On a recent high volume dove safari to La Zenaida Lodge just out of Cordoba, Argentina, all in our group learned several lessons and we felt eager to share them with our readers so here we go. Of course, as is standard in Argentina, the birds did cooperate and there were many birds offering different challenges to different shooters. We typically take a group to the dove lodge first and coach them in the field, and then on Montaraz for pigeons where they use their newly learned moves on decoying pigeons.
A day in the field usually finds our shooters in their blinds lined up along the flight path and the shooting commences as the birds begin to fly. Vicki and I are typically in the middle of the line and we split up. She goes one way and I go the other and we spend as much as 20 minutes with each shooter helping him or her learn to hit birds that for what ever reason seem difficult to them. It is a great way to learn because of the target rich environment and generous limits on how many you can shoot. A shooter can really improve their skills just being there, but when you combine that with professional instruction, you have the best of both worlds. You arrive a hunter and depart a lethal wing-shooter. The improvement is amazing and the lessons learned are always many, aside from the fun of hunting and being together.
It seems that the smoothbore has a mystique about it such that everyone who shoots one likes to get just a little bit better, but few have the time or take the time to do what it takes to achieve that goal. Well this trip fills the bill–professional coaching in the fields of Argentina, it’s like a perfect storm.
Back to the lessons learned…
- Put your screw chokes in with a wrench and check often. Kate Trad had a new Guerini Syren 12 ga with an Isis pad on it to shoot on this hunt. On the first hunt, the choke blew out of the top barrel. My supposition was that since they had no wrench slots and could only be finger tightened, that the choke backed out of the top barrel and eventually got far enough out that the gas got behind the skirt of the choke where the gas seal is and just blew it out and split the top barrel on the bottom part. So if you have a gun with screw chokes, put your chokes in with a wrench and periodically check them for tightness. The company stood behind the problem, and replaced the barrel and all is good in Mudville!
- To prepare for this trip, shooters should go out and train by shooting easy targets 200 at a time without rest. Build up your muscles while getting reacquainted with the gun move and mount.
- Begin with skeet and/or IC chokes on the first hunt and then
move to modified choke. On the first hunt, use skeet or IC and shoot closer birds and get into a rhythm and do not count the birds you are shooting. On the first hunt, you are establishing a rhythm and simply moving and mounting the gun and seeing the birds’ heads and enjoying being there. Make each situation you find yourself in a learning situation and don’t compare todays hunt with yesterday or last year for that matter. Each hunt will be unique and as a result yield unique learning opportunities.
- The wind is a great factor in the difficulty of the birds and the wind will blow on at least one day of your hunt. On this trip at the dove lodge, we had at least two hunts where the wind was blowing and man was it obvious what an advantage it gave the birds, but not nearly as obvious as on the next hunt when there was no wind. Leave your expectations from the last hunt behind and make each one a learning situation. When you approach a tough hunt this way, you accept the conditions and, through process of elimination, begin finding something that works. This is how you get better! The wind makes the advantage swing to the doves. Now add to that there are typically three different sizes of doves in any one shoot and you have a formula for some really perplexing situations–nowhere else but Argentina. Hope to see you there. “It is not what you know that makes you better, it’s what you are WILLING TO LEARN,” says Vicki.
- Taking the birds out farther in front of you will make the shots easier and you more consistent. The birds know when and where to shuck and jive and are alive because of that. If you put in a modified choke and take the birds farther out in front, you will have a better, more consistent result. Most shooters are looking for birds too close to themselves and the birds are beginning to do their dance when the shooter sees them for the first time. Hunt farther out and begin the inserting of the gun earlier and ease the gun up in front of the bird and you will do better. Begin to take shots farther and farther out in front on crossers to begin to get more familiar with putting the gun farther and farther out in front. Sure you are gonna miss some birds, but on the other side of that issue there exists a new horizon that almost every wing-shooter wants but is afraid to go. Go there! To heck with the percentage you shoot–learn, learn, learn!
- Joel Piefer says, “That same speed at the end stuff really works!” And Chantel Piefer says, “I gotta stop looking at the snap shot and see the movie!” Well we could not agree more. People who are looking for a snap shot of lead are destined for frustration because by the time they see the snapshot they have taken their eyes off the bird to see it. It is really a movie and how it comes together is more important than the size of the lead. This is what we see as the most difficult thing about coaching wing shooting. The preconceived notion of lead and how big it needs to be is not nearly as important as how it comes together with the target coming to you and matching the speed and taking the shot.
7. Joel says, “If you can’t mount the gun consistently you just can’t shoot it…. Period.” Well we could not agree more. He went on to say that toward the end of the dove hunts, he began to be able to correct the lead to which I replied, “as soon as the move and mount have been done enough so that they can be turned over to the automaticity part of the brain, you can be so much more aware of the other things that happen in the shot like the lead or missing under or over etc.” Said another way, you will never be able to self-correct if you have to think about what you are doing with the gun! What you do with the gun must be controlled in the automaticity part of the brain leaving the anticipation part of the brain to control the insertion, lead and timing of the shot when the speed is matched.–Gil Ash