“I didn’t come this far to miss,” is the slogan for the Hevi-Shot loads. I don’t think that just by spending $2 per trigger pull you will automatically shoot more accurately. Consistently hitting a flying target with a shotgun takes practice.
However, this slogan did make me think of one of the days on our New Year’s Arizona trip this year. I drove over 2,000 miles roundtrip to southern Arizona to hunt Mearn’s and scaled quail and had a bad shooting day. The First day the we struggled even finding birds, then the second day we got into some, but they were few and far between, so every shot counted. Maybe it was simply the pressure of coming so far, the chance to bag a new species and not wanting to miss, but it definitely affected my shooting. Luckily, my hunting buddy was on top of his game, he went six straight.
Here are four key principles of shooting that may help to work on: First, know your dominant eye and learn to shoot a shotgun from that side. (If you are left eye dominant, learn to shoot left handed.) If you have trouble every so often that your non-dominant eye takes over dominance due to eye fatigue, or some other issue, you can try placing a small (1/4” x 1/4”) piece of clear 3M Scotch type tape on your eyeglasses or shooting glasses in the exact spot where you see the shotgun bead when the gun in mounted. You will still be afforded good overall vision from both eyes, but this slight distortion or haze should help direct focus to the correct eye. If you are in the field and don’t have any tape, you can try gathering a little oil from your nose, forehead or hair/scalp on the tip of your finger and touch it a small spot on your glasses where you would put the tape previously described. Every once in a while I find this happening, that after a missed shot I realized that my left eye was the one that was focused on the target rather than the right.
Second and perhaps much more commonly the head is being lifted off the stock in anticipation of seeing the bird fall. It is critical to the aim of the shotgun that the cheek is firmly rested on the stock and the dominant eye is looking right down the barrel. Keep your head down and cheek against the stock.
The next factor critical to shooting success is to maintain stable balance. This is difficult to do hunting chukars. The steep, rocky, uneven terrain is what makes these bandits so challenging to hunt and even harder to hit. The shooter is usually working to get the shot off while still stumbling around on the steep hillside. You are far better off to take the extra fraction of a second to get a stable base then make the shot. The stable base is critical for a smooth swing.
Finally, there’s proper lead; you have to be out in front of a moving bird and not stop your swing at the trigger pull if you hope to connect. There are two different methods: sustained lead and swing through leads. Both will work, however, I have found that the swing through method is more natural and helps my subconcious judge the speed of the bird and distance to the bird and calculate the necessary lead better. The critical thing here is practice and let the subconscious build libraries of previous shots and it will do the necessary calculations and guide the shots to success. Just don’t stop your swing and let it happen.
Friday afternoon I was able to slip away with my 10 year old daughter Sarah for some ruffed grouse hunting. She was happy to be out with her Dad and I was tickled to have her to myself. (Truth be told, I think Mom was glad to have the kids seperated for a few hours. Tell me, why are they such a pleasure one on one, but just want to fight when they’re together?)
Sarah and I took Luke, a bold little male cocker spaniel that we have been working with out for his first experience on wild birds. We were hunting him with Allie, my seasoned female lab. I was excited to get this little brush-buster hunting wild birds. It wasn’t long before Allie got into birds. Luke was right there with her. What I loved about this little dog is his ability to thoroughly work tight cover (and look cute doing it). I’ve never been able to hunt over a cocker before and loved the experience. I think you have to look carefully for the right breeding to get a game hungry cocker like this one, but if you can find one, they are a pleasure to hunt with.
The two dogs put up a handful of grouse for Sarah and I and despite the thick cover, I was able to put one of them in the bag. Needless to say, we had a ball on our daddy-daughter date. We did have to spend a while after we got home combing the burrs out, but it was worth it.
11/22/09: I have had several calls about hunting cockers since I wrote this post. I have now had luke out after pheasants and grouse and thoroughly loved hunting with this dog. The following comment came from Gail Workman about Luke:
From: G L Workman
Sent: Nov 19, 2009 8:13 PM
There are only a handful of breeders who are breeding the American Cocker for its true intent: as a sporting dog. Luke is owned by Sharon Pearson and bred by Gail Workman. Here is a little history of Luke’s background.
In 1995, the first “Master Hunter” titled American Cocker was CH Petts Southwest Breeze, CD, WD, SH, MH (Ruby). Bred by Elsie Scolaro and Anne Noble, Ruby was owned, trained and handled by Trish Jackson of West Falmouth, Massachusetts. In 2001, Trish Jackson bred, trained and handled the first cocker spaniel field champion in almost thirty years, a Ruby daughter, FC Madisons Pride and Passion MH, sired by Bazils Stylish Pride JH SH.
Gail Workman, who also breeds field Cocker Spaniels, trained and handled the first VCD3 American Cocker earning advanced titles in obedience, tracking, agility, and hunting. OTCH Knights LIttle Kelly Girl VCD3 TDX AX AXJ WD SH (Kelly). Kelly was bred to the first male cocker to earn a “Master Hunter” Pudg’gee Ann’s Heart and Soul MH (Spunky) who was bred, trained and shown by Bob Linehan of San Deigo. From that litter Gail kept a red male Kelly’s Cruisen Legacy (Cruiser) who was trained and shown by Gail Workman earning his UD, TDX, OA, OAJ titles and was shown to his Master Hunter by Bob Linehan.
Trish Jackson bred FC Madisons Pride and Passion MH to Gail Workmans Kelly’s Cruisen legacy VDC2 TDX OA OAJ WDX MH. From this breeding came Lukes Sire: Madisons Blackland Prairie Rufus SH WDX (Rufus) owned, trained and shown by Elain and Buck Grabowski.
Luke’s Dam is Six of Seven CDX, NA, NAJ, WD, SH (Six) . Six is an old fashion cocker with no background in hunting, Gail purchased Six to add a new line i.to the small gene pool of the field bred American Cockers. Six is now working towards her Master Hunter title.
As Chris said it is not easy to find a game hungry cocker like Luke. However, that being said, I could recommend all the breeders mentioned above to get a true field bred American Cocker.
Thank you, Sharon, for giving Luke an awesome home and for sending Luke to Chris’ to get his hunting training. Having worked with Chris myself, I know Luke is in good hands! I could not be more proud of of Luke and all the hard work Sharon has put into raising him.