The mourning dove is without a doubt the fastest and most acrobatic of all upland birds—agile enough to make even the most seasoned wingshooter curse his way through opening day. These birds dive, twist, change speed, change direction, and rise and drop so quickly and effortlessly that it sometimes seems impossible to intercept passing targets with any regularity. However, if you learn and practice these fundamentals of wingshooting, you’ll drop more doves with fewer shells.
1. Stroke It
It’s the golden rule of shotgunning: The muzzle of your shotgun must be in motion before, during, and after the shot. One shotgun instructor that I trained with described it as stroking a paintbrush across the target rather than shooting the bird. This is the most fundamental principle for killing more doves, because if you stop the gun, you’ll shoot behind the bird every time.
2. Mount It
You must establish a solid cheek weld by bringing the gun to your shoulder and cheek as opposed to lowering your head to the gun. Practice mounting and swinging your (unloaded) gun prior to the season opener. If the heel of your recoil pad is pointed and sharp, use a file to round the edge. This will reduce hang-ups when you mount the shotgun.
3. Rotate It
Your upper body and gun should remain fixed; lateral muzzle movement is accomplished by rotating your hips left or right, and muzzle elevation should be controlled by flexing or extension of the back. When standing, keep your weight noticeably forward but not so much that lateral movement is impeded. If you typically shoot while seated, then take the time to practice standing up from a seated position and moving the gun. The neighbors may wonder what you’re up to, but you won’t get skunked on opening day.
4. See It
Don’t worry about the bead on your shotgun. Your eyes need to be fixed on your target, and your gun should be moving with your body as you track the bird (this is why proper posture is so important). When you aren’t actively on target, practice “soft eyes” by relaxing your focus to scan a wide portion of open sky. You’ll pick up birds more quickly and will have more time to get on target as they approach.
5. Squeeze It
A bad trigger pull—often the result of choking the trigger with your shooting finger, flinching, or pulling the trigger at an angle—can move the muzzle enough to cause a miss. To remedy this, place a snap cap (they cost about $20 and quickly pay off) in the chamber of your gun and trace along the top seam of a wall, pulling the trigger as you do so. Pay close attention to the degree the bead deviates from the seam when you pull the trigger; ideally, the muzzle will keep moving on the exact same line as the trigger breaks.
6. Repeat It
You’ve heard it before, but here’s how to make your shotgun practice dove-hunt-specific: For the price of a few trips to a high-end sporting clays range, you can purchase an electronic target thrower and position it on your range or property so that all of the targets are angled shots or crossers, the primary presentation for most shots on doves. Having an electronic target thrower will help you keep up with practice year-round—and they’re also a lot of fun.