by Naomi K. Shapiro
"Practice makes perfect." No less the case with pheasant hunters. Lots of "first timers" think that if you flush a flock of pheasants, just take a spray shot "amongst them"--and you'll get one for sure because of the wide shot pattern from a shotgun. Won't happen. The savvy pheasant hunter concentrates on ONE BIRD, and one bird only, and then takes the shot–and if there's time, the hunter can swing off to the side or above, and try to get a second bird. It looks easy when done well, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to hit one, let alone multiple birds.
So what's the solution? The most common method of practicing shots that mimic pheasant hunting is shooting sporting clays on a range–or "clay pigeons" as they're called--although they're not easy in real life.
Sporting clays are round disks, about the size of a saucer, made out of clay. They're painted and are thrown out at random speeds and directions by a third party using a fully-adjustable spring-loaded release apparatus. The third party is usually in some type of bunker that will protect the person from errant shots or splintered clays. But the person is fully able to see where and how the disks are being released. And your job as the person behind the firearm is to shoot and hit these "clay pigeons." You don't know where the clays are coming from--high/low/left/right/speed--one, two, maybe three at a time, in the same or different directions, and at different heights. It's very tricky, but also fun! Lots of people who don't hunt enjoy the challenge of sporting clays.
What shooting sporting clays provides is the same type of "target positioning" a hunter faces when going after pheasants. You never know the direction, speed, distance of a flushed pheasant.
We strongly urge prospective pheasant hunters to practice sporting clays on an AUTHORIZED shooting range. They've got the know-how, safety procedures. equipment and personnel to insure that you enjoy yourself and shoot in total safety. We have also found that these range personnel people are excellent at showing you how to improve your shooting in all phases. Great teachers! When my husband tried sporting clays for the first time, he initially couldn't hit one, but by the second day of practice, range personnel had gotten him to the point where he could nail two and three at a time, coming from different directions and speeds. Also, you don't want to inundate your own property or anyone else's with the shards and splintered remnants of the clay pigeons. The clean up can be almost impossible.
And now, as we always try to do, is offer a second way of practicing a "sort-of" sporting clay opportunity "on the cheap." Here is what any number of pheasant hunters do–and something that guide Phil Schweik says he's done since he was a kid. First, you may not have the bucks to spend on using a shooting range, or joining a shooting club. Although highly enjoyable activities with plenty of camaraderie, both of these options can be pricy. So here's what you can do: Find a "wide open" tract of land, far away from a populated area. The land can be your own, a friend's, or maybe a farmer you know. Something big and safe. Take along a big bag of empty soda pop cans. Fill the cans half full of water or sand, and then have one of your friends or any group of people, take turns tossing these cans in the air so there's some distance to the toss--in any direction, and the like. The shooter can then try to hit these cans, and when hit, you'll know it. It's cheap, and, if FIRM SAFETY procedures are STRICTLY ADHERED TO (e.g. where the "tosser" stands as compared to the shooter and so on), can be a lot of fun. Also, don't forget you don't have to use high-end shotgun shells. Most any outdoor retailer will have low-priced shotgun shells specifically made for practice shooting, and these shells will only run you four to five bucks a box.
In the end, as it always is, the degree of dedication and effort you are willing to put in to be a successful hunter—and, in this instance, doing your needed "due diligence" by practice shooting--directly translates into the level of a successful hunt you can expect. And that isn't restricted to pheasants. The same practice you do for pheasant hunting will serve you well when going after grouse, woodcock, ducks, geese, whatever. And finally... practice-shooting is not only fun, it's a real "blast."