While there are a variety of different flushing birds, and each could offer its own set of circumstances from terrain to different dog work, in most all flushing instances the bird is going away from the hunter. While each species varies in speed, they could differ greatly in line and distance from where they flush.
Perhaps the most common flushing birds in the U.S. are quail and pheasant with perdiz in South America. In any flushing situation, the dog work can make or break a great hunt from the pointing side of the flush to the retrieving side of the shot. When approaching the point, always focus on something at a distance, not on the dogs. Keeping your eyes very still and focused on something 30 to 50 yards out in front of the dogs allows you to pick up the movement of the flushing bird in your periphery and allows a much quicker move to focus on one of the birds. Once you have focused on one bird, move and mount your gun to the bird inserting just a touch underneath it. As soon as you know the direction of the bird, move the muzzles up just in front of the bird and take the shot.
Focusing at a distance is quicker because your eyes come back in focus in one move while it takes two moves to focus farther out. This can be seen by simply setting up two objects, one at distance (20+ yards) and one close (5 yards) with both objects closely in line with each other. Focus on the distant object and then quickly focus on the close object. As your focus comes back to the close object, you will notice it was instantly sharp.
Now stay focused on the near object and focus quickly on the far object. As your focus moves out, you will feel your eyes make two moves — first to acquire the distant object, then to focus on it. The reason for that is the muscles that focus the eyes from far to near tense up to move the focus from distance to up close. Those same muscles must relax to focus at distance.
Make a fist as quickly as you can and note how quickly it happened. Hold the fist tightly for a few seconds, then as quickly as you can, relax every muscle that is tense in your hand and arm. Did you see how quickly the muscles tense up and how long it takes for the muscles to relax? So as a flushing bird hunter, always focus on something at distance while keeping your eyes still as you approach the flush. Let your eyes go to the movement of the flushing birds and you will be shocked at how quickly you pick up the birds and how easy it is to focus on one bird!
When we hunt quail on the 74 Ranch in South Texas, Vicki does what she calls “Sexing the Bird.” When the birds flush, she looks intently at their heads to know whether a bird is a male or female before she mounts to the bird and takes the shot. If you can make yourself focus on the head, you automatically know which way the bird is going because the head always leads the way.
We both shoot K-20’s with 32” barrels choked IC under Mod with No. 6 shot when we go after quail — that’s right we said No. 6 on quail. If you are a quail hunter and you are not using No. 6 shot, then two things are happening. First, your quail after you shoot are scurrying around on the ground and the dogs have to chase them down wasting precious time after the original flush. Second, you end up with shot in the meat when enjoying your game at the dinner table.
When you use No. 6 shot, the birds bounce when they hit the ground and are waiting on the dog to pick them up. There will be no shot in the bird because they either go through the bird or lodge against the breastbone. Gil typically uses a 20 gauge and Vicki typically uses a 28 gauge, but both use No. 6’s and both have their share of one shot kills because they both practice their gun mounts before leaving for the 74 Ranch.
We can still remember 15 or so years ago when Gil brought 28 gauge No. 6s to the 74 Ranch for a quail hunt with owner George Robinson and Hunting Manager Milo Abercrombie. All were using 28 gauge side-by-sides, and at first the guide expressed his concern (distain) with our using No. 6 shot and how we would tear up all the birds and in his opinion it just would not work.
Well the time came for the first afternoon hunt and the guide was still “thin-lipped” about the No. 6s, but he held his tongue and, as the hunt began, certain things began to be more than obvious. One of the first things was that the birds were hitting the ground dead and the dogs made the retrieves instantly. It was easy to shoot our three or four birds per covey and move on to the next one. While we all shot well that day and the birds were plentiful and holding really well, it was amazing how many one shot kills we had and how there were no birds flying away with a leg down!
On that hunt, we finished about 20 to 30 minutes early and were back at the lodge before the sun went down — all with limits of birds and not one wounded bird that got away. As we gathered our stuff off the quail truck, the guide came over with his hand out and as our hands met he said, “Well if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I would not have believed it, Mr. Ash. Three limits with almost all one shot kills, no lost birds that hit the ground and absolutely no wounded birds that flew off with a leg down!” We both over heard George telling Milo that they needed to get some No. 6s soon!
In order to really enjoy a hunt like that there are certain things you need to understand about becoming proficient with a shotgun, and the first one is that if you can’t move and mount the gun consistently without thinking about it, you are not going to experience much success or consistency. George, Milo and Gil all are experienced wingshooters and, as a result, this one simple change of using No. 6s made a huge difference in their success.
When we say experienced wingshooters, we mean that they can move and mount the gun without thinking about it or looking at the gun to see if it is in the right place. In wingshooting, the shooter must know where the gun is pointed without looking at it in order to focus on the target as it is moving away in a flushing situation.–Gil & Vicki Ash