Improve your waterfowl shooting skills
All of your preparation for waterfowl season is rewarded with full limits. All of your scouting, blind building, calling practice, and decoy preparation will be wasted if you cannot make your waterfowl shooting count.
Properly mounting a shotgun is the most vital waterfowling skill you can master. Learning to raise your shotgun to your shoulder and cheek, without lowering your head to the gun, will allow you to find, follow, and shoot your target without hesitation. The correct technique for mounting a shotgun is a combination of following the target with the muzzle as you bring the stock to your cheek and settling into your shoulder in one fluid motion. To become proficient, simulate actual hunting scenarios when you practice. Whether you lay down, sit, or stand during your hunt, you should be comfortable mounting your gun from any position.
Once you have learned to properly mount your shotgun, you must find the proper target lead. Wingshooters have two main options for leading the target: the maintained lead and the swing-through lead.
Each method has its place, and you should master both. The maintained lead requires you to mount your shotgun in front of the bird, match its speed for a moment, and shoot. It is the easiest method for shooting long cross-flying targets. The swing-through lead requires you to shoulder the gun, follow the flight path of the bird, and shoot as your gun barrel passes the bill of the duck or goose. Your gun movement has to be quicker than your target in order for you to catch and pass the bird. As your gun continues moving past the waterfowl target, you will not see very much lead as you fire the shot.
Before you put your gun mounting and target leading skills to work in the field, you need to determine what type and size of shot best suits the waterfowl and hunting scenario you will encounter. You also need to choose the correct shot to properly pattern your shotgun before the hunt. Choosing the right shot is a compromise of energy or density. Larger shot pellets have a lower density but carry a higher amount of impact energy at a given shot weight. While smaller shot pellets offer a higher shot density and increased hits but provide less impact energy at the same shot weight. You need to find the sweet spot between the two for your particular needs. If most of your shots are close-range, smaller shot pellets are often more effective as a result of their greater density and broader shot pattern. If you are taking mostly longer shots, larger shot pellets may be a better choice due to their greater impact energy and tighter shot pattern. If you are unsure of the shot distances you will experience on a hunt, it is advisable to choose a larger shot. The larger shot offers more impact energy, gives improved wind stability, and punches through the cold, dense air better than smaller shot.
Now that you know how to properly mount your shotgun, lead your target, and how to choose the right ammunition, you need to find out how your shotgun patterns. The more shot you can put into a duck or goose, the more successful and cleaner the kill. To pattern your shotgun correctly, you must use the same shot you intend to use during your hunt. Steel, tungsten, copper-plated lead, and unplated lead pattern differently from each other. Patterning with one type of shot and hunting with another may result in missed or crippled waterfowl. As shot distances differ in each hunting scenario, you should pattern your gun at various distances. Screw-in choke tubes offer the ability to fine tube your shot pattern for a particular hunt. Most shotguns come with multiple choke tubes, and you should pattern each one. If you choose to purchase an aftermarket choke tube, find one that was designed for the particular shot you are using. Most aftermarket tubes are designed with an extended length. The extended tube length can offer improved patterns from their lengthened parallel section or longer taper. The extended length also allows the stresses of large nontoxic shot to be moved beyond the muzzle of your gun, which may lengthen the life your barrel.
Putting together all of the pieces of the waterfowl shotgunning puzzle may improve your waterfowl shooting experience. Having the skills to make your shots count will make all of your hard preseason work worth the effort.