The late Gene Hill used to say the best shotgun teacher of all was a case of shells. Good news for those of us in need of a Shotgunning 101 tutorial: Target ammo costs less today than ever before. Last winter, for example, my local Wal-Mart closed out 10-box cases of promotional loads for $29.99 each.
My progressive three-lesson plan will firm up the foundations of your shooting. Besides a case of shells, you’ll need clay birds and a spring-powered trap that chucks clays at consistent angles. You and a friend will take turns shooting and pulling, with the puller coaching the shooter.
Lesson 1: Focus on the Bird
Aiming a shotgun guarantees a miss. The instant your eyes leave the target and focus on the bead to aim, the gun stops moving. Focus on the target and the gun will shoot where you look-as long as your head stays down on the stock.
Set the trap to throw straightaway targets. Stand next to it, mount the gun, look down the rib so that you only see the bead sticking up, then ignore the bead and gaze past it into the blue. Feel the stock nestled underneath the ledge of your cheekbone. As you call “pull,” you should be aware of the barrel only as a blur in your secondary vision; all your focus must be on the target. Look at the bird, point, and shoot. Take five shots and switch with the puller until you’ve shot three boxes of shells apiece.
What the Puller Looks For: Watch the barrel. If it stops, the shooter aimed. Tell him: “Look at the target, not the bead.” Make sure the shooter doesn’t lift his head up.
**Lesson 2: Learn to Lead **
People miss angling and crossing targets by measuring lead, which causes them to slow or stop the gun.
Move about 15 yards to one side of the trap, which should be set to throw birds that cross in front of you. Start with a mounted gun as in Lesson 1. Point the gun in front of you, with the muzzle held slightly below the projected path of the bird. Cut your eyes back in the direction of the trap to see the bird coming. Keep the gun still until the bird almost reaches the barrel, then ease the muzzle ahead of the target and shoot in front of it. If chips fly off the back end, shoot a little farther in front. Shoot five left-to-rights, switch, then on your next turn shoot five right-to-lefts. Shoot three boxes.
**What the Puller Looks For: **The muzzle should move at the same speed or slightly faster than the target. Check to see if the shooter jerks the barrel ahead of the bird, slows it down, or even stops.
[NEXT “Lesson 3: Mount Properly”] Lesson 3: Mount Properly
You don’t hunt birds by walking around with the gun at your shoulder, so now you must learn to execute correct mounts. Set the trap for straightaway birds. Stand next to it with your gun held in a ready position: parallel to the ground with the butt tucked lightly under your arm. Call “pull” and push the muzzle toward the bird while raising the gun to your face. Shoot the instant the butt touches your shoulder.
Take turns shooting five or six straightaways apiece until you’ve each shot two boxes of shells. Then, step away from the trap to practice sharply angled birds as in Lesson 2, but start with the gun held in the ready position. Point the muzzle about halfway between the trap and the spot where you plan to break the target. As the target approaches the muzzle, swing the barrel along and slightly below the clay’s flight line while raising the stock to your face. When you make the right move, you’ll finish the mount with the muzzle just ahead of the target. Pull the trigger immediately.
**What the Puller Looks For: **
Keep an eye out for a “rifle-style” mount, wherein the shooter scrunches the head onto the comb and swings after the target. The muzzle should start moving with the target before the butt rises to the shooter’s cheek. Remind your shooter: “Eyes to the target, hands to the target, shoot when the butt hits your shoulder.”
Repeat Lesson 3 every week before opening day. At $29.99, you can’t afford not to.
A trap to throw training clays needn’t cost any more than a case of shells. Do-All (800-252-9247; do-alltraps.com), a relative newcomer to the field, offers a Competitor model that sells in many discount catalogs for $30. You can either stake the Competitor into the ground or bolt it onto a tire. A step up from the Competitor is the $59 Clayhawk, which will throw any type of sporting clay target, including rabbit clays.