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.