I needed some help, after last season’s performance in the duck blind.
As daylight began showing, so did the ducks; at first highballs, flying clear of our blind and paying no heed to our decoys or calling, but directly a small group of birds flared and began to circle. We stood motionless as my partner worked them in to range, I recognized a green head and waited for the command.
“Take ‘em!” I picked a bird at the edge of the group and fired. The drake began gaining altitude. I recovered from the recoil and let go with another volley with the same results… holes in the sky.
Three birds dropped; none of which was my doing.
I shook my head in disgust. The blind remained silent for the remainder of the morning which I preferred as I had no excuse for my shooting skills, or lack of them.
Maybe I should take up knitting or another activity that doesn’t require shooting a shotgun.
I was spiraling into a world of duck hunting despair.
Brighter Days Ahead
“Shotgun shooting skills aren’t like riding a bicycle,” says Jake Hindman, a certified Effective Wingshooting for the Hunter (EWFTH) instructor. “Shooting a shotgun isn’t something you learn and you have it the rest of your life. You have to practice to remain proficient.”
The EWFTH program developed by the Missouri Department of Conservation program is based on the Cooperative North American Shotgunning Education Program (CONSEP) a shotgun education and research program that researches the performance of non-toxic ammunition in the field or in this case, the marsh. Its members comprise of agencies like the US Fish & Wildlife, state agencies and similar agencies, worldwide.
In addition to lethality studies on non-toxic ammunition, studies of observed shooting practices of waterfowlers were conducted to determine if the wounding rates could be decreased.
The Ugly Truth
According to these studies only 10 percent of waterfowl recover from a pellet strike in a non-lethal area. Even if a duck or goose gets hit in a non-vital area, it will not be able to return to its normal behavior or activities and will fall victim to predators.
So what is the wounding rate? “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 percent,” claims Hindman. “For every four ducks struck, one is not retrieved. And we, as hunters, need to realize that with the current anti-hunting climate, that is too many. A recent public opinion poll confirms this and believes the number is unacceptable and must be reduced; not only from an ethical standpoint as hunters, but to keep the antis from threatening our hunting heritage.”
Thirteen million waterfowl harvested annually equates to 4.3 million struck and not recovered. The opinion poll determines 10 percent would be acceptable.
But how can we swing these numbers in our favor?
Help Is On The Way
The EWFTH program breaks down factors to decrease the wounding rate numbers as a waterfowler.
Improve Shooting Skills
“When tested, the average waterfowl hunter could not break six of eight clay targets at 20 yards. Which means that most hunters are shooting 30-40 yards beyond their effective range,” said Hindman during a EWFTH seminar. As Hindman announced this, I slouched down into my chair. My hunting partner shot me a glance and grinned. On the proficiency test conducted on the range. I did my best to confirm the results; 0-8.
“Target shooting differs from hunting as most targets are thrown at a predictable speed and a sustained lead can be determined, whereas in hunting `neither distance nor speed of the bird can be predicted,” says Hindman. After a period of coaching from EWFTH personnel and many misses, I found my mojo and broke several birds in a row using their instruction of butt, belly beak, bang.
Butt, Belly, Beak and Bang?
Butt: Swinging the shotgun you start behind the bird. Belly: Swing the shotgun and catch up with the bird to determine speed and direction of the bird. Beak: Accelerate through in front of the bird. Bang: Slap the trigger. “Each shooter will need to determine their lead distance to hit the bird,” says Hindman. “And don’t forget follow through. This technique takes in to account speed and distance and requires no leads to memorize.”
For me the distance appeared to be about eight feet in front of the bird.
The CONSEP study showed the average first shot taken on a goose was 67 yards. In the same study, the average shot on a duck was 53 yards, way beyond most waterfowler’s range.
To demonstrate range estimation skills, Hindman led the group to an open field with decoys mounted on poles placed at various ranges and then participants were asked to estimate the ranges of each. My results were not as good as I would have liked. To improve these skills Hindman recommends subtending; using the end of the gun barrel – a constant – to determine how much of it covers a flying goose or duck at a given range. The more duck you see, the closer it is.
Only practice will keep range estimation sharp. Another method is to place a decoy at your effective range when hunting and use that decoy as a guide for range estimation.
Poor Choices in Firearms and Ammunition
Hindman claims, “This element is the easiest of the three to correct. Practice with the same gun and choke combination you hunt with and use ammunition that replicates the speed of your hunting loads.” One often overlooked aspect is patterning the shell and choke combination on a pattern board to determine acceptable patterns when shooting at a given range. This can only be accomplished by shooting the shotgun.
So will I hit every duck that flies within range? I doubt it, but armed (pun intended) with the knowledge from the EWFTH seminar, I’m better prepared; now, to work on my calling.