May marks the start of the duck shooting season, and it’s natural to miss a few easy shots, especially at the beginning of the season when you may feel a bit rusty. However, there are ways to reduce the number of missed opportunities, or even eliminate them altogether, before the season’s opening on 6 May.
The best way is to use those misses up before the season opens, especially if you haven’t handled a shotgun since the previous season. If you haven’t had the gun out on rabbits in the last 12 months, pick it up now – unloaded of course – and snap it to your shoulder a few times. You’ll probably find your swing in a bit creaky, your eye not accustomed, and the gun doesn’t come up effortlessly, as it did during the last shooting season.
To achieve smooth and accurate shotgun shooting, it’s crucial to have good muscular coordination. One effective way to regain this is through dry shooting, which involves practising without ammunition.
Always remember to prioritise safety when dry shooting and ensure that your gun is unloaded and pointed in a safe direction. Stand in one spot in the backyard or even inside, and fix your eye on one subject – a clock, a picture, or outdoors at a weathervane or rooftop. Quickly point your gun at it. Assuming you are right-handed, close your left eye and sight along the barrel with your right. You may find you are pointing a bit off. Correct the hold and try again and again until you are on target.
If you feel a bit silly aiming at a clock or weathervane, remember that many of the top skeet and trap shooters regularly spend hours ‘dry pointing’ to keep in the swing of handling a shotgun.
Of course, best of all is getting out to your local clay bird club and spending a few weekends before the season begins.
I spoke to a friend, Joe, who has far more duck shooting seasons under his belt than I have had.
“I realise COVID restrictions last year affected clay bird shoots, but once we got the all-clear, my duck shooting mates usually go and shoot a few clays on a friendly farmer’s land,” he says.
“This is invaluable practice, gets your coordination back into gear, and makes sure the ammo you’re using is working and is cycling properly.”
Clay target games such as skeet, trap, and sporting clays are great ways to become more familiar with the fundamentals of shooting a shotgun. However, the flight of the clay bird can be too predictable, making it somewhat different from the shooting situations hunters face in the maimai.
Joe explained that because the typical skeet shot is around 20 metres – and duck shooters can take shots out to 40 metres – it’s worthwhile to burn a few boxes of shells at greater, and more realistic, distances. Joe added that he is a stickler for firearm safety. Alcohol and gunpowder can be a deadly mix and should be avoided. Instead, Joe and his mates enjoy a cup of warm tea and coffee.
For many shooters who only shoot once or twice a year, the opening weekend can pose a challenge. That’s where shooting clays in between duck shooting seasons or at the least a couple of months before opening comes in handy. You rekindle and practice safe gun handling to ensure a safer experience for everyone involved.
“Being in the limited confines of a maimai, you need to be alert and control the muzzle, otherwise there’s the potential for things to get a whole lot more dangerous,” emphasises Joe.
The welfare of birds is also important. A sporting shooter hates escaped wounded birds. For a clean kill, have a stake or two at the 40-metre mark to gauge the range and determine how close the ducks need to be.
It’s also important to remember though the duck limit is not a measure of a good hunting day. The true measure of a good day can be found in the good company you keep, the pleasure and pride in seeing your dog retrieving ducks, and simply enjoying being outdoors.