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Wingshooting Practice

History tells us that the sporting clays game was first developed in England during the 1920s by hunters who wanted to develop a means of off season practicing for the live bird shooting they enjoyed in the late Summer and Fall months each year. About the same time, the game of skeet was developed in the US by hunters looking for a game which allowed them to hone their live bird skills as well.

For many shooters, those games developed almost nine decades ago still serve as a warmup and practice for waterfowl and upland bird hunting. In the last issue of Sporting Clays I wrote a feature about wingshooting outfitters who book hunting trips throughout North America and around the world. If you are a wingshooter, chances are good that you are planning your hunting season or getting ready to head south to some exotic shooting location like Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa or the like.

If you do plan to venture afield, you may find a need to modify your practice and shooting habits a bit, since shooting live birds can be markedly different from standing in a sporting clays station with the gun pre-mounted or close to it. I canít ever remember standing in a duck blind or dove field with the gun mounted on my shoulder while waiting on a bird to come into range. And I certainly wouldnít pre-mount the gun while walking in behind a brace of pointers or flushing dogs in an upland bird field.

The fact is that over the years, the sporting clays game has evolved into a sporting discipline of its own. Target presentations these days donít necessarily replicate the flight of the various gamebird species as they did when the game first came to American shores in the early 1980s in the form of ďHunterís Clays.Ē

Most shooters find live birds much less challenging than some of the clay target presentations they face week after week. In most situations, they are absolutely correct. Targets leave the trap at full speed and slow down. Flushing birds take off from a dead stop and increase speed as they move away from the gun. Crossing targets often require leads in front and slightly below the target line since when in the ďkillĒ zone they are starting to descend slightly. Live birds donít typically do that.

Granted there are situations where live bird shooting is extremely challenging like high driven, long crossing and shots with short windows or in difficult terrain. But most of the shots taken in the field donít fall into these categories. As a result the shots on birds are somewhat different from those on clays. Letís look at some of the difference s and discuss how to make changes to your game that will increase your proficiency in the field.

One of the first things you need to address is the mechanical approach to live bird shooting which I alluded to earlier. Iím talking about the gun mounts and footwork, and I can assure you that there are differences in the approach to birds versus clays.

Ever since the free mount rule was enacted for sporting clays, a majority of registered target shooters have moved the starting point of the stock closer and closer to a full mount. In many cases they are fully mounted before calling for the target. Obviously there are reasons why this has become more the rule than the exception in English sporting and I could argue with you for hours on the merits of using a mount versus pre-mounting the gun. But since we are talking about shooting birds here, letís just cut to the quick Ė donít pre-mount the gun when in the field.

Experienced bird shooters who also shoot clays usually donít have much trouble mounting the gun, but there are a surprising number of shooter/hunters who really struggle with this relatively simple mechanical move. You see, a proper gun mount is executed by letting both hands work as a team. The forearm hand pushes to the desired insertion point relative to the birdís position in flight and the trigger hand lifts the stock to the face to align the eyes down the rib.

With a properly fitted gun and a proper gun mount, the gun should shoot exactly where the eyes are focused without having to look at the gun. I will tell you that I feel it is important to know where the gun is, but you see it somewhat subconsciously in your lower peripheral instead of focusing on it. Many shooters use light pipe or fiber optic sights like the HIVIZ Comp Sight to help them better manage the muzzle without focusing on it.

Some shooters think that such a device will distract them, but once you learn to properly focus on the target through the beads on the gun or down the rib, having a small reference can be helpful, especially in the low light conditions that hunters often face in the field or duck marsh.

You can perfect the gun mount by doing practice mounts at home. What you want to achieve is a bit of muscle memory so that the gun moves to the target and up to the face simultaneously. I will tell you that if youíre planning one of those high volume hunts to Argentina and you donít have proper gun mount mechanics, you will have a miserable time. If you can mount a fitted gun properly, you can literally shoot thousands of rounds without noticing it. Miss the mount, and you will know it immediately.

In pretty much every wingshooting scenario, you will not know where or how the birds will be presented. As a result, you will need to be able to move your feet to position your body so that you have a free point of motion when the trigger is being pulled. Right hand shooters simply need to take a small step with their left foot in the direction they plan to take the shot. This will help open up the swing radius for the shot and follow through.

Make sure you remember to keep a proper balance when shooting in the field. Itís always best to take that step just ahead of steering the gun. That way you can achieve the right balance between your feet and the rest of the body. Taking off balance shots can be dangerous. You will find that youíve always got a bit more time than you think to execute a shot.

Of course there are differences in how you might apply your chosen shooting method to birds versus clays, but thatís a topic for another time. Just keep in mind that most hunters who shoot clays have to make adjustments to their muzzle pace when in the field. Since targets come off the trap so fast, many shooters actually miss in front of birds, especially quartering birds.

So there you have it; a quick primer to get you ready for the hunting seasons that are almost upon us. Do yourself a favor by practicing some gun mounts. Go to your local course and practice in wingshooter mode. In other words, take shots as if you were in the field. Keep in mind that your scores might be slightly affected until you perfect the gun mounts and insertion points. Good luck and good hunting.

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