How to Properly Shoot a Gun When Pheasant Hunting
Many of you have probably shot trap before.
For a good pheasant hunting experience it’s important to have the proper technique and general trap shooting practice will prepare you well for your upcoming pheasant hunt. Trap shooting gets you trained to hit moving targets and gets you in the right focus for pheasant hunting.
Yet there are some nuances to properly shooting a gun for pheasants that make it worth looking into at depth. If you’re preparing for your first pheasant hunt or one of your first pheasant hunt and you want to impress the group with your skills these pointers should help.
Prepare for an Accelerating Target
The biggest difference between trap shooting and a live pheasant hunt is the acceleration of the bird in the wild. If you’ve shot trap and have shot trap quite a bit you’ll realize that as soon the clay leaves the launcher it is slowing down. Gravity works its magic on that dead weight clay.
A pheasant on the other hand will often maintain its speed or even accelerate as it comes into your shooting picture. This can throw off even the most experienced trap shooter when they head to the field for a big pheasant hunt in South Dakota
Preparing for an accelerating or faster target is important for pheasant hunting. There is only so much you can do as a clay pigeon shooter to practice shooting faster. It will take live action with pheasants to really get the feel for things, but if you go out with the mindset that you’ll have to pick the pace up a bit as you lead the birds then you’ll have a good chance to knock those ringnecks down.
Carry the Gun Out of the Way
Something happens as the birds fly high is getting the barrel in the way of your sight lines. In an effort to get mounted quickly for a fast shot some hunters will get the barrel up high and in the way of their eyes. This puts distraction between your eyes and the bird moving. When it’s important to get a good focus on the bird as it moves you’ll need to have a sharp, crisp line of sight. If the barrel is in the way you’ll be tilting your head and looking around the barrel. This not only leads to different shooting angles with your spine angle, but it gets you off balance.
With birds that can get high or move out low fast you’ll need your balance to make sure you’re shooting accurate and safe.
Keep your gun barrel below your line of sight. You’ll have to keep the gun low and bring it up higher, but it will ultimately lead to better focus and better accuracy.
Mount the Gun Firmly Against the Cheek
Another common mistake pheasant hunters make is getting too quick with the mounting of their gun. Some hunters are surprised by the speed of the birds and as a result they don’t have time to mount the gun properly against their cheek or their face. The result is a shot fired from an improper mount and bad aim.
We mentioned the speed of the birds again. You’ll need to put in extra thought to remind yourself to move a little faster through your sequences as you hunt pheasant. Focus on making sure the fundamentals are strong. This includes properly mounting the stock of the gun against your cheek. Some people mount early to make this happen, but as we’ll discuss later this might not be the best method.
Do a few practice mounts as you walk out to the field. Focus on the fundamentals as you prepare for your hunt. The better you get with a quick mount the less you’ll have to think about it in the field. This allows for better focus and more birds on the ground.
Maintain a Square Stance
Out in the field the birds can fly in all directions. You can do some things on the trap range to prepare for different angles, but out in the field birds can change direction and nothing is ever planned as the pheasants seem to fly out where you least expect.
When the birds are catching hunters off balance the shooter will actually lose their balance. It’s a simple concept, but if you’re caught off guard and you’re reacting to where the bird is going you can start to lean one way or the other and soon you’re shooting and fall off balance once the shot is gone. This leads to quite a few missed shots and they’re often blamed on the speed of the bird or the crazy angle at which the bird flew past.
High birds often throw the biggest wrench in the mix for new pheasant hunters. As the bird flies up past the head of the hunter it’s easy to follow it over the top of your head or over the top of your shoulder one way or the other.
Instead. Pivot your waist with the gun moving more around your head instead of over the top. Keep your balance evenly across both your feet. Don’t get caught moving to your back foot. It’s easy to do and the best way to practice before a hunt is to simply practice following imaginary birds that fly up at you and over your head or shoulders. Follow them with the pivot move instead of the over the top move.
This method will lead to better consistency and with practice it will become more natural than the typical over the top move.
Use Reactive Shooting or Mounting
Earlier we mentioned the speed at which the birds fly at you when pheasant hunting. This can lead to early mounting of the gun. Proper mounting of the gun is good and something every hunter should focus on, but a common overcorrection is to mount the gun too soon.
It seems more consistent for many hunters to wait a beat longer before mounting the gun. If you can practice the mounting up to your cheek and doing it faster than normal you’ll be able to keep your gun low and out of the way until you’re absolutely ready to lock on the bird and pull the trigger.
This style is more reactive. The best hunters seem to train themselves to be more late and reactive to the way the bird approaches. It’s easy to get excited about the bird coming in quick, but if you mount too soon you’ll become tired from holding the gun in full mount.
Practice being patient with the mount. As you prepare and practice before going out do a few visual tricks by following birds in with your gun. Hold the gun down an extra beat and be more reactive in the way you mount and shoot.
Action Items and Practice Tips
To recap the action items and tips on how to properly shoot a gun when pheasant hunting:
- Practice for an accelerating target - the birds move faster than the clays. Practice moving your gun a little faster than you would on the trap range.
- Carry the gun low and out of the way - don’t allow the gun to get high because birds can fly anywhere and if the gun is between your eyes and the birds you’ll lose focus.
- Mount the gun firmly - a common mistake is to get caught off guard by the speed of the birds, which results in shooting before you’re fully prepared.
- Keep your balance - focus on getting the weight evenly squared.
- Use reactive shooting - hold out a beat longer. Even though the bird is moving fast you’ll want to mount only when you’re ready to shoot. Don’t wear yourself out with early mounting.
Image Credit: coniferconifer