The best way to improve your shooting is to shoot a lot. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to get to a range. Fortunately, there are drills you can do at home that will sharpen your skills between trips.
Make sure your gun is unloaded, draw the curtains so you don’t frighten the neighbors, and spend 15 minutes a night doing these three drills. You’ll notice the difference next time you do shoot.
1. The Gun Mount Drill
The act of mounting the gun—bringing it from a ready position to the position at which it will be when you pull the trigger—is a critical part of shooting well. A consistent gun mount is especially important for field shooting. Practicing gun mounts at home with an unloaded gun makes the mount second nature, and assures that the gun will shoot where you look. It also strengthens your gun handling muscles.
Most self-taught shotgunners perform the gun mount backwards. They bring the gun to their shoulder, then put their head down on the stock, then find the target. We talk of “shouldering” the gun, but really, the very first step should be to move the muzzle toward the target. Then the gun comes to your face. The actual shouldering is the last step of the gun mount. Here’s how to do it:
Start with your gun, unloaded, of course. Stand on one side of a room and pick an object on the opposite wall. I use a print of wood ducks in my office. With your eyes on the object (I look at a wood duck’s beak), start with the gun held in a ready position, butt tucked lightly under your arm, muzzle horizontal or a little higher. The first move with the gun is to push the muzzle out toward the target. Pushing the muzzle two or three inches out toward the target brings the butt of the gun out from under your arm. Learning to mount this way helps you avoid tangling the butt in your hunting coat in the field.
Then you raise the stock to your face. You don’t have to smash your cheek against the comb, just be sure the gun finds the right spot under your cheekbone. Finally, seat the gun in your shoulder pocket by pulling back with your trigger hand. There’s no need to slam the butt of the gun into your shoulder, either. Work on being smooth. Speed is over-rated and actually counterproductive to good shooting.
You can also practice mounts in front of a mirror, pointing at your reflection. You should see your eye centered over the rib of the gun when you complete the mount.
Start with 10 or 15 mounts in a row and work your way up. Olympic skeet shooters will do 100 to 200 practice mounts a night, which is enough to make your arms ache, and also enough so that lifting the gun over and over in competition isn’t a problem.
2. The Flashlight Drill
This drill is a great way to hone your mount and your moves to the target, and it teaches you to get your eyes off the gun and out on the target where they belong.
A Maglite AA flashlight fits neatly into the muzzle of a 12-gauge gun with a Modified or a more open choke (you may have to remove the choke tube if the gun is fitted for them, or you may have to wrap some electrician’s tape around the light). In the same way, an AAA Maglite fits into the bore of a 20-gauge. Twist the beam of the light down to its narrowest setting, drop it in the muzzle, and the light will shine right where the gun is pointed. With your gun unloaded, stand on one side of a darkened room and practice your gun mounts as above. Start with the gun in a ready position with the light shining into the corner of the ceiling. Mount the gun smoothly so the light never wavers from that spot.
After that, practice swinging the gun back and forth as if shooting crossing shots, keeping the beam on the seam between the wall and the ceiling. Once you have done that, put the mount and the crossing move together. Start from a ready position and start moving the muzzle along the flight line of the imaginary target. Then as you swing the muzzle, bring the stock to your face and the gun into your shoulder. Again, you want to mount smoothly enough that the beam doesn’t waver off the line.
3. The Three-Shotshell Drill
Well-known shooting instructors Gil and Vicki Ash came up with this drill, in which you take three bullets, or shotshells, or any other similarly sized objects and set them up on a shelf about 18 inches apart. Start with an un-mounted gun, standing across the room from your three shotshells. Focus your eyes on the center one. Bring the gun up to point at the shotshell on the left, then the one on the right, while keeping your eyes locked on the shotshell in the middle.
The object of the drill is two-fold. First, it teaches you to keep your eyes on the target while the gun points in front of it–a skill you will need when shooting crossing targets that require lead. The best way to shoot those crossers is by maintaining a hard focus on the bird while keeping the gun in your peripheral vision.
Second, the three-shotshell drill teaches you the “sight picture” for crossing targets. On left to right targets, right-handed shooters must learn to see the target behind (to the left) of the barrel. On right to lefts, they have to learn to see the bird across the barrel. That sight picture, especially, can confuse a shooter, although once you learn to focus on the target across the barrel, the right to left becomes a much easier bird to hit, as you’ll see when you take the skills you’ve learned doing these drills to the range.