Kyle Wintersteen, Managing Editor
In considering the teal’s acrobatics, the pintail’s agility and the raw speed of canvasbacks and mallards, is it any wonder that ducks can bewilder even the savviest of wingshooters? To bag ducks consistently requires attention to detail, from shooting technique to selection of chokes and loads. Even so, everyone whiffs on the occasional mallard. But if you’re missing more than the odd duck, maybe it’s time to consider whether you’re committing any of these common mistakes.
Rushing the Shot
Do you frequently miss your first shot before getting on target with your second? That’s a key symptom of rushing the shot.
Ducks may be fast, but decoying birds provide ample time to smoothly mount the gun and shoot a couple. And hurried movements, contrary to their intent, don’t actually help you swing ahead of ducks — all that flailing causes your brain to perceive the birds as moving much faster than they are. In contrast, a slower, more deliberate gun mount makes the ducks themselves appear to fly more slowly, resulting in easier shots. Try it!
However, slowing your gun mount means one of your buddies is likely to shoot first. Perfect. While he’s under recoil, you can pick out backpedaling drakes hanging in the air for easy shots.
Aiming the Barrel
If you were to throw a football to a running receiver, you’d look at the receiver — not the tip of the football. And if you were to point your finger at a passing car, you’d look at the car — not your fingertip (or the motorist’s grimace). You aren’t actively aiming at the target in either endeavor, but rather relying on instinct and your brain’s subconscious calculations. That’s exactly how to shoot a shotgun.
Focus your eyes on the duck, with both eyes open, never glancing at your barrel or shotgun bead. Thus your brain is able to judge the duck’s distance and velocity, and guide your barrel to the correct lead. Consciously aiming a shotgun by focusing on the bead interrupts these instinctive calculations — you can’t focus on two objects at once — which increases the likelihood of a miss.
Using Large Shot
Despite the improvements to steel shotshells, it remains a good rule of thumb to select a load two shot sizes larger than lead for the intended purpose. So, given that the debate over the ideal shotshell for ducks used to center on No. 6 versus No. 4 lead shot, shouldn’t the steel debate pit a load of No. 4’s against No. 2’s?
Yet some duck hunters swear by BB or even BBB shot, despite the fact larger steel shot affords lower pattern densities, i.e. fewer pellets downrange, and can prove finicky on the pattern board. If you insist on large shot, consider whether you’re choking it too tightly. Steel lacks the malleability of lead, so patterns can be detrimentally affected as large steel pellets are crammed into a choke tube’s forcing cone — not to mention the stress imparted on the choke.
For geese and big, tough ducks such as eiders and scoters, the downrange energy afforded by larger shot can outweigh its drawbacks. For most ducks, however, a payload of Nos. 2 or 4 steel may improve your luck.
Neglecting to Pattern
Just as you’d never go deer hunting without sighting in your rifle, hunting ducks without visiting a patterning board is a roll of the ballistic dice. Is your shotgun’s point of impact consistent with point of aim? And is your pattern sufficiently dense for clean kills, which typically require 3-5 pellet strikes?
Your goal is 70 percent pattern density (70 percent of your shotshell’s pellets within a 30-inch circle) at the distance you expect to gun waterfowl. While advanced pattern adjustments are a topic for another day, aftermarket chokes can help, as can experimenting with a variety of shotshells. Knowing you’ve achieved a proper pattern is also good peace of mind, and nothing fosters good wingshooting like confidence.
Sloppily Mounting the Gun
You can pull your head off the stock, stop your swing, close an eye or commit any litany of wingshooting sins and still drop quite a few ducks. However, there’s one error in technique that almost guarantees the safety of any greenhead in your vicinity: a sloppy gun mount. Among other detrimental effects, a poorly mounted gun transfers stouter recoil and fails to align the rib with your dominant eye — at that point it doesn’t much matter if your gun’s throwing a good pattern.
Fortunately the summer months are an ideal time to perfect your gun mount, which doesn’t even require visiting a range. After ensuring your shotgun is unloaded, insert a Maglite flashlight into the muzzle — the AA model pairs nicely with a modified choke 12-gauge. Twist the flashlight’s beam until it’s as tight as possible. Now, with your shotgun in the ready position, direct the beam toward a corner of your ceiling. Smoothly mount the gun to your cheek without allowing the beam to waiver from the corner. A steady beam indicates a smooth gun mount. As you improve, trace the beam along the wall/ceiling seam as you mount and continue swinging the gun. A dozen daily repetitions of this drill can provide great results.