Here's Some Ideas on How to Hit Shots You Missed Last Fall
Before I left for a big wingshooting trip in Argentina, a friend and accomplished sporting clays shooter suggested I spend some time breaking targets at a local shotgun club. I told him it sounded like a good idea, but internally dismissed the notion. I was about to be taking aim at millions of doves in Cordoba—surely burning through thousands of rounds would help get my shooting skills back in shape.
Two weeks later and thousands of miles away, I saw the error of my ways. As a flurry of birds descended, my field assistant loaded shells as fast as he could, heaping praise on my scattered shots and politely ignoring my more frequent misses. He blamed bad luck when I missed, but I knew better. It wasn't bad luck, it was bad shooting.
I learned a valuable lesson in Argentina that year: don't risk ruining a hunt by allowing your shotgunning skills to deteriorate in the off-season. Miss a dove (or 15) in Argentina and more will show up very shortly. Blow an easy shot on a pair of mallards or woodies in a hidden Ohio beaver pond and you might have lost your opportunity to harvest a bird for the rest of the day.
Waterfowlers come up with a myriad of excuses why they miss birds. Shells are frequently blamed for these failures, and shotguns take some of the heat, but the fact remains that most misses are caused by the shooter, not the equipment. The good news is, with a little off-season practice at the trap, skeet, or sporting clays range, you can see your percentages improve quickly.
Here are some of the most common mistakes hunters make and the remedy for each.
Your Target IQ Is Too LowNever heard of target IQ?
It's one of the fastest ways to improve your shotgun skills, and the key is shooting more targets. Breaking clays is no different from driving golf balls in the sense that repetition and exposure help you build muscle memory. As these innate movements develop, the conscious brain has less work to do and can devote more brainpower to the task at hand, whether that's sinking a six-foot putt or dropping a duck from a gray December sky. If you've shot 500 crossing shots at clay targets over the summer, you've increased your target IQ.
You Keep Switching Equipment
Ever hunt with someone who has a new shotgun every year or who swaps out 4s for 2s because he lost a cripple? That's a bad idea. Years ago I was advised by a championship shooter that if I was serious about improving my skills as a hunter, I needed to bring my duck gun to the range. Sure, the best shooters can hit targets with just about any gun, but gun mount, trigger break, length of pull, point of impact, and other characteristics vary from one shotgun to the next. It's important to take these nuances into consideration well before you enter the duck blind.
You're Getting Lost in the Crowd
There's nothing quite as stirring as witnessing a dozen greenheads cupped and slipping down through the treetops. Nor is there anything as embarrassing as watching those same ducks rise back out of the trees because you missed all of them. To avoid finding yourself in this situation, you must learn to kill one bird at a time by improving your focus.
To accomplish this, practice the following drill I picked up from a skilled trap shooter. While most dome clay targets are orange, to help him practice focusing on a single bird, this gentleman would occasionally buy a box of white targets or orange targets with black trim. It was my job to load the targets randomly, mixing the off-colored targets in with the standard orange ones. He'd call for birds, I would throw them in rapid succession, and he would break only the off-colored ones.
Diane Sorantino is one of the most sought-after clays instructors in the country. Sorantino teaches her students to develop a line from the point where you can see the target until the trigger is pulled. In essence, the shooter is identifying the area where the ducks will first appear, the place where they will be the easiest to hit, and figuring out how to get the shotgun mounted and in the correct place for the shot with the least wasted movement. This may sound like a tactic that's exclusive to clay games, but it's a valuable skill for duck and goose hunters. For one thing, it makes hunters aware of their shooting lanes and also encourages proper gun positioning. Duck hunters aren't known for being in prepared shooting positions. I've seen shotguns in a variety of not-prepared-for-action positions – leaning against the blind, resting a bench seat behind them, or worse. Knowing where the bird may appear, where the gun will be positioned, how and when to mount the gun, and where to make the shot are all keys to higher averages. And, if a bird shows up unexpectedly, shooters will be in a better position and frame of mind to make a quick and successful shot.
You're Swinging Behind the Bird
Gil Ash is one of the best-known competitors and shotgunning instructors in the industry. During an interview with Gil, he asked me if I felt like I was chasing ducks. Yes, of course I did. Had Gil ever seen a teal or wood duck whistling past? He then said something that stuck in my mind and changed the way I thought about shooting crossing targets forever.
"Stop starting your swing behind the bird," Ash said. "Swing ahead of them."
Ash explains that shooters will have to break an old habit of mounting the gun, scrambling to catch the bird, and shooting. After becoming comfortable with positioning the muzzle ahead of the target you won't revert back. I didn't. As a shooter who was taught to mount, pass, then shoot, this method seemed counterintuitive and I was skeptical. But after plenty of practice, my sporting clays scores improved, and I was a convert. Shooters who are chronically late to the target need to focus on their swing through practice and time, but it will be worth the effort.
