Shooting poorly

There is no amount of shooting well than can make up for shooting badly over a sustained period. When your dog works her tail off for one or two points, it’s demoralizing to walk in and miss. Early this season I killed a dozen birds with only a single miss over three days, then proceeded to miss 6 out of my next 6 shots. Part of it is that I don’t shoot as much in the off season as I used to and practice helps. But for me it’s more than just a reduction in practice that has diminished my shooting consistency.

A few years back, I considered myself a pretty consistent and fair wingshot. Some of it was practice, some of it was shot selection, but mostly it was confidence. I remember the day that I started to shoot poorly. I was using a tightly choked, lightweight (tough combination) gun that I hadn’t shot much. It was shortly after I lost a 20ga O/U that had been my primary gun for years. The wind was blowing on a steep patch of sage-covered CRP above a cut grain field. I’d let my springer nose into the wind and she was really stretching her legs. She flushed a series of roosters, 7 to be exact. Each one of them would flush, turn with the wind, then rocket directly over my head.

I missed. Every single one. With both barrels. Later that day and in the following weeks, I missed some more. I piled bad shooting on on top of poor gun fit and too-tight chokes until I expected to miss.

I sold the offending gun and replaced the lost one, but the damage was done. Doubt had crept into my mind.

Last month, I hunted with my nephew. He’s 17 and the world is his oyster. We’ve hunted a few falls together and it’s been fun to watch him grow into a competent and confident woodsman. It wasn’t that long ago that I could walk away from him without trying but those days are gone. He’s at an age where he can hunt all day at an elevation he is not accustomed to and still leave me in the dust when a dog goes on point. He is also at the age where it does not cross his mind to miss.


We hunted one day in the howling wind, following a line of cottonwoods up a narrow drainage. I could see the white setter pointing maybe 200 yards ahead in the grass about 20 yards out from the tree line. Before I even had time to yell, the rooster got nervous and jumped wild. He turned with the wind and bombed the hill using the trees as a course guide. He flew directly at us, right at treetop level maybe 60 feet in the air with a steep glide path and a 20-mph tailwind.

I never closed my gun or even lifted it from where it rested open across my shoulder, knowing from the moment it flushed that I wouldn’t hit it. My nephew, slightly to my right and downhill, fired an ounce of number 6 and knocked it from the air. It sailed 50 yards past him and hit the ground like a bowling ball dropped from a rooftop. Over the couple of days we hunted birds, I only saw him miss once. It never occurred to him that he could miss; so he didn’t.

For a long time, it never occurred to me to miss either. When I was shooting well, I never thought about lead or if I was swinging or pushing or pulling through or anything else. I just raised the gun and shot the bird.

Now there are days when I think about missing, and so I do.

7 thoughts on “Shooting poorly”

  1. Well said,
    Confidence is everything, be it sports, wingshooting, or life. There were bird seasons in my past where I couldn’t miss and rarely did. Just throw the shotgun up and the birds fell. At times I felt like a murderer as I rarely missed. But, once you get the “monkey on your back” the misses start to add up and your confidence sinks like the Titanic. Digging out of that hole is tough. When I am in a shooting slump I just try to imagine hitting the birds the next time out and move on. Dwelling on it just keeps your slump going along. A friend once told me the difference between a good golfer and a great golfer is the good ones remember the great shots, the great ones only recall the poor shots. To do justice to our dogs, who work their hearts out to find birds, strive to be a great wingshot! Pick the shots that have the greatest chance of success (straight away for me) and work up the confidence to take them all.

  2. “It never occurred to him that he could miss; so he didn’t.”

    Sounds like the phrasing in a Guy Clark classic song, The Cape @ 2:30 or so. I bet Guy Clark would hunt with a pointing dog a double…

  3. I know the feeling. Some folks seem to be natural good shots. Not me. I used to shoot skeet, sporting, and trap regularly and because of that my confidence level was high and birds fell easily. If I missed I probably knew why and how to correct it. Now, not so much. I’m vowing to practice more this year, for the dogs and myself. There are, of course, worse things than shooting slumps — just doesn’t seem like it at the time.

  4. Might be confidence, but might be something else. Missed a few shots this year. One morning noticed a gray dot in my vision. Center of right eye has a blind spot. Was not aware of it because left eye has been compensating — and consequently skewing the visual image of target. Optometrist says may require laser surgery. At my age, may not be worth it. At your age, probably would be. Have your eyes checked, now that the bird seasons have ended. Couldn’t hurt

  5. ” You are what you think about most of the time”
    I think I am a great shot and my dogs are the best.
    Just saying…..

  6. Confidence is good but fickle. I hit a serious slump a few years ago. Horrible on the sporting clays course and zero birds opening weekend in Kansas on private land.

    Since then I’ve simply put my time in working on things both on the sporting clays course and running the dogs for scratch hunts at the local club. My brother on the other hand like everything else in life was able to bag his limit after not touching the shotgun for a year.

    This year though it finally paid off I was able to bag five birds in two days (noting that I hunt with five guys and only my two dogs so my shots are extremely limited). My brother finally ran out of luck/confidence and got skunked while I was able to nail a bird flying into the sun after I had spun 270 degrees. In the end, confidence can take us so far, but putting in the time and practice endures after youthful confidence fades.

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