Sykes Mitchell, of Duck Creek Outfitters (www.duckcreekoutfitters.com), guides waterfowl hunters in Saskatchewan and Oregon and has seen a lot of hunters blow it.
"If I could give a hunter advice before a hunt, it would be to be comfortable and know that their equipment is working."
That means starting with a gun they have patterned before the hunt. "You would be surprised how many people have never patterned their shotgun," Mitchell said.
Another thing that people do is bring shotguns they haven't fired in a year. "You want to make sure the gun is working," Mitchell said. The best way to do it, after the gun has been patterned, is to shoot a clay pigeons course a few days before the hunt.
Just an hour of practice helps to forge muscle memory, helps a hunter make the moves that point to better shooting: the gun mount, the consistent cheek weld of wood to flesh, the safety flicked to "fire," the swing, the trigger stroke, the follow-through.
It's also important to bring the right loads. And different shot sizes are required for ducks and geese. "Often, the smallest goose is twelve pounds," Mitchell said. It takes larger shot to bring geese down.
Do a dry run in the blind, Mitchell recommends. Anticipate the speed of the birds and practice picking up the gun and shouldering it.
In the moment, aim at the beak.
"If it's a goose, focus on that cheek patch. You're not trying to shoot the bird, you're trying to hit that small target on the head."
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