Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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Quick Fixes for Better Shooting

Follow these 25 simple tips to bag more ducks and geese


By Phil Bourjaily

Shotgunning is simple. In fact, the phrase "eye on the target, head on the stock" covers about 95 percent of what you need to know. In theory, at least. In practice, however, it's all about the other 5 percent—the tiny details that can mean the difference between a big day in the field and an empty duck strap. Here are 25 tips that will help you fine-tune your shooting technique for waterfowl.


Quick Fix #1: Cut the Kick

Recoil builds bad shooting habits. Cutting the kick makes you a better shot. The best recoil reducer is a lighter load. If your gun beats you up, try a load that's 1/8 ounce lighter and 100 fps slower. A gas-operated autoloader is the second-best recoil reducer, especially if the gun has some heft to it. A good recoil pad such as a LimbSaver or Kick-Eez is yet another buffer against felt recoil. Combining all three can make your shooting a lot more comfortable and successful.

Quick Fix #2: Blacken the Bead

The shotgun bead is not there to be looked at. You're supposed to see it in your peripheral vision to help you keep track of the muzzle-target relationship as you look at the target. As soon as your focus shifts to the bead, the gun stops moving and you miss behind the bird. If the bead distracts you, replace it with a less obvious sight, remove it completely, or blacken it with a permanent marker.

Quick Fix #3: Be Prepared for Problems

A cleaning rod is a handy tool to have with you in case a shot wad, or even mud, gets stuck in the barrel. And sometimes a spray of Break Free CLP or G96 Gun Treatment will help you get through a hunt when a grimy gun becomes sluggish. For any repairs beyond that, the best insurance is an extra gun. 

Quick Fix #4: Shorten Up the Stock

Late in the season, when you're bundled up in heavy clothing, you might find that a shorter-stocked gun is much easier to mount. A good solution is to adjust your stock or have it cut to the right length for hunting in winter clothing. You can always use a slip-on recoil pad for early-season teal or other shirtsleeve-weather hunts.


Quick Fix #5: Mix Loads for Maximum Results

You can get some of the benefits of a double gun, with its two chokes, by first chambering a shell with an open pattern followed by two tight-patterning loads. Winchester Blind Side and Xpert as well as Federal Black Cloud Close Range tend to open up faster than many other steel loads. Load one of those, then follow it with two standard premium steel cartridges in a larger shot size.

Quick Fix #6: Compensate for the Cold

The increased resistance of dense, cold air slows pellets and opens patterns. You might lose up to 75 fps of velocity and shoot patterns that are 10 percent wider late in the season, when temperatures drop. You can compensate for this by selecting shot that's one size larger than the pellets in your regular load and then tightening your choke. Cold air affects larger pellets less than it does smaller ones.

Quick Fix #7: Choose an All-Around Pellet

Steel 2s come as close as anything to an all-purpose pellet for waterfowl. They shoot patterns that are dense enough for close-range teal and yet sufficiently powerful to bag decoying geese. If I had to choose just one load for all waterfowl, it would be 1 1/4 ounces of size 2 shot at 1,450 to 1,500 fps. Take geese out of the equation and I'd go with 3s as a good all-around pellet.

Quick Fix #8: Use Swatter Loads for Cripples

You can use up a lot of ammunition trying to hit a crippled duck or goose in the head. Steel 6s give you greater pattern density for hitting birds in that small, vital area. Shoot a little low at swimming cripples so you don't waste the top half of the pattern. I also keep a bunch of 2s or 4s in my pocket for dispatching crippled geese in dry fields. 

Quick Fix #9: Open Your Chokes

Most waterfowl gunners are over-choked. You don't need tight patterns at 40 yards if you shoot your birds over decoys at 25. Improved-cylinder or light-modified chokes work very well at decoying ranges. When you choose chokes, pattern your gun for the distance at which you expect to take most of your shots. Look for a pattern that puts 75 to 80 percent of its pellets in a 30-inch circle at that range, with good coverage out to the pattern's edges.


Quick Fix #10: Practice at home

The most essential skill in field shooting is a good gun mount. Learning to bring the gun to your face smoothly and consistently helps you shoot instinctively, without conscious effort. Practice your gun mount at home with an unloaded gun. Concentrate on bringing the gun to your face first, then tucking the butt into your shoulder. Repeat this same gun-mounting routine while wearing your cold-weather waterfowling clothes, so you learn to push the gun out and away from your body to keep it from snagging on all those layers.

Quick Fix #11: Match the Target's Speed

Moving the gun muzzle too fast destroys your "feel" for the target and attracts your eye to the bead, which stops the gun. If you start the muzzle in front of the bird, match the bird's speed. However, swing-through shooters should think of moving the gun about 1 mph faster than the bird as they move the barrel through the target. On high passing shots you have to really slow down. Move the gun at half the speed you think you should.

Quick Fix #12: Point Below the Target

Keeping the muzzle below the target allows you to see the bird clearly. That's important, because blocking your view of the target with the muzzle makes you look at the gun, causing you to miss high and behind—the most common way to whiff in shotgunning. The only time you need to cover the bird with the gun is when ducks jump out of the decoys or when you have an overhead shot.

