Yeah, rain! Had a great weekend hunting in Hell’s Canyon. Lots of birds, lots of greenup, gorgeous fall colors, plenty of dog action, good friends, warm-ish weather. Yes.
The first point I’d seen from Angus in weeks and weeks yielded a nice covey of chukar rising from bunch grass, just 30 minutes into the first hunt. And, wowee, I knocked down a bird with my first shot. Angus quickly retrieved it but Peat stole it from him, ran off with it, and ate it. Despite seeing at least eight more coveys that weekend, on great points by Angus (and backing by Peat), I went 0 for 14. Or something like that. Here’s a little clip…
But who cares? What I like best about this activity is watching dogs get birdy and point. The rest is falling action, so to speak (not literally, at least with my atrocious shooting; I recently discovered I was left-eye dominant and since I shoot righty I might have an excuse, but then how do you explain going three-for-three on a single covey, twice – long ago, though…).
Another thing I really like about chukar hunting is getting with friends who understand it, have the patience – with themselves, with me, with their dogs, and with the difficulty of the endeavor – to enjoy it with sincerity.
And the other thing I love about it is having my wife come along, even though she doesn’t pull the trigger, except on the camera. More than her great photos and video, her company, her sensibility, her appreciation for the venture and adventure of it, her advice which is almost always much better than my ideas, and her patience with me, are all more than I deserve.
Oh, and did I mention that I fall deeper in love with the landscape every time I go out?
9 Replies to “Hallowee!”
Dale and Marilyn Ghere
10:21 PM (8 minutes ago)
I love your stories. Please continue to share each hunt.
The guy who was my Best Man was also my hunting and hiking partner for many years. He was right handed and I considered him a very good shot. We separated after we married because he moved to Colorado and I moved to Laguna Beach. He tried to continue his hunting, but he married into a family that thought hunting was evil. Eventually he got rid of his guns and gave up hunting. Thirties year later he divorced and after some time thought he would start shooting again. He tried hunting, but trap and clay shooting became a bigger draw for him. At first he did well but then he hit a threshold he could get beyond. He decided to go to a shooting coach. The first thing the coach determined was the he was a left eyed person trying to shoot right handed. Immediately the coach had him switch to shooting left handed. It was not easy to make the change but now he shoots much better scores. Something to think about.
What kind of shooting are you doing before the start of chukar season? You should be shooting several boxes of shells before making your first hunt. Get some of your buddies together and go throw some clays for each other. It will be better to shoot a little over several days than to shoot a lot on just one trip. Too many months of not shooting causes your muscles to forget how to react when you need to shoot at a flying bird.
I wrote a series of articles about shooting waterfowl. Perhaps some of these ideas will help you decide how to solve your shooting mishaps.
By Dale Ghere
Recently I was asked what I think it takes to be able to shoot well consistently while hunting waterfowl. The quick obvious answer is, “Do a lot of shooting. The more you practice the better you will become.” But in the real world of hunting there is a lot more to the answer than “practice shooting”. In this series of musings I will not focus on shooting techniques, but rather on those things that help a hunter to be successful. I have broken the article into 16 sections. My hope is that these musings will help some hunters to think about the things they need to do before they pull the trigger at a bird.
GUN FIT 1 of 16
The first thing a shooter should do is to make sure the gun fits. You may say, “My gun fits fine”, but if you are not hitting your target then this is the best place to start looking for a solution. Find some reliable help to answer this basic problem. Does my gun fit? The fitting is best done by a capable shooting coach, a knowledgeable gun dealer or a good gunsmith. If the gun does not fit little will go right when hunting. Another thing that should be done at the beginning stage is to determine which eye is dominant. An easy way to test for the dominant eye is to point the index finger of your right hand at a distant object while keeping both eyes open. Then cover your left eye. If finger remains on the targeted object you are right eyed. If your finger moves off of the target you are left eyed. It is best for a right eyed person to shoot right handed and for a left eyed person to shoot left handed. If you are right handed and left eyed it would do you well to learn to shoot left handed. It will be easier to learn to shoot left handed than it will be to put up with being left eyed and shooting right handed. If you shoot an automatic or a pump you will need to purchase a new gun. Switching to the opposite side will cause some confusion at first, but with practice at a shooting range you will make the change and you will finally become comfortable with this method of shooting. This is one of those times when paying for some good coaching will be worth the cost.
