Duck shooting is the billiards of work with a shotgun. The uniform flight of fowl, the absence of any interference with the aim, preparedness of the shooter from having been given due warning of the approaching bird, tend to place every factor of the shooting problem a the gunner’s command. Always, however, the hunter’s skill and experience must equal the demand, the whole situation resolving itself finally into knowledge of where to hold. In quail shooting a man’s difficulty lies in being unable to place his charge to the spot which he knows is right; in duck shooting the main question is where to point the gun, the pattern being readily sent to the estimated lead. It is nearly as easy to direct aim ten feet in front of the mark as two fee, always provided you know it should lead ten feet and not tow or six. Therefore conclude that every successful shot must be made with an absolute correct estimate of speed of flight and distance of mark. When this can be done with regularity the pleasure of verifying the judgement with a long, clean kill is superior to that connecting with any other style of shooting.
The most that I can do here is to call attention to some of the various shots which the wildfowler will be called upon to solve as primary lessons in the duck shooting game.
The overhead, incoming shot is made by throwing the gun beneath the target and pitching it rapidly upward until it passes the bid, firing the instant the mark is quite hidden by the barrel. Little conscious allowance ahead will be found necessary in making this shot, but the speedier the mark the more rapidly the gun should be swung. It can be readily understood that with a rapidly moving muzzle a greater lead will be taken automatically at a long distance than a short. In any even it has been found in practice that swinging the gun from beneath to cover and hide the mark will usually result in a kill. This is probably the easiest shot made in duck shooting.
No sooner, though, has this first load been fired the second charge has its work cut out for it. Many species of ducks will tower with the bang of the gun, maybe rising straight into the air or even beating back upon the course they came. In consequence the second barrel, if not sent in promptly, will have to be fired well above and possibly, paradoxical as it may seem, behind the duck, considering the route it was traveling when the right was pulled. Most likely the scared flock will merely sheer off, mounting at the same time, and the new angle of flight must be instantly reckoned with if the shot is to go home.
A duck that is coming at a high clip which he deflects into a sheering, curving tower is about as hard a nut to crack as comes under the wing shooter’s mallet. One half second may take the mark out of range, and a man’s thinking apparatus must work fast. Certain other varieties of duck, like the blue wing teal and the canvasback, will not flinch or tower, but continue directly on with redoubled speed. Now the bird will pass the gun, which must turn on him, affording quite a different shot from the other. Then in order to lead the hold must be low—well under—sometimes as much as three feet, but the farther the mark is allowed to go the closer it is covered, since with distance it comes more directly into the line of fire and the charge is sent more closely in the line of flight.
Many birds passing well out will also swerve and rise with the report, which necessitates a lessening of the front lead to direct a second charge higher. Shooting eight feet ahead of him might kill a certain duck, but to kill his mate with the second barrel it should go only two feet in front and two feet high. On firing the right barrel an experienced shot ought to be able to tell pretty well what the remainder of the flock will do by knowing the species if fowl.
It will usually be discovered that birds which pass to the right call for a greater lead than those flying to the left, because the right hand gunner swings less freely and rapidly in that direction.
The surest double is to be made while the birds are approaching the gun, never permitting them to pass by. Turning to shoot in a restricted blind is trying, and more so from a duck boat. If the ducks are close up take the leader first, but if farther out select the rear fowl and those closer up can hardly escape being shot at. There is room for coolness and good judgment in this. Should you choose the leading bird and fire too quickly, those behind him may climb out of reach, while trying for a rear fowl after they are well in may force a difficult turn on the others.
A descending bird is a hard shot, both by reason of his increased speed and because a gun cannot well be swung down, and the descending line of flight must be met by a still gun, as in snap shooting, causing a loss of all the advantage of swinging with the target. A rising bird is far easier, and hence it is well in decoy shooting to pull just as the fowl is hovering to alight, or take him in his upward climb away from danger.
In jumping ducks close study should be given as to the variety of fowl we are jumping. A mallard usually climbs nearly straight upward, a shot just in front of the bill should get him. On the contrary a teal scurries off low along the marsh, and the holding must be well ahead and only slightly high. A widgeon makes one great bound upward and then goes off at a sharp angle. If quick enough the hunters’ surest shot on the widgeon is at the end of this leap when the duck will be about ten feet high. Any dwelling upon the aim here is fatal, since the bird will change his line of flight acutely, and a long swing will have to be made after the speeding mark.
A pintail climbs and gradually bears off, at the same time circling the gun. When jumped he is one of the easiest birds to kill, because of this circling habit which keeps him within range of the gun for such a length of time. A green wing teal behaves very much like a mallard but is quicker in action. It is seldom that jumping them from the edge of a marsh kills any except fresh water ducks.
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