...I can't hit anything!
by Bill Byrd
I have shot and hunted since I was 15 years old. In my childhood through early adulthood, I received NO instruction on shooting. I certainly received NO training regarding how to point shoot a shotgun. So I read, asked questions of my friends, and just sort of developed. Based on my experience shotgunning is the hardest, when you don't understand the process of it.
Rifles and pistols have always been straight forward to me. Sight them in, aim, shoot. With a shotgun it just isn't that easy.
If you have experienced just how frustrating shotgunning can be when one doesn't understand HOW to shoot a shotgun, maybe this article will help. Next, how wonderful it is once one becomes a good shot!! By that I mean hitting in the seventy to eighty per cent range most of the time. The two ways I know to remedy the problems is shooting lessons, or self teaching. Being me I decided to teach myself. Amazingly it worked!
My first shotgun was a hardware store variety clip loading .410 bolt action full choke "squirrel gun" that my wife's grandfather had owned. My first 12 gauge shotgun was an old JC Higgins 12 gauge pump.
What made this gun (image right) stick in my mind was that I couldn't hit anything with it. It frustrated me no end, so I traded it in on a Browning 12 gauge autoloader and still couldn't hit with it. I shot at skeet and hit some, and hunted and hit some birds but my inablilty to consistently hit what I was gunning for with my shotgun got to me.
The 1960s and 1970s were years in which we had all kinds of hunting and fishing books and magazines. About 1976 I asked myself some serious shooting questions. Then I bought a copy of Shotgunning, the art and the science a wonderfully definitive book by Bob Brister who was the consumate outdoorsman and writer. Sadly Bob died in 2005. Even in the 1970s this was a definitive book on how to teach myself or someone else to shoot a shotgun. It is still in print and electronic access, and still applies today. It will still help us today!
I studied every word of this book when we lived in Columbus, GA. Its premise is to learn to mount my gun consistently by practice mounting it correctly thousands of times. Next train my brain to sight the target, with my gun mounted in the shooting position. Then as I swing through my brain will actually tell me to squeeze the trigger, and if all components of this process are together -- I HIT THE TARGET! The more I shoot the more this becomes automatic. When shooting skeet or most winged game, I expect to have a second or less to shoot. I can't aim and track that fast -- I have to leave control to my brain -- I have to be on "auto pilot."
The methods described in that book changed me from an almost deranged want-to-be, to a contented shotgunner. For my purposes, that was my goal. Instead of missing 23 out of 25, I was more likely to hit on 23 of 25 shots. I had the run of a 350 acre hunting preserve just 3 miles down the road from my home. I built a reloading bench, purchased the reloading gear and supplies, and started cranking out 12 gauge shotgun shells by the carry case.
I modified an old manual skeet thrower so I could foot release my clay birds and spent many many hours shooting skeet and practice mounting and dry shooting my shotguns. Now shooting a shotgun accurately is as natural for me as drinking milk with a cookie still warm from the oven.
At this same time in 1976 I bought the most beautiful used model 700 SKB o/u 12 gauge customized skeet gun at a pawn shop. It had a vent rib with red sights and when I raised it to my shoulder, all I had to do was see the right target picture and squeeze. It was an awesome gun.
To continue to improve I continued to shoot skeet at more and more challenging angles. I shot skeet in wind and rain in full and low light conditions. The effort has paid off.
Now when I hold a shotgun, I look forward to using it in the field. I enjoy the beauty and art of it, and how it rises to my shoulder, and how it swings naturally with the target. I feel how smooth the trigger is and how easy it is to fire. Since I spend my time on the lighter gauges, I shoot smoother because of the light recoil involved. Last, these wonderful sporting guns are so light to carry afield.
I haven't hunted so consistently as I wished over the past years. I've shot skeet, bought some new shotguns that inspire me to shoot skeet and hunt more often. I've even chased an occasional deer, and generally lately I've enjoyed more activity in the shooting sports again.
Right now I'm focusing on skeet shooting specifically for upland bird hunting in the southeast including ringneck pheasant, bobwhite quail, chukar partridge, and when available Hungarian partridge. With luck and perserverence, I may re-involve myself in duck hunting, too.
Having said that -- I'm retired now. I have my Georgia do everything retiree hunting/fishing license. I'm using it!
Three years ago I started reloading 12 gauge shotgun shells, even though they are so inexpensive by the case I may not continue. I may hand load the more expensive 20, 28, and .410 gauges in the future. The beauty of reloading is being able to load custom mixes, such as 12 gauge shells with 1 1/8oz of #5 and #6 shot mixed.
Sometimes trying to find a case of .410 or 28 gauge shells loaded with number 6s is difficult, but I've found sources. Custom loading shells allows us to enjoy shooting our own creations in practice and in the field. Custom loads make a good load for ringneck pheasants, quail, partridges, and most small game in this area.
In addition, #6 shot loads for 20, 28 gauge and .410 are very good short range for hunting birds, rabbits, and squirrels. I prefer a .22 rifle for squirrels.
Most of the articles on this website are about fly fishing -- light ultralight fly fishing. I incorporate the same concepts in hunting as in fishing. Why shoot a 10 gauge shoulder crippler when a 28 gauge or .410 will be effective plus add pleasure to the sport, and for older shooters be orthopedically smarter. As always, match the gear to the hunt and enjoy yourself more!
- Bill Byrd
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