CLOTHING 2 of 16
The following is a paragraph from a story I wrote back in 2002 about hunting in very cold weather in Nebraska during the month of January. “Early morning temperatures were often well into the minus digits. It was never above freezing. Fortunately we were hunting from heated pit blinds. The heaters were not only nice for keeping me warm, but they also helped my shooting. I was free to swing and shoot without all the bulk of the heavy clothing I wore to the blind. I have found that thick padding on my shoulder changes the length of the trigger pull and sight picture over the barrel. Both of which create missed shots unless I pay special attention to the position of the gun before I shoot. If I hunted in thick clothing more often I would cut the stock down on one of my guns to compensate for the extra padding on my shoulder.”
The thought behind this story is to encourage you to practice shooting in the same clothes you will be hunting in. Too many times I have watched, even experienced hunters, become extremely frustrated after missing what would be considered an easy shot. When the error is traced back it often focuses on the gun not being mounted properly on the shoulder because of too much clothing between the shoulder and the butt of the gun. The butt of the gun will often cling to the clothing while you try to place the gun on the shoulder. This leads to all kinds of problems. Practice shooting in the same clothing you be hunting in.
Something to think about.
PRACTICE 3 of 16
An important part of practice includes developing good habits and becoming consistent. Good coaching in the beginning will save the time and frustration it takes to break bad habits. To shoot well select a dependable gun that fits and uses ammunition that meets the requirements to successfully kill birds. Nothing is more frustrating while hunting than to swing on a bird, pull the trig and have nothing happen or to fire at a bird and watch it fly away as a cripple. Practicing at a trap or clay range, under the guidance of a coach, will do a lot to improve shooting techniques. However, it is no substitute for learning how to shoot live birds.
One of the problems with practicing at a trap range is that the targets are thrown so they travel away from the shooter. In [waterfowl]hunting situations most of the targets fly towards the shooter. While practicing it would be beneficial to shoot some practice sessions on a sporting clay range. It will also be most beneficial to practice in the same position you will be in while hunting. At a trap range you will always be standing on flat ground. While hunting you may need to shoot from a sitting position or from a stool. Make sure you are practicing from the same position you expect to shoot from in the field. This is probably not possible at most ranges so some practice time needs to include shooting at clays in the field during the off season. It may feel weird to setup a laydown blind in the middle of a field and then to shoot at clays, but this is a much better option than to climb into a laydown to shoot at real birds for your first experience. Sitting on your fanny to shoot is much different than standing while shooting.
Remember these thoughts. When you shoot at a practice range you will be shooting shells that travel about 1200 to 1300fps. When hunting waterfowl you may be shooting loads that travel in excess of 1500 fps. You will need to practice shortening the lead as you move to faster velocity ammunition.
CHOKE SELECTION 4 of 16
I used to use a different choke for different hunting situations. I got so specific that I finally put a poly choke on my Remington 1100 so I could change the choke as the birds worked the decoys. That kind of action is only possible if the choke is capable of being switched while watching the birds. For any fixed choke gun this kind of thinking is invalid. When using a fixed choke I figure a person should only worry about choke size when every shot is exactly the same. If the distance of the shots will vary and the size of the birds may range from honkers to teal then the ideal choke and load will be right for one shot and wrong for the next. I used to use different loads for various shooting situations. I shot ducks with 71/2 nickel plated lead, 2’s for geese and special hand loads called wrinkle backs for pass shooting honkers. All of the switching of shells created so much frustration I decided to stop switching shells and chokes while hunting.
I finally decide to select one size choke, one size shot and one make of ammunition to use while hunting all waterfowl. With enough time spent shooting the same load through the same gun I have finally learned how to predict which birds I am capable of killing. The others I watch fly away. Some of my friends have solved this problem by carrying two guns to the blind, each with different chokes and different loads. That is more than I want to deal with. In some areas that is not a legal option.
