by Randy Lawrence
Once upon a time, on an two-day hunt to a far away locale, I missed nine wild pheasants in a row. Over points. With a 12-gauge shotgun that cost more than my first car.
To paraphrase Churchill, I missed them over land and over sloughs. Through shelterbelts. Along fence rows.
Looking back, I liken it to being slowly eviscerated with a spork.
Did I mention they were all over dead-red, locked-down, there it is, points ?
Are you feeling me here? The dog that you’ve maybe bred, birthed, raised, trained, endured through canine puberty and into wild hare adolescence has done everything right…and you can’t step up there and put a swarm of angry #4 plated shot in the way of a coat of many colors ditch parrot that’s cackling obscenities as it wings away.
Make that a dull spork.
I suppose this would be amusing (for someone else) if (A) I didn’t have to lie awake at night wondering if any of those nine birds left without a single sign of carrying errant pieces of my shotgun’s pattern, and (B) if holding up my end of the bargain with my dogs wasn’t so vital to me.
Forget ego. People who shoot for their ego are not only craven boors, but they’re not likely to be reading in the Firelight blog. So let’s move on.
We want to shoot well because we are humane, respectful stewards of precious wild game. We want to shoot well because we want a reward for our dog beyond the point, to have feathers in her mouth, to keep her stoked and keen and to build intensity. We want to shoot well because we’re the third corner of the game, gun dog, and bird gun holy trinity…and there is art and beauty and a certain majesty to that.
Besides…I cherish skillfully hunted, prepped, cooked and served grouse, pheasant, woodcock laid out for good folk who know what a game meal actually means.
So what do I do about learning to “miss ‘em closer,” as one waggish instructor was fond of saying? It’s the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall (or for you young folks, the stage at Red Rocks)…practice.
Maybe you’d like to take a wingshooting lesson with an instructor who enjoys teaching game gunning. It’s amazing what several sessions with a good coach can do for our move to the target, our way at looking at game. For women shooters, particularly, a lesson is a natural place to check on eye dominance as well. Most of all, the best instructors make the experience fun, reminding us of why we like to shoot in the first place.And if your instructor has a good background in gun fitting, a series of lessons is a great time to check to make sure that your shotgun comfortably, easily shoots where you look. The best teachers can check how your physique, technique, and the stocking of your particular gun match up.
Another good practice is to shoot sporting clays a different way. Visit courses that allow guests to choose their targets. If you arrive at a stand with marks that don’t replicate your hunting, maybe you pass and move along. When you get to a station that has a fast quartering bird that gets up and gone like an orchard corner grouse that’s foiled you more than once, maybe you stay and shoot that station longer.
On outings like that, less is more, especially with a lightweight small-bore gun. Certainly we are stoking that beauty with sensible target loads, but still, a long afternoon whanging away at clays without suitable breaks in the action can make even a seasoned Gun sloppy about her gun mount or overly aware of recoil.
The best sporting clays shooters I knew in my 30 years covering the game picked up their gun every day in training. Some did drills with mini-mag lights stubbed in the barrel, others tracked the joint between their den wall and the ceiling, others mounted their gun in a full length mirror…every chance they got, upwards of 100 times a day.
We can do a version of the same thing. We can argue the semantics of “muscle memory,” but the idea is that we want to groove correctly bringing that gun to our face until all conscious thought is out of the move. On August 1st, every year, my old friend Bob Thompson brought out his Superposed 20-gauge and kept it by his TV chair. Whenever he walked past that empty shotgun, he’d open it (as we always do) to check safe, close the action, and thoughtfully rehearse his gun mount.
He did that each and every day until the season, and he only stopped then because he was getting out with his dog every day. I suppose that is as close to religion as Bob ever got, but he was a faithful penitent until the year before he died at age 88.