Taking the Toughest Shots
October 5, 2020
With waterfowl hunting underway and the challenge of a rising pheasant on the horizon for many, the
field presents a number of challenging shots for hunters, especially those getting back after a long off
season which saw some shooting sports facilities closed due to pandemic restrictions. Whether new to
the field, or just needing some pointers on converting those challenging shots that are sure to come up
this fall, what follows are some tips to bag more birds and make the most of each opportunity.
Straight To It
One of the most frustrating shots, particularly in pheasant hunting, is the going-away bird. When a
rooster rises and takes off low and straight away, hunters have a tendency to rush the shot and shoot
over the bird, turning what looks and feels like a "gimme" into a gone opportunity. The key to
converting this deceptively difficult shot is taking the time to properly mount the gun and pick a
narrower portion of the target to hone in on, according to Mark Sandness, National Sporting Clays
Association Level 3 Instructor and owner of Capital City Sporting Clays in Bismarck, N.D.
"The straight away bird will always seem like it's going straight away in the effect that when you start to
mount the gun, if you're not correctly mounting it you will drive over the top of [the bird]," Sandness
warns, suggesting a deliberate mount and a narrowing of focus on the bird, "just keep your eyes
between the butt and tail to the feet, that will stop the gun from whipping so much," he concludes.
For those blockers who may be capping a stretch of pheasant habitat being walked toward them, and
for those waterfowlers who are pass shooting or have ducks come in high from the 12 o'clock position,
the incoming overhead bird can be a challenging shot due to its height and speed. Especially when stiff
autumn winds are propelling them, the high and fast opportunity can quickly fluster a hunter and the
bird can be lost before the trigger is even pulled.
"If it's coming at them, the biggest issue is they're thinking: 'it's going to get here, it's going to get
closer, I'm going to have an easier shot,' and the next thing you know, it comes whizzing by you,"
Sandness relays of what hunters experience in this common field scenario, "if you have that
presentation where it's coming at you, slide your hand back just slightly so you're about a finger-width
back on your forearm [of the shotgun] so when you mount the gun, the gun's going to mount better in
your shoulder and it's going to shorten the gun up," he continues, suggesting a shortened length helps
control that fast, overhead swing to catch the bird.
A Second Chance
Aside from a close flush, the second most surprising occurrence in the field is when a first shot which
seemed to be dead on does not bring down a bird. The bewilderment sometimes makes a second shot
just as ineffective, but the confounding nature leading into the second shot (and possibly a second and
even more frustrating miss) has less to do with emotion or adrenaline, and more to do with where a
shooter's eyes are after the first salvo goes wide of the target. Refocusing on the target is key in setting
up a more effective follow-up.
"To overcome that first miss, try to pull your eyes back away from that gun and get back onto the bird,"
Sandness instructs, as many hunters are surprised by missing on the first shot, and are so thrown off,
they don't reset their field of vision properly, looking more toward the end of the barrel as the pheasant
or duck zooms off, "you don't have to dismount, just bring the gun out of view and get back on the
bird," he adds, noting that modern shells are plenty fast and powerful to catch up with a bird even at a
distance following the first shot.
Familiarity with simple shots – easy crossers and slow-rising angled targets – helps build confidence for
the field. Sandness suggests working on those easier angled and slow-moving targets at a trap or
sporting clays facility helps get hunters prepared for the less predictable and more challenging shots
that can occur. The transition of how a gun mounts in a controlled environment helps sportsmen know
what to feel for when a bird comes into range for a shot on the wing, and the familiarity of that spot
between chest and shoulder is easily detected before pulling the trigger. Once the basics are mastered,
there are a number of ways to practice faster, harder, or less frequently occurring shots to help hunters
be ready for anything this fall and in seasons to come.