Your eye was on the target, your head was glued to the stock–and you missed anyway. It was not bad juju or a shift in the Earth’s magnetic poles. Most likely you had a muzzle spasm. The business end of your gun dictates where your shot pattern will go, and if you can’t manage your muzzle, you will connect with nothing but air, shot after shot. Wingshooting expert Steve Schultz (585-473-4111; email@example.com), a Level III instructor for the National Sporting Clays Association–the highest level of certification that the NSCA bestows–taught me the three basic rules of muzzle management.
RULE 1: Move the muzzle with the target before you put the stock to your shoulder. Most self-taught shooters do the reverse: They mount the gun, then swing after the target. That’s backward. Invariably it leaves you behind the bird, scrambling like crazy to catch up. Instead of mount and swing, think swing and mount.
“In my clinics,” Schultz says, “I tell people to pretend they were going to hip-shoot the bird.” As the left hand (for you righties) moves the muzzle to the target, raise the stock to your face and shoot when the butt hits your shoulder. You’ll feel much more in control.
RULE 2: Never let the bird go below your muzzle. To hit a flying target, you have to keep your eye on it. If you let it dip below your muzzle, then during that fraction of a second when the barrels block your view, the bird seems to speed up and get away from you. Without the target in sight, your eyes can flick back to the bead, the very last place you should be looking. On the other hand, if you keep the muzzle just below the target, the barrels stay in your peripheral vision as a blurry reference point while you maintain a tight focus on the bird.
RULE 3: Make the muzzle do what the bird is doing. In other words, it should trace the bird’s path through the air. Learning this helped me understand and correct some heretofore mysterious misses, the kind where I knew where I had to shoot but missed anyway.
Why does this rule matter? Your gun doesn’t go off when you think it does: It takes a few milliseconds for your finger to pull the trigger, the hammers to fall, the powder to combust, and the shot charge to make the trip across several yards of empty space between muzzle and target. If the barrels are moving in one direction and the bird is flying in another, when the gun actually goes off, it’s pointing in the wrong place.
I now understand why, for instance, it’s so easy to miss a fat mallard gliding into the decoys. It’s a falling target, yet the temptation is to simply raise up and shoot at the beak. The duck is dropping, the muzzle is rising, and you shoot over the top every time. Move the muzzle with the bird, however, and you’ll hit it.
You can even apply this principle to those pure straightaways that require no lead whatsoever. The target is moving away from you; take a step toward it and be conscious of jabbing the muzzle at the bird. As Schultz, who has a gift for boiling shotgun shooting down to the basics, puts it, “Imagine you were trying to stick it with a bayonet.”
Shotgunning is really very simple: Keep your eye on the target and the muzzle in mind.
“Cheap Shots,” my August 2003 column in praise of my three $300 duck guns, prompted an e-mail from Dan Tormanen of Washington, who asked: “In every outdoor magazine I pick up, I see articles singing the praises of Remingtons, Benellis, and Mossbergs, but why aren’t the writers giving the Winchester 1300 the credit it is due?”
Good question. Introduced in the late 1970s, the Winchester 1300 replaced the low-cost 1200, which replaced the classic Model 12. We in the outdoor press are guilty, I think, of comparing the 1300 to one of the great shotguns of all time, instead of appreciating it for what it is: the slickest, fastest-pumping slide action around. And the price is right–about $350. –P.B.