Like Luke Skywalker, you can use the Force to hit targets with your eyes closed. I learned this trick from shotgunning instructors Gil and Vicki Ash. It’s fun to try and a great way to learn what it means to have a feel for the target, as well as an excellent method for breaking yourself of the habit of looking back at the barrel to be sure (and by “to be sure” I mean “to guarantee a miss”) before you shoot. Shooting with your eyes closed, you have to let go.
Call for the target with your eyes open. Focus on it, read its angle and move the gun in time with the bird. Close both eyes as you start to pull the trigger. You’ll crush the target. Once that becomes too easy, call for the bird and close both eyes a full second before you shoot. Stretch out, use your feelings—all that Jedi stuff—and you will be amazed at what you can do if you read the target’s line and move the gun in sync with the clay. After I showed this to two of our high school shooters who had bead-checking problems, I challenged one of them to shoot a whole round closing his eyes before pulling the trigger. He shot 22×25 and afterward admitted to opening his eyes twice during the round. He missed those two shots.
That lesson teaches you a lot about yourself. Once you know you’re the weak link in the equation, you can learn how to deal with three basic shots.
The best way to hit birds that flush underfoot and fly straight away is to imagine a bayonet on your shotgun. When the bird flushes, take a ready position, with the gun held parallel to the ground just above waist level. Take a short step toward the bird and imagine jabbing it with a bayonet as you bring the stock to your face. Starting the gun low lets you see the bird clearly. Pushing the gun out toward the bird assures you won’t catch the butt in your coat. Skip the part where you scream “Kill!”
The High Birds
To make long shots on way-up-there birds, move the gun at about half the speed you think you should and shoot as the muzzle passes the beak. Slowing down doesn’t seem as if it would work, but it does.
Ammunition companies will tell you that more velocity solves the problem of missing behind a flying target. Helpful kibitzers at the gun club will tell you that you need to lead the target more or to keep your gun moving. In truth, most misses behind result from the mistake of looking back at the bead to measure lead. It’s a baffling miss to experience, because the last thing you saw before you looked at the bead was the gun ahead of the target. However, the instant you look at the bead, the gun stops. You are going to end up shooting behind the bird even though you think you’re ahead of it. The answer to this problem isn’t more feet per second, more feet of lead, or an exaggerated follow-through. It’s more focus on the target. Relegate the barrel to your peripheral vision and keep your eye on the bird. Think sharp target, fuzzy barrels and your mystery misses will turn into hits.