Basic hunting ethics mandate that every hunter must strive for clean, humane kills. Indeed, we hunters must do everything we can to prevent wounding losses in the field. That’s our obligation as ethical hunters.
The call to improve our wing-shooting skills is not new, and it comes from wildlife managers and other professionals who believe that anti-hunting groups will use our unintended wing-shooting mistakes (wounding losses) as evidence that bird hunting, particularly waterfowling, should be banned.
What can hunters do? Hone our skills as much as possible, that’s what. Learn more about ballistics and our limitations as wing-shooters. Be humble. Ask for help. Strive to be better, more ethical hunters.
“The more you practice your wing-shooting skills, the better you will become,” said Paul Thompson, media relations manager for Browning Firearms. “You can’t expect to be a more proficient shooter if you don’t put in the time to make yourself better. And the summer is a good time to work out the kinks and fine-tune your skills.”
Thompson is right. For many of us, the fall hunting seasons are as far away as a prairie horizon. Still, summer is perhaps the best time of year to become better wing-shooters. “The good news is that there are registered gun clubs with trap and sporting clays courses all over the country where hunters can improve their shooting skills,” said Thompson.
With Thompson’s remarks in mind, consider the following ideas and tips to improve your shooting:
Join a sporting clays league. “Sporting clays can be humbling, but you will improve,” said Thompson. Growing in popularity more and more every day, Thompson said sporting clays simulates as much as possible shooting conditions while hunting. Some are overhead shots, similar to on-the-wing waterfowl or upland birds. Others skip across the ground, in attempt to mimic a running cottontail. Examples abound. The round clay targets, which come in several sizes, are thrown mechanically from trap houses, many of which are hidden. All are in a natural setting.
“The great thing about sporting clays is that it resembles the type of shots you’ll actually encounter in the field,” he said. “Trap is good to work on your mechanics, but sporting clays simulates hunting.”
Know your limitations.
Some hunters are gifted wing-shooters. However, many of us require regular practice to hone or master the skills needed to consistently break targets or harvest a bird cleanly and humanely. Shooting experts say breaking 75 percent of clay targets thrown at a crossing angle will provide consistent performance in the field. Start by shooting cross shots at 20 yards. When you’re consistently breaking targets from that distance (six out of eight, for example), move back five to ten yards and repeat. Bottom line: learn your maximum effective range (judging distance), and don’t shoot beyond that yardage in the field. After all, hunting isn’t a competitive sport.
Pattern your shotgun. The only way to measure pattern density is to shoot the selected gun and load at a paper target and evaluate the pellet strikes. The process is simple, but it is too long to explain here. That said, your local game warden or state wildlife agency will happily provide you with that information, or you can find patterning tips online. Truth is, all hunters need to pattern their shotguns. You’ll improve your wing-shooting dramatically if you do.
Select the proper load.
No single shotgun and shot shell load is appropriate for all hunting conditions. It’s up to you to understand which load is best for the game species you are hunting. For example, you wouldn’t want to use trap loads for a fall turkey hunt.
Find a mentor.
Guns clubs are crawling with experts who can help you become a better wing-shooter, and most are willing to part with their trade secrets on the spot. But you have to ask for help.
Lastly, if you’re wing-shooting really needs a makeover, hire an instructor. Like an Army drill sergeant, they will break you down, then build you up. In the end, you’ll become a much better wing-shooter, particularly in the field. And that’s our obligation as ethical hunters.