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July 11, 2014

Larry Case: Take a shot at improving your aim before you hunt

“God is not on the side of big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.” — Voltaire

Do you consider yourself an accomplished marksman with a shotgun? Are you satisfied with your shooting in the bird field or on the clay target range?

If you answered yes to both of these questions, then you may as well flip on over to the baseball scores or golf results or whatever you were looking for when you ran into this little dissertation. This bit of enlightenment is for all of the rest of us in the world, the 99 percent of us who ever labor to improve on our shotgun skills.

My brothers and sisters in camo, let’s make a pact from the get-go to keep this simple. What do you really want to accomplish? I think the majority of us want to improve in the bird field.

Let’s start now — don’t wait until two weeks before season comes in and expect to improve significantly. Most of us don’t get to hunt enough (our wives might think it’s enough, but we don’t think it’s enough!), so we would like to do a little better and bag a few birds when we do get to go. Here is how we are going to do that:

• Determine if your shotgun actually fits you: All of this advice and practice will be for naught if your shotgun does not fit you.

It is very important that when you mount the shotgun that it “feels” right. What we are talking about here is gun fit.

Volumes upon volumes have been written about this by wiser men than me, but I would say this: The first basic factor of gun fit is length of pull (the distance from the rear of the stock to the trigger), but what is really important is the distance between the knuckle of your thumb and the nose when you have the gun mounted. Did you get that?

Mount the shotgun as you normally would and check to see how far the knuckle on your thumb is from the end of your nose. It should be about the width of two fingers in distance. If it is more than that, the stock is too long; if it less, the stock is too short.

Two other major factors here are drop at comb (comb is the part of the stock that meets your cheek when you mount the gun) and the other is cast.

Cast is considered by some to be one of the shrouded mysteries of the shotgun world, but all it really amounts to is that the stock “curves” where the stock meets the receiver of the gun. That’s right — the stock is bent, and a qualified gunsmith can do this for you. And that is what you really need to do — go to a qualified gunsmith/gun fitter and see if your shotgun fits you.

• Try to be properly aligned for the shot: How can we practice for hunting situations at the clay range?

If we have had any instruction at all on the trap, skeet or sporting clays course, we know that you need to be aligned properly, that is, have your body pointed in the correct position to make any particular shot.

It’s the same in the bird field. You hear this from bird hunters all the time, and I bet you have said it yourself: “I can’t believe that bird came out when I was all twisted up trying to cross that ditch!”

The point here is you need to take the time to get properly aligned for the shot in the field just as you do on the trap, skeet or sporting clay field.

Now why don’t we do this when bird hunting? Class? Anyone?

That’s right! We don’t think we have time! The bird is going to get away! So we have to hurry up and miss.

Boys and girls, we are told that a ruffed grouse or a Ringneck Pheasant can fly maybe 45 to 50 mph. (I really don’t know how this is measured, but that is what we are told.) The shot from a modern shotgun shell travels anywhere from 1,145 to 1,400 feet per second, which is only about 780 to 900 mph.

Buddy, the bird is not going to out-fly the pellets from your shotgun. The lesson here is to take that second or two to properly line up for the shot.

• Practice all of this with the gun you’re going to hunt with and wear your hunting coat or vest: It should go without saying, but I will anyway — practice with the gun that you will use to hunt.

Don’t take your sporting clays gun with 30-inch barrels and an extra four pounds to the range and on opening day pull out that snappy little 20-gauge that feels like you are carrying a BB gun. Also, try wearing your hunting coat or vest when you do this, because you want everything to “feel” the same when the time comes to play for keeps.

OK, that might be enough for now. You have to get out there and practice, folks! Go burn some powder!

Remember, like fishing, any day spent shooting beats the heck out of work!

“The Trail Less Traveled” is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va., has been a devoted outdoorsman all of his life and is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at

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