The skeet range is an ideal place to improve a swing method. The majority of skeet targets are crossers, and a trip around the skeet field offers the perfect opportunity to master this swing-ahead maneuver.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is now saying that regulatory decisions will be made using biological data observed the previous year. I don't know about you, but that concerns me a little bit. What about the weird weather events we have during the spring and summer? What about the spikes of birds that actually showed up on the breeding grounds? What about the impact the hunters had on the waterfowl this past season? I'm not so sure this is a good idea.
The federal government says it's necessary in order to allow adequate time for biologist to properly digest and review the heaping amounts of data gathered each year. Apparently each state does not have enough time to make the appropriate decision on bag limits from within the federal guidelines. Of course, you also have to allow time for public opinion and reviews before the season opener.
I understand the biologist need more time to make good fundamental decisions. However, making these decisions based on old data will probably put the biologists at a disadvantage, making it even harder to make the right decisions on bag limits and season dates.
I guess time will tell what impact, if any, this change will have. Whether good or bad, the show must go on. I guess the annual duck forecast that I always look forward to reading each year will still have the same great data... only it will be from the previous year. Maybe I will look at last years forecast and approach the season with the same excitement I had last year about the bluebill numbers. However, I hope this season will produce better results than the last! So I don't know about you, but I'm still moving forward making my plans for the upcoming season.
“In the beginning, I told hunters to simply wave their flags up and down to simulate the image of a goose or duck flying up to and landing in some decoys or just stretching their wings or preening when they were on the ground,” said David Fletcher of Fletcher Outdoors. “Now after 20 years of experience, with thousands of waterfowl hunters using the flags and now the Fowl Foolers Flapper in thousands of places, some new and very effective flagging and flapping techniques have evolved.”
Here are 10 flagging strategies devised by goose and duck hunters from all across the country.
Make Major Motion
Be gross — walk or run through your decoys while waving flags in an exaggerated, bigger-than-life motion to attract geese or ducks at a distance.
Gross-motion, waving flags in six-foot-wide arcs while the hunter walks or runs through a decoy spread, can get the attention of birds a mile or more away. Ducks and geese have keen eyesight and they are way up in the air, so they can detect motion from long distances.
“Walking or running through your rig while waving a flag may at first seem a little ridiculous, but that funny feeling will soon disappear as soon as that first flock of honkers turns from pepper specks on the horizon to birds in your face,” said Tim Grounds, a practitioner of walking/running-while-waving method of flagging.
Be Subtle to Finish
When geese and ducks get close, be subtle with flagging movements.
Stop flagging just before you pick up your gun to shoot. But when birds are close, make sure you finesse your flagging. Reduce the motion to just minor flutters, characteristic of waterfowl walking on the ground or feeding.
Reduced motion is important because it can bring birds directly over the guns for up-close shots. Geese and ducks look for activity on the ground when they are ready to land, so convincing flag movement will help birds finish. It can keep birds from landing short or swinging to the far side of the spread.
Hide Behind Your Flags
Whether you are well concealed in a goose pit, totally camouflaged in a duck boat, shooting from an A-frame field blind or lying on the ground among decoys, you can use the flag as a shield for your face. You can still peek at the birds to read their progress, and then adjust for more calling, flagging or to shoot.
Use Flags With Other Motion Decoys
Flags can be used even when the spread includes other motion decoys — bags, windsocks, flying decoys, kites, full-body motion kits, moving shells, silhouette decoys and even spinning-wing devices.
Flags act a complementary decoy spread enhancers, and often serve to pull geese and ducks close enough so they see the other types of motion devices hunters have deployed.
However, flags have a distinct advantage over other motion devices. Because they are hand-operated, no wind or battery-powered motors are necessary. They don’t wear out, even after many years of active use in a wide range of conditions.
Flagging Without Decoys
Some waterfowl hunters have found that geese and ducks can be drawn to just the sight of flags in motion out in a feeding, resting or roosting area.
Pass-shooters have coaxed geese and ducks over fence lines, brush piles and other hiding places by merely waving a flag while calling. Obviously, making the birds finish is difficult, but they can be pulled within range by the motion and sound.
If nothing else, waving a flag might reposition the flight line of the flock on its way from a roost to a feeding field.
Flag In Place of Calling
Don’t blow your lungs out when waterfowl are too far upwind to hear a goose or duck call. Instead, use flags as a visual hail call instead to get the attention of long-range birds. On days when birds are passing upwind out of earshot or when you are running traffic fields, flagging might turn birds that won’t hear your calling or might commit quickly to another field.
