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I enjoy hunting deer and coyote; but honestly, sitting silently still—in cold weather and often alone—takes some of the fun out of the hunt. A few years ago, when the opportunity to experience wing shooting on a chukar hunt in a preserve came up, I jumped at the chance. This was a hunt that included walking with other hunters and allowing me to talk along the way … perfect! Plus, a preserve hunt guaranteed seeing game. Heck, I might even be quick enough on the gun to have the opportunity to get some shots. 

Now, let me explain something about myself. Whenever I try a new adventure, I study it to death. I want to make sure I know what I’m getting myself into, and—especially because firearms are involved—I want to be safe.

Rules and Regs

Before even considering heading into the field, I made sure I felt comfortable running my gun. Yes, when I compete in 3-gun, I’m very confident with my shotgun. However, this would be different. I didn’t want to fumble while walking through a field with other hunters and make anyone nervous. Also, so as not to appear stupid, I went online and reviewed the safety/etiquette part of the hunt, which is something not everyone discusses:

  1. Hunter orange and eye protection are mandatory.
  2. Maintain a straight line, shoulder to shoulder, while walking through the field with the other hunters. This might mean adjusting your pace along the way.
  3. Know where your muzzle is pointed at all times. In the excitement of a bird flushing, be careful not to shoot over or across another hunter.
  4. Visualize the zone where you can safely shoot, and stay within it when a bird presents itself.
  5. Don’t give commands to the dogs. Leave that to their trainers.
  6. Be mindful of the dogs’ location(s) before taking a shot. No shots should be below the horizon line. Make sure you can see blue sky under the barrel of your shotgun.
  7. While walking, guns are on “safe;” hinge-action shotguns are kept action-open.

I had the greatest experience on my first bird hunt. Only one of the chukars we flushed managed to get away, and I managed to knock down my fair share of the birds.

“Recently, after I missed a crossing clay several times, the instructor said, “Miss in front of the bird (clay).” Guess what? I hit that clay every time after that. It’s all mind over matter.”

As we walked through the fields, we even talked and giggled. Most importantly though, I enjoyed hunting with dogs and wanted to bird hunt again. However, I knew I had a lot to work on. This would be the perfect opportunity (or excuse) for me to take the time to improve my shotgunning skills.

Walking the fields on a bird hunt in the sun makes for a perfect day.

Improving Those Skills

In pursuit of my goal of learning to shoot better, the first thing on my list was joining the local outdoorsman club. I needed somewhere to shoot, right? Luckily, every Tuesday evening from May through August, the ladies of the club have the opportunity to shoot sporting clays under the watchful eye of an instructor. Perfect! Not only would I enjoy the camaraderie, I would also receive instruction along the way.

Wow, did I need instruction when it came to sporting clays! Being more of a pistol and rifle shooter, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what I was supposed to see when I took the shot. Sure, some days I would get lucky, but other days, I felt myself aiming and just couldn’t hit anything. I needed another resource for learning the sport.

“This was a hunt that included walking with other hunters and allowing me to talk along the way … perfect!”

 

Shooting sporting clays is a great way to get in some practice time when bird hunting is not in season.

The next part of my shotgunning journey involved delving into a book. I hoped by having pictures and words in front of me, perhaps I could have that, “Ah-ha!” moment. I just needed something to click in my brain.

By pure chance, I found the book, Maine-Ly Wing Shooting, by Brad Varney, and I highly recommend it. He writes in a way I find easy to understand and relate to. It’s almost as if Mr. Varney is sitting in my living room and we’re chatting over a cup of coffee.

Yes, I learned quite a bit from his book. The following two excerpts helped me understand the importance of keeping my eyes on the target and not the sight:

  • “The hands and trigger obey the eyes of the good wing shot.”
  • “Locking your eyes on the target gives the brain the correct information to direct the muscles to move the gun in a precise, subconscious manner.”

Well, as they say, “Easier said than done.” No matter how much I practiced, I still had issues hitting those darned orange disks.

Dove hunting is a little more challenging than pheasant hunting but not as tiring … because you sit in chairs.

However, my final hunt of the season (at the Kansas Governor’s Ringneck Classic) proved those little orange disks don’t always “translate” to the field: Although a few of the wild pheasants might have gotten away to live another day, let’s just say my freezer is full.

A few pheasants from a local preserve hunt.

Now … back to sporting clays and Ladies’ Night at the hunt club. So far this year, I’ve noticed quite a bit of improvement. I found a shotgun that fits better, and I’ve learned how to really focus on the clay. When I miss, I find out that I’m just shooting at the clay. It doesn’t quite work that way.

“…so as not to appear stupid, I went online and reviewed the safety/etiquette part of the hunt, which is something not everyone discusses.”

Recently, after I missed a crossing clay several times, the instructor said, “Miss in front of the bird (clay).” Guess what? I hit that clay every time after that. It’s all mind over matter. Yes, I’ll admit, I’ve fallen in love with wing shooting and am even beginning to enjoy sporting clays.

My favorite part of wing shooting is hunting over dogs. They’re always so excited to work.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.