Waterfowl Shooting: why we Miss, How to Hit Consistently


In 1969, a Swiss psychiatrist published the five stages of grief—a process that people go through when faced with a terminal illness. Since then, the model has been applied to all of life’s troubles and trials.

If these five stages were applied to a waterfowler’s experience of a season of miserable shooting, the process might evolve as follows:

  1. Denial: My shooting is a little off today, but did you see how fast that duck was flying?
  1. Anger and blame: Ahh! Why am I missing? I can’t believe I bought this piece of junk shotgun.
  1. Bargaining: Just let me shoot a duck, any duck, please—just one duck … Is that a coot over there by the decoys?
  1. Depression: I’m such a loser; I’m never going to hit anything. My shooting is so poor a mallard drake just threw his loose change into the duck blind as he flew over.
  1. Acceptance: I’ve got to get some help. Practice clays more. Deal with my shooting so I can get back into the game.

Chances are most waterfowlers have gone through this process a time or two. I know I have. There are days when you could kill ducks with a pinch of sand and a slingshot because your calling was excellent and the birds decoyed magnificently. Just don’t get caught on this slippery slope repeatedly, causing you to fall back into denial, blame games, and the gut-wrenching dejection from missing the easiest of shots. Don’t let this become a “chronic disease,” and if you feel that’s where it’s heading, then get out on the sporting clays course at least five or six times in the two months before the season opens. You’ll bag more birds this fall by breaking more clays over the summer.

As strange as it may seem, the early fall dove season has upped my percentage of kills during the waterfall season. A few years back, I switched from full choke to improved cylinder for the doves. My kill ratio has nearly doubled and it’s boosted my confidence when shouldering my 3-inch, 20-gauge Remington 1100.

When I’ve had those days I couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. I resorted to what I call “shooting by instinct.” I’d wait with my gun down in front of me waist-high, as if I were walking through a field, pheasant hunting. Then when I felt I couldn’t wait any longer—as the ducks or geese were right over the decoys—I quickly shouldered up my gun and swung on the birds, and most likely I’d drop one or two birds without thinking. This is just doing it by instinct or using muscle memory. When you get a lot of time watching the birds get in range, you’ll undoubtedly feel too relaxed and your subconscious will think: This is really going to be an easy shot. I once was crow hunting near a slaughterhouse back in the ‘60s. Guts and hides were spread in the fields like one would use a manure spreader. This is what the approximately 300 crows were feeding on throughout the winter. I saw a single crow coming at me, head-on from a quarter- to one-half mile away. I had more than enough time to get ready for the shot, and when I shouldered my gun I saw the incoming bird right on top of the front bead site. Well, you surely know that I shot right under the crow, as I should have swung the gun and blotted out the crow as it was coming right at me.

Stopping your swing is another common error when shooting at birds. I was talking once to a good friend and fellow waterfowler about one of his recent hunts. As he was telling me about his horrible shooting that day, I could tell by the way he gesticulated that he was not following through after pulling the trigger. It was so obvious, as he was stopping his body twist and stopping his arm swing as he spoke.

If you’ve shouldered your gun and have your cheek on the stock as you watch the incoming bird that is halfway to your decoys, you’ve committed a common mistake on incoming targets: You’ve gotten the gun up way too soon and are riding the bird too long. You will invariably shoot under or behind the bird.

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Many hunters and shooters have the problem of shooting off the incorrect eye—they’re not using “eye dominance.” The first step is determining eye dominance and checking to see if the shooter’s master eye matches the shoulder from which he or she shoots. Shooters who are right-eye dominant should shoot off the right shoulder and vice versa. But some shooters shoot off the shoulder opposite their dominant eye and this can cause many problems.

To determine eye dominance, cut a small hole in a piece of cardboard and extended out from your face with both arms straight. With both eyes open, center on a distant object in the hole and slowly draw the cardboard back toward your face while keeping focus on the object centered in the hole. The hole will gravitate to your dominant eye.

Any who discover that their “master eye” is opposite the shoulder from which they shoot have “cross-eye dominance.” Should they learn to shoot from their other shoulder? Most shooting instructors discourage people from changing shoulders. It’s easier to continue shooting from the shoulder you’re used to and retraining your subdominant eye to become “dominant.”

But the solution isn’t closing the dominant eye and shooting with only the subdominant eye open. If you close one eye completely you will lose your peripheral vision and depth perception and you can kiss hitting anything with consistency goodbye.

Simply put a 1/2-inch piece of cloudy, non-transparent Scotch tape on your shooting glasses over your dominant eye. This will force you to site and shoot with your subdominant eye, but will still provide for peripheral vision and depth perception.

I hope these words of advice will help you analyze and correct your wing-shooting mistakes.