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How to Break Bad Duck Hunting Habits
Instead, shooting should become instinctual. You shouldn’t waste time figuring answers. Let unconscious reaction take care of firing the gun. Focus on your target and follow it with your shotgun. Your brain will automatically figure out how much lead to hold, and if the bird is within range and you have good shooting form, you’ll connect.
In his book, Modern Water Fowling, John Cartier explains this better “We aim rifles,” he said. “We point shotguns, in the same manner as we point our finger at a passing airplane. Shotgun technique is directly opposite that of a rifle. With a rifle, you place your single bullet with perfect aiming and slow precision trigger squeezing. With a shotgun, you ‘throw’ a cloud of shot with lightning reaction.”
Shooting practice is perhaps the best cure for the over-analytical hunter. Visit a shooting range as often as possible. Sporting clays courses are particularly good as they often have stations with targets that simulate ducks floating into the duck decoys, flying straight overhead and passing at various angles. Shoot, shoot and shoot some more. The more you shoot, the more your instinct will take over.
Lots of duck hunters are overeager. They can’t wait to shoot, no matter how far the ducks are. Some buy heavy-load shotshells, thinking these will allow even longer shots. But that’s simply not the case. The chance of a shot failing to connect increases with distance. Most of these “sky busters” miss or wound more ducks than they kill.
It’s important to wait until ducks are well within range before firing, and that normally means 40 yards or less. That’s a shorter distance than most duck hunters think it is. Pace off 40 yards sometime and see. It may help to place a marker of some sort within your hunting area that will help you know the distance beyond which you should not shoot. After a while, you’ll be better able to judge the right distance in a snap.
To rid yourself of this bad habit, don’t get overanxious. Focus on a single bird and quickly try to determine if it’s within proper shooting range. If you don’t think it is, let it pass. Don’t waste shells on a bird you’ll probably miss or wound.
Another good practice is to allow one person in your party—someone who is a good judge of birds’ range—to call all the shots. Often, this is the main caller in the party. No one shoots until that person says “Shoot!”
Sharp-eyed ducks will flare away if they see duck hunter movement. Often, it’s the hunter’s moving head, turning this way and that as he scans the sky, that birds see. When your partner whispers, “Don’t move! Three on the right!” every instinct tells you to move your head for a better look. But such movement often causes the birds to leave for other points.
“Learn to watch with your eyes, not your head,” a veteran waterfowler once said “Keep your noggin still and tilted downward; move only your eyes. Fewer ducks will spot you, and more will drop in for a visit.”
That’s good advice. It’s also wise to wear a full set of camouflage clothing, including gloves and a face-net or camo face paint. This is one more advantage that will improve your “ducks-killed-to-shots-fired” ratio.
Waterfowlers who are top-notch shooters in the field also tend to know a great deal about the habits of the ducks they hunt most often. They know how their quarry will react to various weather patterns, the types of foods they’re most likely to be eating, the ways their flight patterns will change throughout each day and each season, and can tell you with a good measure of certainty whether or not the hunting is likely to be good on a given day. They know these things because they’ve made it a habit to learn everything they can about the ducks they pursue. They know that being a good hunter means studying even minute details about your quarry’s habits.
The reason these duck hunters tend to be excellent shooters is because they have studied hundreds of ducks dropping into their duck decoys. They know what the birds will do, how they’ll approach the duck decoys, which way they’ll flare and whether they’ll go high or low. The knowledge thus gained enables each one to know approximately where he must point his gun even before it even touches his shoulder. This is why most great wingshots are veteran hunters. And it’s also the reason why many excellent skeet and trap marksmen fail so miserably at connecting with game birds.
Take, for example, the veteran mallard hunter. He knows a decoying greenhead will almost always tower straight up when the gunners stand to shoot, reaching an almost stationary point before leveling off. Know this point and you have an almost standstill target.
Diving ducks such as the Ring-Necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead, seldom tower when surprised. They curve away in a broad arc, relying on speed for their escape. The best shooters know how to adjust to the differences in behavior.
Dabbling ducks such as the Mallard, Wood Duck, Green-Winged Teal, Blue-Winged Teal, Pintail, Shoveler, American Wigeon and Gadwall, will spring up and drive into the wind immediately when flushed off flooded fields or potholes. This allows the gunner to focus his attention on a small arc instead of a complete circle, increasing the odds of connecting.
Diving ducks coming in with wingtips barely above the water’s surface will almost always decoy perfectly, enabling the gunner to hold fire until the nearest ducks are well within range. He then fires his first shot at a bird near the rear of the flock and his last shots at front birds that are still within shooting range.
Diving ducks crossing high and fast will usually pass. Thus the duck hunter must be prepared to shoot at the exact moment the flock passes closest to the ground blind.
Knowing these types of things can prove extremely beneficial to the duck hunter. But the benefits only are realized if the duck hunter consciously studies the behaviors of the birds he’s pursuing. “Pay attention and learn”: that phrase sums up the cure for this bad behavior.
Will getting rid of bad habits allow you to kill every duck you draw a bead on? Not likely. There still will be times you’ll take down your gun and wonder how in the heck you missed such an easy shot. Even the best marksmen in the world miss occasionally. And some days, they miss frequently.
One thing’s for sure, however. If you take time to analyze your bad habits and try to correct them, you’ll become a better shooter. And being a better shooter is part of being a good sportsman. We may not bat a thousand each time we’re up to the plate, but true sportsmen feel an obligation to try.
Break bad habits, bag more ducks. That’s a goal we all should make part of our hunting.