The passing shot is the most difficult shot because the gun must be farther in front of the target than the flushing shot. Perhaps the birds that hunters have the most experience with are doves or ducks. There is an endless amount of information about shooting doves, but we also need to include ducks and pigeons and how the wind affects their flight path and changes the strategy of how you approach shots.
The first and biggest thing to put the odds in your favor of getting good shots at ducks is investing in a facemask and actually going to the sporting range and shooting in it. There are a variety of facemasks on the market and if you wear glasses, be aware the some of them will cause your glasses to fog up and ducks are hard enough to hit when you can see them! The real show when hunting ducks is what is happening before the command to shoot is given. Your choice is to watch the incredible display of birds coming in to the decoys by using a facemask or keeping your head down until the shot is called and try to make something of the chaos when they flare.
Being able to see the birds coming into the decoys allows many things to occur, all of which gives the advantage to the hunter. The most obvious is that the birds seem to be slower because you are watching them come in all the way and, when the shot is called, everything appears to be moving much slower. If you are waiting for the shot to be called with your head down to hide your face, when you look up to see the ducks everything is moving and focusing on one duck is so much more difficult. At the end of the day, in order to hit a moving object with a shotgun you must be able to see it, which is probably the most difficult part of being successful when shooting ducks because they usually come in as a flock. The first shot is fired, and chaos occurs. This is another reason why when ducks come in as a single or a pair they are more easily taken with fewer shots because there is so much less confusion.
When preparing your duck blinds before the season, to go to the blinds without a gun and put some decoys out and actually watch ducks come in to the decoys and observe what happens when you stand up. Without exception, the ones who actually do this call us and say that they have never seen this happen and they are amazed at how slow the ducks really are and how much easier it is to focus on a single duck in the flock. Try that the next time you are out in the duck blind and have your limit, unload your shotgun and keep calling the ducks and actually watch the birds come in and just see what they do when you stand up.
Then try keeping your head down while someone else calls and have them tell you when to look up or stand up and notice the difference. You will find that being able to watch the birds come in, while still chaos, will seem more organized chaos and notice how things are really in slow motion compared to how it looked when you kept your head down and looked up when you stood up. All of this is enabled by a simple $10 facemask and did we tell you to buy several and try them on and actually go shoot with them? What we do is find the facemask that works best for each of us and then go back to the store and bought several. While you probably will never wear one out, they do tend to get lost and having another one you know works is reassuring to say the least.
So for duck hunting, it is about concealment to get the ducks in range, then it is about focusing on only one bird. Then it becomes getting the bird ahead on line, which brings us to the one thing that made a huge difference in our shooting on ducks and pigeons, too, for that matter. The ducks are descending when coming to the decoys and, typically when they realize their predicament, they begin to flee. Ducks don’t flee the decoys going to the left or right; they will always be rising. If you are an avid clay shooter, because there is so much going, on your miss will typically be underneath. You see the line as straight left or 9 o’clock or straight right at 3 o’clock and that line will seldom kill a duck. You will find that going to 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock on the fleeing bird will create more consistency.
We were at Tomas Frontera’s duck lodge, Veracruz, near the Parana River in Argentina this past summer and this lesson was learned again by Gil on the first hunt. He had a pretty hard time killing a duck on the second shot and thank God for the ShotKam because when we got back to the lodge and downloaded the ShotKam 3’s we both realized when viewing the footage that almost all his misses were underneath on the second shots. That, for him, was valuable information that transformed his results on the following hunts.
Find a facemask that works, practice wearing your facemask and buy more than one when you find one that works. Fleeing ducks don’t fly to the left or right; they are always ascending as they flee so they are rising not just crossing. Sit in the blind and observe flocks of ducks coming in to the decoys with your facemask on to actually see what they do when you stand up and flare them.
To do something well, you must do it many times. Practice your gun mount and the sight pictures to improve your consistency with your shotgun. Just watching flock after flock of ducks come in to the decoys is invaluable when it comes to anticipating what is about to happen when the shot is called.
Something that not many hunters know is that, as a flock comes in and the shot is called, if you shoot at the birds at the top of the flock, your follow up shots will be easier because the birds are coming up to you. This will set you up for the least amount of movement with your eyes, the least amount of movement with the gun and at the same time slows everything down. All these things are good and will improve your shooting percentage. Another thing that is seldom mentioned but is critical to hunter safety is for everyone in the blind to all agree to shoot from a seated position or a standing position. The worst case would be for a short hunter to shoot seated and tall hunters next to him/her stand up to shoot! Just like in other hunting situations, safety is always your primary consideration.
Our last tip for this segment is to look at the heads of the duck as you are mounting your gun just in front and on line. You will find in shooting decoying ducks or pigeons their heads are typically pointed where they are heading, which puts you on the line from the get go. The one exception, and you will see this a lot in pigeon hunting, when the birds are hovering over the decoys and about to land, look at their feet and shoot just under them with very little lead because they are not going very fast!–Gil & Vicki Ash