photo by Denver Bryan/Images on the Wildside

We often say “Shoulder the gun,” but what we should really say is “Cheek the gun.” To be a consistent shot with a shotgun, it must shoot where you look, and to do so your cheek must be firmly on the comb. Look around your local gun club and you’ll see that 99 percent of the shooters shooting from the low-gun position ram the gun into their shoulder, then arc the muzzle up to their cheek. That’s backwards. The bird is up there, not on the ground. It must be cheek first, then shoulder.

There’s a little ridge under our cheekbone called the zygomatic buttress, and it’s against this ledge that we need to set the stock. By so doing, we put our eye right on top of the shotgun’s comb and, if the gun fits even reasonably well, we’ll be looking right down the barrel. Then, wherever our eyes go, the gun will easily follow.

Get Cheeky at Home

The good part about developing this tendency is that we can practice at home, away from the range. All you need is a flashlight: a AA-battery Mini-Mag Lite, which fits nicely in the muzzle of an unloaded 12-gauge shotgun. If you shoot a 20-gauge, get a AAA model. All you need then is a room with walls and a ceiling. Start with the gun tucked between your arm and ribs. Then, looking at the upper corner of the room, push the gun toward it just like a GI with a bayonet. Spear the corner in one smooth move, keeping the flashlight’s beam in the corner. The gun should come up to your cheek and then your shoulder. Do this 10 times, then take a break.

Start Moving

Next, imagine a bird is flying along the seam of the wall and ceiling. Starting in the far corner, again smoothly mount your gun while keeping the beam moving along the wall-ceiling seam. Do this 10 times to the right, then10 to the left.

Because you’re developing your mount away from clays and flushing birds, there is no need to rush. Be deliberate until the drill feels comfortable. Top shooters practice these drills several times a day, often with 50 or more repetitions to establish muscle memory.

Trip the Trigger

While doing these drills, dry-fire so that you’re tripping the trigger just after the stock comes into contact with your cheek. The mount, the swing, and the shot should all be parts of one fluid motion. Riding the target with your barrel is a sure way to miss.

Then, next time you’re in the field or on the range, lock your eyes onto the bird or clay and bring the gun to your cheek. If you do it the way you’d been practicing, it’s a good bet that you’ll hit it.

Watch shotgun expert Phil Bourjaily demonstrate the flashlight drill here: