June 20, 2011

Shooting Tips: How To Hit More Incoming Doves

The incomer requires a touch of finesse.

Standing in the shade along a tree-lined fence row with sweat dripping into your eyes and the thought of a cold adult beverage on your mind is not the time to worry about dropping an incoming dove.

The grey ghosts of fall can rocket toward you with surprising speed, so you need to be ready and able to move your scattergun with confidence.

Unlike crossing birds where swing through and shooting well in front of the doves is necessary, an incomer requires a touch of finesse.

However, in all cases, the old dove hunting adage is appropriate: “Shoot them where they eat, not where they seat.”

Focusing on head of the bird is the key to handling incomers. Keep your movements to a minimum as you watch the bird fly toward you and make your move when you can clearly see its head and eyes.

You don’t want to shoot too quickly when the bird might be out of effective killing range, and you don’t want to shoot too late when the downed bird may drop well behind you and be lost in the brush.

As the bird comes into that sweet spot, bring your shotgun to your shoulder with the barrel slightly behind the bird and pull through it. As the barrel clears the bird’s head, pull the trigger while continuing your swing.

This is often called the “move, mount, shoot” method of handling a target. The best time to touch off the shot is when the butt of the stock hits your shoulder – as long as your shotgun fits properly and you are tracking the bird’s movement with the muzzle as you bring your smokepole into shooting position.

Focusing on head of the bird is the key to handling incomers. Keep your movements to a minimum as you watch the bird fly toward you and make your move when you can clearly see its head and eyes.

Make your movement like you were trying to paint through the bird in one smooth motion – no stops, no drips, no errors.

If you do your part correctly, the head-shot bird should fall somewhere close to where you are standing, making for an easy retrieve.

Do not, under any circumstances, try to catch a falling bird with your free hand. Although you may have shot the bird in the head, you may also have broken a wing or leg bone that could lance through your hand and leave you searching for the nearest medical aid station.

Most misses on incoming birds are caused by the shooter rushing the shot. Patience is the key, along with keeping your focus on the bird’s head. Get prepared slowly and then shoot quickly once you know the bird is within killing range and you will have a good chance of taking home a limit.

As a related tip, veteran sky blasters who bring home their limit of mourning or white-winged doves on a regular basis follow a simple formula for success.

That formula is: take those birds one at a time.

Dropping a dove without retrieving it is both poor form and wasteful. If the friendly neighborhood game warden is in the area, such unsportsmanlike conduct might also get you cited for “waste of game.”

As the bird comes into that sweet spot, bring your shotgun to your shoulder with the barrel slightly behind the bird and pull through it. As the barrel clears the bird’s head, pull the trigger while continuing your swing.

When you have managed to knock a bird out of the sky with a well-placed pattern of shot, watch the bird fall all the way to the ground and keep your eye on that spot.

Focus on any identifiable landmark – a clump of tall grass, a bush, a telephone pole or fence post that is in direct line with the fallen bird and immediately walk to that spot.

Don’t take your eyes off the spot. Don’t shoot another bird and don’t look down to load your shotgun. Retrieving that bird is your first and only mission.

Be aware that if the bird was wounded, it may have moved from the spot or it may be flapping its wings on the ground. Immediately check out any movement on the ground near the spot you marked with your eyes, but don’t forget your landmark.

Search in a circle, expanding the diameter around your landmark in ever increasing search patterns. If you want to take off your hat and mark the spot where you last saw the bird, be sure to place the hat high enough in the brush that you can find it later.

You don’t want to lose both the bird and your favorite chapeau.

Once your downed bird is safely tucked away in your game bag, go back to your shooting spot, congratulate yourself and repeat the process.

The author is a World Champion Live Flyer competitor, a AA Class sporting clays shooter and a National Sporting Clays Association Level II Shooting Instructor based in San Antonio.