shooting clays at a gun club. Trap is the gateway shooting game. There are trap fields all over the country. Most people can score better at trap than they can at skeet or sporting clays when they first start, and the game is a terrific teacher of some key wingshooting fundamentals.
In this program, you don’t have to shoot a lot of trap. Try to get to a gun club three to four times, and shoot 50 to 75 targets. You’re better off going a few times and shooting a little than going once or twice and shooting a lot.
Start with a premounted gun with the safety off (this is perfectly fine gun club etiquette. Some trap guns don’t even have safeties). Your gun should point at the house or a foot or so above it. Your eyes should be looking past the gun and the house and into the distance. (They’ll come back to focus on a closer object much faster than they can reach out—it’s just how eyes work.)
Instead of trying to chase the target out of the traphouse with the gun, see it first, read its angle, then move the gun and swing through it. It’s exactly what you’ll do when a ruffed grouse or pheasant flushes and it will make the targets seem much slower and easier. By the way, traps oscillate randomly so you can’t predict where it will throw a bird. Don’t try, react.
Read Next: How to Shoot Trap, Skeet, and Sporting Clays
You will learn, too, that trap punishes head-lifting and lack of follow-through. Keep your head on the gun, the butt in your shoulder, and your eye on the target until after it breaks. Make it easier on yourself by choosing lighter, slower loads (1 ounce at 1180 fps will break any target from the 16-yard line fine). The lower recoil of light loads will help you stay in the gun.
Trap is easy to learn and difficult to master, and the learning stage of the game is fun. You should be able to hit more than you miss after a few tries, and you’ll be a better at wingshooting when the fall seasons begin, too.
Three Bonus Wingshooting Tips
The Famous Wingshot strode up behind Ike, who had a pheasant pinned in some short grass. I was practically atwitter with anticipation, about to see my idol kill a bird over my dog. The rooster rumbled away like a dump truck in low gear. Bang! Bang! “Damn!” swore my hero, as the bird flew off unscathed. Even the very best wingshooters catch the occasional case of the bang, bang, damns. Is there a cure for those days when you’d be better off throwing the gun at the bird and keeping the shells in your pockets? Yes, if you take the advice of Gil Ash, who runs the Optimum Shotgun Performance Shooting School in Houston. Here are his three keys to getting back on target.
1. Don’t overthink lead when wingshooting.
All of us have watched a duck, goose, or dove fly across the field, growing from a tiny speck into a fat and tempting target. You’ve emptied your gun and seen the bird travel on. Yet you know that you saw the correct amount of lead in front of the target.
“If you knew the lead was right, you were looking at the barrel. Looking at the barrel is the root cause of most misses,” says Ash, who has seen thousands of whiffs. “The instant your eyes leave the target and go to the bead to double-check your forward allowance, the gun stops and you shoot behind.”
On the other hand, we’ve all dropped birds that streaked in from nowhere, taking us by surprise. You made that shot because you maintained 100 percent visual focus on the target and let lead take care of itself.
“Be precise with focus and sloppy with lead,” advises Ash. The tighter you can lock your eyes onto a bird’s head, the more likely you are to put the gun in the right place. Don’t worry about exactly how much to lead the bird because the 30-inch spread of the pattern gives you a wide margin of error. The trick to wingshooting is putting that pattern in front of the bird, not behind it.
2. Match gun speed to target speed.
Let’s say you’re standing in a dove field with a heap of empties piled around your feet and little to show for it. No matter how quickly you move the gun, the doves are quicker. The problem? You’re probably swinging too fast. “Your eye is drawn to the fastest moving object in your field of vision,” says Ash. “When the barrel outraces the target, your eye goes to the gun, your swing stops, and the bird gets away.”
Instead of whipping the muzzle ahead of the birds, whether your are waterfowling or upland hunting, you need to match your gun speed to the velocity of the target. Try this: Put the gun down. Take a deep breath. Watch the next three or four doves without shooting at them. When you pick up your gun again, move it in time with the birds; as if by magic, those rocketing doves will appear much slower.
Upland hunters who swing through their quarry may need to change their approach in order to find the right tempo. “Too many hunters think swing-through shooting means starting 20 feet behind the bird and slashing through it at warp five,” says Ash. “For better wingshooting, start just behind the bird and ease the barrel past its head.”
3. Don’t mount too quickly when wingshooting.
Rushed gun mounts save the lives of countless gamebirds every year. “Don’t move the gun until you see the target,” says Ash. “People hear a bird’s wings, throw the gun to their shoulder, then start looking. That’s why novices hit with the second shot if they hit at all—they mount before they see the bird, miss, then lock their eyes onto the bird and hit it.” When a bird gets up at your feet, don’t panic. No bird alive can outfly pellets traveling at 900 miles per hour. Focus on the bird’s head first, then move the gun. You’ll kill it every time.