Hunting VideosBowhunt or Die
How to Break Bad Duck Hunting Habits
Peeking through the leafy branches that covered the ground blind, a duck hunter can see a dozen or so Mallards as they circled through the woods, eyeing the open hole in the flooded timber by which they sit. The duck hunters were still far out of shotgun range, but one of the duck hunters convinced them to turn their way with a sharp hail duck call.
The pod of greenheads and susies rocketed by at treetop height and banked sharply in response to the duck calling. The duck hunter turned this way then that, trying to keep an eye on the mallards speeding through the maze of trees.
A staccato burst of feeding notes was the final persuader. The birds began dropping through the canopy. They plummeted into the flooded trees from a single point of the compass, wings cupped, feet splayed, the emerald heads of the drakes glistening in sharp contrast to the vivid crimson and orange of the autumn-colored oaks. The soft whistling of their wings filled the duck hunters' ears.
The ducks were right in front of them, only 30 yards away. “I can’t miss,” one duck hunter thought. “It’s ducks for dinner tonight.”
The duck hunter's heart thumped loudly as he waited for his friend's signal. Then suddenly the friend called out: “Get ‘em!”
The ducks towered skyward again. The duck hunter quickly mounted his shotgun and fired. Way high! Twice more he fired. The duck hunter could still see those greenheads slicing away over the painted woods.
The duck hunter's friend looked at him rather incredulously and smiled. The duck hunter felt his cheeks flush.
“Ducks aren’t hard to hit,” the friend said. “They’re just easy to miss.”
This duck hunter won't ever forget that twisted old saying: “Ducks aren’t hard to hit; they’re just easy to miss.” He has used it a time or two himself when duck hunting companions were having a bad shooting day like this duck hunter did back then. And the more he thinks about that old saying, the more he realizes how true it is. When you're having an off day, it’s usually due to your own errors, not because ducks are exceptionally evasive or acrobatic.
The cure? Well, often it’s simply more shooting. Forget what’s happening and just keep hunting. After a few more shots, you’ll finally connect. Then after another dozen, you’ll start coming out of the slump.
Problem is, nowadays, a dozen or more shots at ducks could represent a big portion of your duck hunting season. Is there a better way?
Yes, and the key is really quite simple. Do some self-analysis and figure out if you’re missing because of bad habits. If you are, it’s never too late to change them.
Becoming a good shot starts with having a shotgun that fits. If your gun doesn’t fit your physical characteristics, you’ll never be a proficient wing shot. Surprisingly, however, many shooters give little consideration to proper fit when purchasing a fowling piece. As a result, the guns they use cause many of their problems.
The shotgun you buy should feel comfortable, mount easily to your shoulder and point like an extension of your arm. As writer Wade Bourne once put it, “… a shotgun should be like a good dance partner that flows smoothly with your lead.”
To check the shotgun you have, grab it out of your gun cabinet, be sure it’s unloaded and pick an imaginary target like a ceiling light or picture on the wall. Now snap off a quick imaginary shot—both eyes open, no aiming. Now close one eye and look down the barrel. If you’re reasonably on target, your gun fits close enough. If you see the entire barrel, or none of it, your fit is out of whack. If you have to move your head in order to line your eyesight down the barrel, your stock is too long or too short.
If necessary, you can hire a gunsmith to custom-fit a shotgun to your exact measurements at minimal expense. But be sure to check your new gun’s fit when wearing hunting clothes, including parka.
To bag a duck, you must focus on that duck and that duck alone. Yet many duck hunters fail to do this. When a flock comes close, it’s tempting to aim into the mass and fire randomly instead of choosing a single target. But such an effort usually results in embarrassing misses.
When you see several birds approaching, choose a single, and concentrate on proper aim and follow-through. Don’t think about trying for a double. If you miss a shot, adjust, but stay with the same bird. Don’t attempt to bag a different duck. Get one on the water before thinking about a second.
Here’s another helpful hint: load only one shotshell at a time until your shooting improves. Knowing you have only one chance each time improves your concentration and can help you become a better shot.
Many ducks are missed because duck hunters worry too much about the details of each shot. Let’s take lead, for example. Maintaining the proper lead is necessary for clean kills. But if you try to compute the proper lead in your head each time you shoot, you’ll get frustrated because each shot is different in terms of flight angle and speed. Some shots are going away, some are head-on, and some are passing at 90 degrees. Some shots are at ducks zipping by at full speed, while others are at birds hovering over the duck decoys. If you must consciously think about how much lead to hold, you’re probably going to miss.