The science of shooting a shotgun

03-21-13Outdoors
It was a news photo of a prominent individual shooting a shotgun, and let’s just say that what I saw told me that there was much to be desired. Maybe you saw it. So it got me thinking about how we are approaching shotgun season.

No, not the bird-hunting season — we have a while to wait for that — but the time when the snow goes off and we break out the scatterguns and head out to the trap and skeet ranges or the sporting-clays course. During the spring and summer there’s nothing better than burning a couple of boxes of shells each week to tune up our skills at shooting-flying and alleviate a multitude of frustrations. So here are some tips for shooting good from someone who’s shotgunning is not quite all that.

Before anything else, and this not a tip but more of an injunction, never, not even after playing cards with a man named Doc or eating at a place called Mom’s, never shoot without proper eye and hearing protection. Period.

Moving on.
First: Get your eyes checked. This does not involve an optometrist, but it is surprising how many shooters do not realize they are cross-eye dominant. And what, pray tell, is that?

Just as you can be right- or left-handed, you can be right- or left-eyed. And sometimes your “master” eye is the opposite of your handedness. This is actually an advantage for baseball pitchers by placing their dominant eye closer to the plate. For shotgun shooters, it sort of sucks — it makes us cross shoot.
There are ways to remedy this by taping over the lens on our shooting glasses in front of the master eye, but before that we need to determine which eye that may be. A simple test is to pick out a small spot on the wall and with both eyes open quickly point at the spot with the index finger of your dominant hand. Now, keeping your finger on the spot, close one eye, open it, then close the other. Looking with your dominant eye, your finger won’t move. With your non-dominant, your finger will be pointing off from the spot.

Second: Shoot with both eyes open. You do not aim a shotgun, you point it. Leaving both eyes open, even if you have taped over one of the lenses, is the natural way to point and it still permits full peripheral vision, which is critical in picking up a flying target.

Third: Think of one of those classic boxer poses–weight balanced between both feet, upper body leaning in, elbows bent, hands up, one forward, one back. Now stick a shotgun in the picture. There you have the proper shooting stance, except for…

Fourth: Keep your head down. A shooter’s eye is the rear sight on a shotgun, so the right stock fit is essential so that every time you “cheek” the gun, your eye lines up in exactly the same position. And keep the butt firmly against your shoulder–it will make the recoil hurt much less.

Fifth: When shooting targets, start out by pointing where you expect to break the “bird,” then without moving your feet, turn your body back toward the trap so you can pick up the target when it is released.
Your body then uncoils back into the natural shooting position where you will break the clay pigeon.
Sixth: Follow through with your shot–swing, pick up the bird, cover it with your muzzle, pass through it, shoot and continue to swing. (On a real bird the way to remember is “butt-belly-beak-bang!”)

Seventh: Trigger pull on a shotgun is different from that on a rifle. Instead of a slow, deliberate pull until the shot breaks, a shotgun shooter essentially “slaps” the trigger with his finger.

The trigger should not be “jointed,” that is, fired with the first joint of the index finger, but with the tip, ideally with the trigger between the fingerprint whorl and the crease.

Eighth: Do not load your gun until you are at the shooting line and are ready to call for the target. As soon as you have finished your shot, break the action or pull open the bolt.

That’s not everything, but it’s enough to get started. Do all that, and you will look good in the picture.

Tom McIntyre is a contributing editor to Sports Afield and Field & Stream magazine.

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