“Most serious waterfowl hunters and all of the professional guides I know use flags to augment and sometimes replace calling,” according to Fred Zink, an international goose calling champion. “There are many days in the field under certain circumstances when flags have more influence than calling.”
Don’t Give Up
Even though geese or ducks have seen the flag and look like they won’t come into the decoy rig, don’t give up until they are gone.
Even when geese or ducks have been spooked by something in the decoy rig, keep at it. The motion of the flags can sometimes overcome an initial negative reaction. Similarly, resume waving flags after shooting into the flock. Sometimes, especially with early-season geese, flagging will bring them right back around for another pass.
Flag Ducks, Too
Although flagging is mainly associated with field hunting for geese, don’t forget about ducks.
The same attention-grabbing qualities that draw geese attract ducks, too. Hungry mallards and pintails often mix right in with geese in crop fields, so waving a goose flag is a perfectly natural enticer for ducks.
There are companies that market goose flags but we have developed the most efficient duck flag on the market today. Recently, the use of black flags in layout boats positioned in diver and sea duck decoy spreads has gained popularity. Bluebills, redheads, and scoters all respond to flagging motion that emulates landing birds in open water. Unlike flagging for puddle ducks or geese in a field, stop flagging divers as soon as you have their attention. Let your decoys do the finishing work.
Use Multiple Flags
If one flag is good, two can sometimes be better. One hunter can easily manipulate two flags at a time with one in each hand for twice the motion effect. Or, two flags can be mounted on one pole to simulate the image of two geese or ducks flying or landing together.
To really bring a field to life, several hunters can wave multiple flags to create the illusion that a larger flock is landing. Of course, when the birds get close, tone it down to just a couple flags flapping gently.
Observe and Practice
As with calling, practice can make a difference when it comes to flagging motion. Take your flag to place geese and ducks congregate, such as parks, golf courses, refuges or small lakes where you can observe birds.
Watch the mannerisms of live birds, and then duplicate it with the flags. You will discover important, helpful details about the wing motions ducks and geese make while landing, walking and swimming.
The 37th Rappahannock River Waterfowl Show took place on March 19-20, 2016. The unique festival show featured artists, collectors, carvers, sculptors and photographers with variety of waterfowl related art, antiques and conservation exhibits.
A very popular free of charge activity at the show this year was youth decoy making. The Virginia Waterfowlers’ Association and Rappahannock Carvers & Collectors Guild in association with Fowl Foolers provided youths the opportunities to assemble and paint Gunning Style decoys to take home and use afield. The Guild provided Bufflehead decoys made from crabpot buoys. The Association provided Canada goose, Snow goose and Brant decoys made from foam bodies. Components from Fowlfoolers Decoys were used for the goose decoys. This type of activity has been very successful with 4H programs in the past five years.
Many of the youths enjoyed making their first decoy.
Fowl Foolers is currently recruiting qualified Guides and Outfitters to provide them with our innovative product line of waterfowl decoys and calls. Our quality decoys and calls will show your clients why you are a high-end, top performing guide. Let us help get more birds into your spread while getting more clients booked. You can even resell our product line, bringing in additional revenues for your business. Here are just a few of the many benefits to becoming an authorized Fowl Foolers Guide and Outfitter:
1. Partner with the maker of the one and ONLY American-Made burlap wrapped foam decoy
2. Top quality products made using our Patented & Patent Pending materials
3. Superior American-based customer service to support the equipment your business needs
4. Co-Op promotion and marketing opportunities available to help build your business
5. Local Pro Staff representatives to help support your business if needed
If you are interested in learning more or to become a member of the Fowl Foolers Team, contact us at (419) 960-7307 or you may contact David Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fowl Foolers is always welcoming qualified dealers to sell our innovative product line of waterfowl decoys and calls. Our quality and efficient manufacturing process allows for even the smallest of dealers the opportunity for improved margins over other foam decoys. Here are just a few of the many benefits to becoming an authorized Fowl Foolers dealer:
1. Align your business with the maker of the one and ONLY American-Made burlap wrapped foam decoy
2. Innovative designs, such as the Patent Pending materials used in our manufacturing process
3. Superior American-based customer service to support your business
4. Discount freight included in all pricing to all lower 48 states, local pick up also available
5. Local Pro Staff representatives to service and support your account
If you are interested in learning more or to become a member of the Fowl Foolers Team, contact us at (419) 960-7307 or you may fill out the dealer application by clicking http://www.fowlfoolers.com/dealer-contact-page.html and we’ll contact you with more information on becoming a dealer.
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