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    Why We Miss – and Other True Mysteries of Our Lives as Wing Shooters • Part I

    At some time or another, we all have missed our fair share of game birds and clays in flight. If you have never, ever missed any flying target, please tell me your secret; I will most likely hire you as a shooting instructor for my FIELDSPORT Wingshooting Schools.

    There are, unfortunately, so many variables that affect us when we pull the trigger that it is often difficult to know exactly how many or exactly which factor affected where the shot swarm ended up after the gun went “bang.”

    So what are some tangible reasons we all miss flying targets and game birds with our shotguns? Forty years of experience looking over the shoulders of students have helped solidify my perspective on why misses occur.

    Reason # 1: We are all human, not robots, and no one is perfect.

    If we were perfect, no professional major league hitter would ever strike out, or no 40-yard football pass would miss its intended mark. In wing shooting, perfected muscle memory goes a long way to enhance a perfect gun mount and subconscious awareness of a perfect sight picture when the trigger is pulled. But even muscle memory can get short-circuited when we reach a higher level where additional stressors or negative outside factors can and will upset our honed skill.

    There is a huge difference between practicing before the season on a skeet field while standing on a nice, flat concrete station, shooting gun up and calling “Pull” for a predetermined target and the scenarios and realities of trying to hit a seasoned ruffed grouse that, quite unannounced, detonates from a thicket and flies in the direction opposite you while at the same time you are stepping over a wet log. Add in the fact that you are more than a little fatigued after hiking through the woods for two hours. These factors are a totally opposite set of wing shooting standards.

    Reason #2: Failure to focus hard on the head of a game bird or leading edge of a clay target.

    Focus is hard work and takes a supreme effort between eye, hand and brain. The great Olympic American trap and skeet shooter Kim Rhode said that her muscle memory is so well-tuned from shooting literally hundreds of thousands of shotgun rounds that after she calls for her target, all she needs to do is “stare” at the clay target, and it breaks. Staring, focusing or simply looking for the beak or head of a game bird will help divert your eyes from being tempted to stare at the wrong focus point, one based on lots of movement, obviously the wings of the game bird. When we allow our eyes to be drawn to movement, we begin to understand why a high percentage of the birds we don’t kill cleanly in flight are hit in the back end of the body or the tail feathers. This type of hit usually means the bird is crippled and only a good retriever has a chance at recovering it. Focusing hard on the head of the game bird is a concentrated effort and quite deliberate. It pays off in big dividends. “No focus, no bird,” I am fond of saying.

    Reason # 3: Incomplete or unfinished gun mounts.

    Why, I often ask, would you pay for a gun fitting and then a custom stock made to your ideal stock dimensions if you don’t take advantage of the real reasons you were fitted for a shotgun stock in the first place? It seems all of my clients want their guns to shoot exactly where they are looking. However, if the comb of the stock of your shotgun isn’t firmly anchored under your cheekbone, your gun fit is somewhat useless and irrelevant.

    I believe over 80 percent of the misses I have observed over my 40 years of instructing wing shooters are caused because of light or incomplete gun mounts. When the gun mount is incomplete and anchored low on the face or jawbone, your shot will often proceed high and over the top of your intended target. Unless your target is rising at a steep angle, you have experienced another miss, over the top. Practicing and perfecting your gun mount from a gun down position until it becomes automatic muscle memory is one of the best gifts you can give yourself as a wing shooter.

    These are just a few of the reasons we all miss with a shotgun. Unfortunately, my list is much longer and will be continued in Part II. For now, start working on eliminating some of your excuses for missing, and I promise you will harvest more birds next season with far fewer shells … you’ll only be sorry if you don’t.

    Bryan Bilinski owns Fieldsport, purveyors of fine guns and renowned wing shooting instruction, based in Traverse City, Michigan. One of the country’s leading shotgun fitters and shooting instructors, Bryan is credited with introducing sporting clays to the United States.
    Bryan Bilinski owns Fieldsport, purveyors of fine guns and renowned wing shooting instruction, based in Traverse City, Michigan. One of the country’s leading shotgun fitters and shooting instructors, Bryan is credited with introducing sporting clays to the United States.

    Wolfe Publishing Group