Each fall, various outdoor media outlets present how-to articles on wingshooting, either presenting the basics, or diving into a full undergraduate level analysis and techniques. It’s a rite of passage for the bird hunting openers.
Truth is there are few consistent gems across articles. The vast considerations affecting how we connect with flying targets ranges from posture to choke tubes, and everything in between. But how does the reader, particularly those new to wingshooting, know what to focus on as a starting point or to truly improve their skills?
Upon scouring dozens of articles from the past two decades and listening to world-renown competition target shooters expound via podcasts, posture, mount, sighting and leading the target, I’ve come up with the final four. The silver bullets of wingshooting prowess. Effectiveness relies most importantly on how the shooter handles the gun.
Posture is critical to properly shouldering and sighting down the barrel. Proper stance will distribute body weight and firm the upper body for controlled gun handling.
Step forward with the foot opposite the gun shoulder (i.e. if you are right-handed, your left foot should lead), shift your weight to the front foot, point your toes at the target and “lean into the gun”. Your feet will serve as your anchor while your hips remain fluid, allowing for upper body to rotate and maintain control.
2. Mount and Sighting
Take it from a guy who has mastered the art of head-lifting and shooting over birds (missing!). Proper mount and face alignment on the stock is the foundation of successful wingshooting.
What I mean by “mount” is how the gun arrives to the shouldered position. A repeatable fluid motion from the carry to shouldered position is important. Poor or inconsistent mounting is touted as one of the most common causes for missing a flying target.
The gun should come quickly and cleanly to face and shoulder in natural motion with stance and posture, and this takes time to master. Since the butt of the gun ultimately rests against the shoulder, it seems natural to plant the butt comfortably into the shoulder, then lower the cheekbone onto the stock. But this creates an unnatural posture with your head, neck and shoulders.
The better approach is to bring the gun to your eye first, then settle the butt into the crease between the pectoral muscle and upper arm. Bringing the gun straight up to your face first levels the eyes, keeping them fixed directly down the barrel.
Shotguns are meant to be pointed not aimed. Assuming the gun fits the shooter and is mounted properly, the gun should shoot exactly where the shooter is looking. The intent is to focus on the target, letting the gun instinctively follow the eye rather than using the bead as the aim point.
Keeping both eyes open will aid in focusing on the bird or clay and sighting properly. With a proper mount and eye aligned down the rib, sighting past the bead with a focus on the target will ensure proper vertical alignment of the shot pattern.
While many shooters adjust to their own technique for leading a flying target over time, “swinging through” the target is largely the most reliable method, as opposed to immediately pointing the barrel ahead of the target.
“Swinging through” means mounting the gun, pointing toward the target and swinging from behind across the target, passing the target and establishing a proper lead. For close range shooting, squeeze the trigger just as the muzzle passes the clay or the bird’s head. For longer shots, the trigger pull comes after the muzzle has passed the target by a distance that is one, two, or three times the length of the target, depending upon target distance and travel velocity.
When swinging on a flying bird, it’s a natural tendency to stop the swing when the bead reaches a comfortable lead, just a nanosecond before pulling the trigger. This ultimately results in shooting too far back or behind the bird entirely. Continuing the swing, squeezing the trigger as you track ahead of the target will most often result in a solid connection.
Understanding lead is complex, requires time and practice and becoming instinctual with enough of both. But trust your instincts. When the lead “feels right”, squeeze the trigger.