3 Steps to Become a Better Shotgunner
By M.D. Johnson
Years ago — 40 to be precise — my father taught me to shoot a shotgun at moving targets. Shotgun fit, now an exact science, was for me a rudimentary, old-school process determined by putting the stock in the crook of my elbow and extending my right arm. If my outstretched finger reached the trigger comfortably, my father said, the gun fit; if it didn’t, the gun still might fit, we just weren’t certain at that point.
Back then, and still today, I’m an instinctive shotgun shooter. I rely entirely on the subconscious computer system that is my brain to determine how much lead a given target requires. Essentially, I see the bird — nothing else — and begin to mount and move the gun. I blot out the target, slap the trigger, and continue swinging the barrel or barrels at the proper speed.
It’s true that during this micro-second process, many things can go wrong. I can look at the barrel. Miss. I can look at the front bead. Miss. I can look at bird No. 2 in what I’m sure is a certain double before actually killing bird No. 1. Miss. I can stop or slow down my follow-through. And, yes, another miss.
Today, I’d like to think I’m a good field shooter. Like my father, a very consistent shotgunner. How did I get that way? Forty years behind the trigger have helped greatly; however, the following three suggestions have contributed much to my education, growth and ongoing maintenance to become a better shotgunner.
Get a shotgun that fits
The best and most accurate way to achieve proper shotgun fit is to take both yourself and your shotgun of choice to an accredited gunsmith or, as I’m wont to call them, a stock doctor.
Through the use of a Try-Gun, the gunsmith can determine your particular stock dimensions. A stock can then be found or, in some cases, modified to meet those specifications. And voila — a shotgun that fits.
NOTE: A Try-Gun is a shotgun with a fully adjustable stock; one which can be quickly and easily altered in a myriad of ways, resulting in a fit customized to the individual shooter.
Take a shooting lesson
But having the proper equipment (in this case, a shotgun that fits) is only part of the equation. What do you do with it? Here, the answer is easy: Take a shooting lesson from a reputable shooting instructor.
A day spent with the likes of Gil and Vicki Ash (Optimum Shooting Performance) or Steve Schultz, chief instructor at TargetLine Shooting School, will undoubtedly prove some of the best time and money you’ve spent in terms of becoming a better shotgunner.
Shooting schools and instructors are available nationwide, with most offering lessons which can be tailored to you, the individual.
Practice, practice, practice
This is the simplest piece of advice to be offered here; still, it’s the most oft-neglected. Why? Practice takes commitment, dedication and time; and for some folks, that’s more difficult than hitting a going-away mourning dove with a tailwind.
“We’ve done studies on shooting,” says Gil Ash, “and we found that the students who do two things — practice what we tell them or teach them to practice, and go to the range at least two times a week for the three weeks following the clinic — will retain over 80% of what we taught them. The people who don’t do these things retain from 25–40%.”
In my case, practice may not make perfect, but I’d much rather be in that 80th percentile than the other. What would you do to become a better shotgunner?