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If hunting is a sport, that makes you an athlete. Athletes don’t stop practicing during the season, and neither should you. Shooting clays periodically during the fall and winter can keep you at the top of your wingshooting game. Few of us are lucky enough to get enough shots at game during the season to stay sharp. And, because it matters to us that we bag birds, we can feel pressure to make shots, which leads to thinking, which leads to being careful, which makes us miss.

It helps to relax and shoot at something without feathers every once in a while. A couple of in-season rounds of clays at the gun club, or even from a hand thrower, can get you back on target. Simply seeing targets break builds confidence. And if you miss one, so what? You’ll get lots more chances.

If you’re a waterfowler, you want to shoot Skeet, which presents the crossing and incoming targets you see in the blind. A trap field is a great place to practice upland hunting, since all the shots are going away. Your own trap can throw going away targets or, if it has a remote, throw incomers and crossers. Here are some dos and don’t for each:

How to Shoot Skeet to Practice For Waterfowl Hunting

DO Shoot your hunting gun. Take out the tight choke you use for waterfowl and put in Cylinder, Skeet or IC.

DON’T shoot your hunting loads. They will kick you hard, then get you kicked out of the gun club. 7 ½ or smaller shot is the rule at every club I’ve ever been to. Shoot target loads. 

DON’T obsess over the velocity of those target loads. They may not be anything close to what you’re shooting in the field. Listen to me: it doesn’t matter, especially on targets as close as skeet birds. If you are thinking about the difference in leads between fast and slow loads on 21-yard targets, you are thinking too much.

DO shoot low gun. Low gun shooting is the best field practice, but if you are really struggling and need to shoot a pre-mounted gun, that’s okay, there’s still plenty of benefit to target practice.

DO Tell yourself you will do the following three things: 

  1. Move the gun in time with the target. For most hunters, that means slowing down.
  2. Focus on the target. And not just the whole target, but the front edge if you can make yourself do it.
  3. Keep the muzzle below the bird’s line of flight so you can see it.

DON’T measure lead. Trust your eye-hand coordination. I believe it was Anthony Matarese, one of the best sporting clays shooters in the world (and, from what I am told, the second-best duck shot ever after his brother Mike) who said, “Lead isn’t a distance. It’s a feeling.” Shoot when it feels right, and watch the target break.

The author breaking clays during hunting season.
Phil Bourjaily

How to Shoot Trap To Stay Sharp For Upland Birds

DO shoot your hunting gun. Put in a Modified or tighter choke.

DON’T shoot hunting loads. (See Skeet do’s and don’ts above.)

DO shoot low gun if the club management will let you stand closer to the trap than 16 yards. If you have to shoot from 16, I’d suggest shooting with a premounted gun so you can get on the birds while they are still rising like real upland birds.

DON’T aim at these birds. Trap targets don’t require much lead and you can shoot right at them. Do it by looking at the bird and pointing the gun, not by lining up beads.

Read Next: How to Shoot Trap, Skeet, and Sporting Clays

DO keep your head on the gun. Many game birds and a lot of trap targets are missed by people raising their heads to better see the bird break or fall. Lift your head and miss. Really focus on keeping your eye on the target and your head on the gun until after the target breaks.

DON’T just shoot 16-yard rounds of trap. If the club lets you, play games. Try walking toward the trap with your gun down and having the puller throw the bird without warning. Or, two of you load up at once and try to beat each other to the target. You won’t have time to think or aim if you’re trying to be first to the bird. You’ll get back to shooting instinctively, just as you should in the field.