LEAD AND SHELLS 5 of 16
Understanding lead is essential to shooting well. I find that jumping back and forth between slow moving nontoxic loads and fast moving steel loads while shooting at birds that may vary in distance from 15 to 60 yards causes me to have to think too much. The lead on a bird at 20 yards with a load that is traveling at 1700 feet per second is quite a bit different from a nontoxic load that is shot at a bird at 60 yards. That is why I use the same kind of shell all of the time. I think it is a bad decision to purchase shells based on the price or on a sales pitch found in a magazine. I suggest buying shells by the case. Shoot the case and then make a decision whether or not to change. To kill birds the greatest density of the pattern has to be in the right spot and then it needs to have the killing power to stop the bird. It does no good to shoot a powerful shell with heavy loads if you cannot point the gun in the right direction, specially on the second or third shot. Understanding lead is a must if you are going to shoot well consistently. I have friends who swing through the bird and then pull the trigger, some use a constant lead approach while others use a point and shoot technique. All are successful. What is important is that you learn to develop the proper lead. The only way I know to accomplish that is to do a lot of shooting in many different situations. I find that most hunters shoot behind a bird more often than shooting in front of the bird. A lot of decisions need to be made quickly to determine the proper lead.
Proper lead can be strongly influenced by the direction and velocity of the wind. It takes a lot of practice to learn how to make a prediction of how much lead to put on each bird when shooting in strong windy conditions. I had a snow goose fly from behind me and pass directly over my head. As I raised the gun I moved the barrel to a position about two feet off the tip of left wing. When I pulled the trigger the bird folded. The strong wind had pushed the bird into the path of the shot. Only experience allowed me to make a quick decision and to be successful.
For years we complained about the poor ballistics of steel loads. Today there are many good shells available that will allow hunters to shoot as well or better than when lead was legal. However, because of the velocity of the new loads, recoil on some of the new ammunition can be significant. To deal with felt recoil you may need to purchase a new gun, have a talk with a good gunsmith or shoot less than the most powerful loads. All are reasonable options. Too much felt recoil will influence the second shot. In time too much felt recoil will influence every shot.
When I was much younger I kept moving up the line to bigger and heavier loads. It did allow me to make shots I no longer attempt. To shoot ammunition that is too punishing for me to handle is no longer an enjoyable option.
If you are thinking about changing the type of ammunition you shoot keep this in mind. “Because it used to work, is not a sensible reason to keep doing something.” Seth Godin, 2013. If you are not able to hit birds better than 50% of the time then something needs to change. Finding out what your mistakes are will be rewarding.
BARREL SELECTION 6 of 16
When making a choice about length of barrel it depends on the type of shooting that will be done. I have not found the length of barrel to be important for providing killing power. That is the job of the choke, the powder, the structure of the wad, the size of the shot and the weight of the pellet. The only reason I have ever found useful for using a long barrel on a shotgun is because it helps me to point the gun in the right direction when shooting at long ranges. When I used a full choke, 32 inch barrel on my Ithaca 10 ga. to shoot special hand loads with lead T shot I could consistently kill geese at 70+ yards. I have given up that kind of shooting. Long distance pass shooting is still possible if one wants to use heavy nontoxic pellets or make special hand loads. It can be very productive at times, but it is much less enjoyable for me than watching birds work into the decoys. I figure if I have to think about allowing for drop because the shot is so long then the target is too far away.
I find a short barrel with an open choke to be most productive for me. Short guns are easier to transport in the car, easier to carry into the field and fit in a pit or blind better than a long gun. Short guns are much easier to shoot from a lay-down blind and allow for quicker swings to the second shot. It is easy to make a mistake and point the short barrel in the wrong direction so I must concentrate on each shot. An open choke makes up for some errors that cause the gun to be pointed in the wrong direction, but not much. I have hunting partners who like long barrels with tight chokes and they shoot very well in all of the situations we hunt together. Selecting a gun that provides confidence and fits a person’s shooting style is essential to being able shoot well consistently.
BODY POSITION 7 of 16
A large part of a shot selection starts from body position in the blind. When I was younger I could lie on my back and get up to shoot with ease. For years I used a piece of burlap and local weeds to cover myself in plowed dirt fields. I always thought it was normal to be able to let birds fly into the decoys and to then be able to sit up and shoot before they could get away. Today that is not true. Old men need more time. To shoot consistently today I need to at least be in a lay-down blind to have enough time to rise, get the gun pointed in the right direction and pull the trigger. It is better for me if I can start from a kneeling or sitting position. It is always best to start from a standing position, but that opportunity is seldom available unless shooting from a large blind or a good pit. It is always best to shoot when your feet are in the right position while standing on level ground. [If possible make sure you are standing in a good position before the dogs flush the bird.] Many shooters can shoot the ideal score of 25 out of 25 on a trap range, but they start from a standing position with both feet on a hard level surface. I doubt many could shoot that score if they had to start from lying on their back. When preparing the blind make sure your feet will be level when you stand to shoot. Design the blind so you will be able to swing the gun without interference. Think about being balanced well enough so you can take the recoil and still be able to properly make an accurate second or third shot.
