column By: Bryan E. Bilinski | April, 18
As we pick up where we last left off with our list of reasons why we miss with a shotgun (to jog your memory, our last reason was “#14, Shooting in new, progressive lens eyewear”), it must be somewhat depressing to learn that there are still more reasons forthcoming. Sorry, no harm intended. This information is meant to help you to improve your awareness and desire to become a more consistent wing shot.
While I stand over a client’s shoulder during a shooting lesson, it is relatively simple for me to identify the reason a miss occurs. When I personally don’t need to pull the trigger, I am in a relatively calm, observant state of mind that allows me to see the entire theater of the shot unfold, from the preparation stage until the instant in time the shot cloud hits or misses the intended target. However, all bets are off when I, too, must carry my treasured shotgun afield. A real case in point includes hunting with and field training our gun dogs.
For example, last week I received a call from a potential client who was quite distraught and who pleaded with me for some time to conduct a gun fitting he felt he desperately needed. He was beside himself while explaining some details of a hunt he had just returned from somewhere in northern Minnesota. Then he spilled the beans.
Drum roll No. 1, please. In just a few hours, he and his guide had moved 19 ruffed grouse, and he never cut a feather! He said he had had a lot of good opportunities, but then the reason he missed so many birds was clear to me.
Drum roll No. 2, please. He stated he had really been focusing on training his new English setter on ruffed grouse. Thus, he was probably preoccupied with the training aspects of the hunt instead of focusing on harvesting the few birds that presented – in his words – as easy, 20-yard shots. Back to the gun fitting and a search for answers to some of his shooting problems and his personal shooting ability.
I painfully explained the problems with conducting live-fire gun fittings while braving the cold and snow we typically experience during the winter months in northern Michigan. Once I got him calmed down, we agreed to schedule him a day this spring for a private shooting lesson and a custom gun fitting. Maybe a fitting or a lesson will help my new client, but the moral of the story is … Final drum roll please:
Reason No. 15: Dog training and good shooting simply don’t mix!
When it comes down to working your pup in a field training environment, it is not a good idea to mix business with pleasure. Been there, done that. Dog training is serious business and is a never-ending project that pays big dividends. For over 40 years, I have been owned by eight traditional “flushing” Labs. Ever since I was acquired by number nine, my first “pointing” Lab, I realized taking Daisy afield was no longer just a simple exercise of keeping my former pal or pals in close proximity to me so when the flush occurred, a relatively close shot presented itself. Now the steadiness of the point and to the flush is priority number one. And by the way, while all the training checks and balances are encouraged and enforced, someone also needs to safely kill the bird that had been pointed and properly held before the man-induced flush occurred. Good luck with that one. When I first tried to be in three places at one time, I felt so twisted into a pretzel when the bird was finally in the air that I might as well have chucked a rock at the bird; my chances of hitting it were about the same. The thought of good shooting while preoccupied with rigors of proper dog training simply don’t mix very well.
So what’s a hunter to do? Easy answer: employ another friend and hopefully a good shot to help you. If you want to train, then train. If you want to hunt and shoot, then hunt and shoot. When all hell breaks loose, being in control of your dog and encouraging perfect behavior will pay big dividends down the line. Until your dog is a finished product, leave the shooting to someone else whose one primary purpose for being there is placing a well-made shot or two for your pup. By doing so, your bird dog will understand its job perfectly.
The acts of training a dog effectively while learning to shoot a shotgun well seems like the perfect recipe for a negative sum outcome excursion into the woods.