What is important to me is not how many birds I shoot, but how many birds I miss when I do shoot. Anyone can shoot at every bird that flies by. The question for me is, “How many birds do I hit when I shoot?” That is why I am willing to work hard enough to ensure birds come within gun range. A good decoy spread, a well made blind, good calling and taking the time to position my body to shoot properly are essential for me to shoot well consistently.
When I started to write about what it takes to shoot well consistently I thought it could be narrowed down to a single factor, shot selection, but I was wrong. There are just too many things that have to go right to make a successful shot. Consistent success while shooting at waterfowl only occurs for those who shoot a lot and have had years of experience. To shoot well consistently it is best to take high percentage shots. Another way to say it is, “To shoot well consistently you must consistently shoot at good targets.” I think it would be difficult for most shooters to take all low percentage shots and still be able to shoot well consistently. For most of us there are no short cuts to repetitive success.
Thanks for all this, Dale. Food for thought for sure. The gun fit and eye dominance thing will have to wait until summer when I have time to figure it out. The only good thing about missing shots is that I have fewer birds to clean.
On being left eye dominate, on straight away shots you will be shooting to the right of the bird. You will be successful on quartering and crossing shots, I have the same problem. I have a piece of tape on the top of my left lense on my shooting glasses. You will never be proficient telling yourself to close your right eye.
Great to have you back. Been missing your stories.
Gun fit is key. My friend is left eye dominant, had his guns fit by a professional. He is a great sporting clay shooter and shoots awesome on birds.
He has his stocks cast (bent) 3/4 ” in the proper direction to fit his left eye dominance vision, and dont forget the rise or fall of the stock/barrel on your vision/body style too. My friend shoots right handed.
I had to have my stock slightly cast 1/4″ to fit my body and vision. And I shoot well on birds and sporting clays with a 20 guage.
As much as you hunt, it would serve you well to look into a professional gun fit. There used to be a few profeasionals in the treasure valley that can do this type of fit.
There is a method to the madness of shims that come with some guns, but a professional fit and or evaluation would be useful. Good luck and good hunting.
Thanks, Mark. I know you’re right, and have thought about getting a fit (instead of having one!). It’s on my summer project list. 🙂
I got out sunday after two weeks of only pheasant hunting, and it was amazing. Birds were everywhere, it wasn’t too hot to hunt, and there wasn’t another hunter in sight. I love November.
Is that a gps collar i spy? Going to the dark side eh? I think a GPS collar is one of the best tools for chukar hunting, even with a close working dog. Being able to send your dog over a ridge or into a bowl while staying out of sight really helps keep the birds from running out from under you.
You got me, Chris. I was hoping nobody would notice. I’m still trying to figure out how to work the damned thing, but it’s helped a couple times already. So yeah, eating crow here (’cause I can’t seem to hit any of the chukar Angus points).
Bob I am also left eye dominate. I wear Decot Hy-wyd glaces and use there magic dot this goes in the upper outside corner of your left eye lens and blocks out the barrel when you mount the gun to let your right eye take over. It does not block your vision at any other time. I’ve used them for years Trap-Skeet-Sporting clays and most of all Bird hunting with great success. Dale has some real good tips Point Of Impact is something you should know. Get a 30inch By 30inch piece of cardboard or paper put a dot in the middle stand back 16+ yards mount the gun like you do when you shoot a bird don’t rifle shoot it. this will let you know if it shoots high-low or in the center if your gun has shims you can adjust this. I like 60/40 60% high 40% low.
The puppy yelling at him does no good either does giving him a treat for bad behavior. In my previous comment I had suggested you hunt him by him self to eliminate the competition between the dogs. I still stand by this. I think you would be well served to work with a professional trainer I know some one I have been using for years with great success if you would like his name let me know. I currently have 2 Pointers and 2 Shorthairs all trained. One of my shorthairs is just 1 year old I will hunt her by her self this year so she is solid before I put her with another dog. There is no hurry. She has been to Montana on Sharp Tails and Huns and here at home in Nevada on Chuckar and Huns always finds and points birds and retrieves to hand.