Quick Fix #13: Take Your Time 

Shooting ducks isn't a fast-draw competition. Rushing the shot only increases the chance of a bad gun mount. See the target and move the gun to it slowly. You have more time than you think.

Quick Fix #14: Keep the Gun in Front

The easiest way to make a crossing shot is to never let the bird pass your gun muzzle. Keeping the gun in front of the target will make the bird seem to fly slower, because you won't feel the need to rush to catch up. If your eyes stay on the target, your gun becomes a blur in your peripheral vision as the barrel remains out front.

Quick Fix #15: Focus on the Bird

The more precisely you focus on the target, the better your hands know where to put the gun. If you look in the general direction of a duck, that's what you hit. When you're having a bad day, take the time to narrow your focus to the bird's bill or eyes and the gun will go where it has to.


Quick Fix #16: Talk to Yourself

If you get excited when birds come in, use self-talk. Borrow a technique from target shooters and keep your thoughts performance-oriented. For example, think about what you need to do—such as pick a bird or move the gun slowly—in order to make a successful shot. 

Quick Fix #17: Stay Positive

Slumps happen, and they tend to get worse when your thoughts turn negative. Once you start thinking I'm a terrible shot; I never hit anything, a slump can become harder to break. Think only about what you can control—the next shot. When you miss a bird, think about why you missed it and move on. When you hit one, shooting will begin to feel like the easiest thing in the world and the slump will end.

Quick Fix #18: Read a Golf Book

Reading a book about golf psychology can help you handle the mental challenges of shotgunning, even if you don't play golf. The similarities between the two sports are remarkable; they go far beyond keeping your head down and your eye on the target. One of my favorite golf books for getting into a good shooting mindset is Zen Putting by Dr. Joe Parent.

Quick Fix #19: Avoid Mental Blocks

Although it's important to have confidence in your equipment, don't get stuck on a particular brand of shotshell, a specific velocity, or a certain pellet size. If you do, you'll be off your game the first day you have to shoot something else. 

Quick Fix #20: Visualize the Shot

Visualization is a lot like daydreaming, which is how most of us get through the off-season anyway. When you visualize, you are actually training your mind. See yourself shooting successfully. The more completely you can imagine the situation—the cold, the wind, the sights and sounds—the better. Picture yourself doing the things you need to do to be successful, and this positive outlook will carry over into your shooting.


Quick Fix #21: Help Yourself Up

When hunting in a layout blind, some hunters will dig a shallow depression beneath their seat so they're already partially sitting up in shooting position. Others will dig below the foot of the layout to gain the leverage needed to sit up more easily. Either one of these tactics will help make it easier to sit up and shoot in a layout blind. 

Quick Fix #22: Cover Your Face

Wear a face mask or paint. Dimming the shine of your face could give you a slightly bigger window of opportunity to keep your head up as the birds come in. It's much easier to shoot if you don't have to look up suddenly and try to find a target when someone calls the shot.

Quick Fix #23: Keep Your Hands Warm

Shooting with numb fingers can be challenging. Chemical hand warmers are great, just as long as you can keep them dry. However, rechargeable devices such as ThermaCell hand warmers and Flambeau heated hand muffs will keep your hands warm even in wet weather. Taking along extra pairs of gloves also helps.

Quick Fix #24: Have a Clear View

Pulling the bill of your cap down too low on your face can make it difficult to see the target and potentially cause you to lift your head off the gun. Tip back the bill of your cap or turn it around, and you'll see better and have an easier time keeping your head down as you mount the gun. 

Another way to improve your ability to see waterfowl is to leave your shades at home. Sunglasses can help cut down glare if you're looking into bright sunlight, but dark lenses make it hard to see ducks and geese. Instead of sunglasses, wear shooting glasses—and choose the lightest tint you can use without squinting. You'll see targets better that way.

Quick Fix #25: Set Your Feet

Being able to move your feet when you're standing in the water is often a luxury. Usually you have to shoot with your feet stuck in the mud. If that's the case, set them so you are facing slightly to the right (if you're right-handed) of where you expect to shoot. It's much easier to swing to your left without binding up than to your right.

Picking the Right Shotgun for New Duck Hunters

Consider comfort first when gearing up a new hunter


by Aaron Fraser Pass

If location is the key element in real estate value, comfort is the critical aspect of successfully starting a new shooter into the world of waterfowling. The comfort factor mostly falls into three categories: comfort with the gun, comfort with the recoil, and comfort in the overall situation.

This pretty much applies to any beginner, but for adult males, things are somewhat simplified. Most waterfowling guns are built to suit a grown man's dimensions. This doesn't mean that all guns are automatically perfect for any given guy who wants to give waterfowling a try, but at least they are closer to a good fit.

A recent issue of DU Magazine focused on the growing number of female waterfowlers, and waterfowling dads have always tried to introduce their sons to the sport. (So maybe now they will deal with their daughters, too?) With women and youngsters, the waterfowling mentor has more of a challenge, beginning with gun fit. Most factory shotguns come with about 14 inches of stock behind the trigger. That's about right for the theoretical "average guy" standing about 5 feet, 10 inches. For taller men, or those with very long arms, adding a bit of pull is as easy as adding a thicker recoil pad.

Women and young people tend to be smaller and have less upper body strength. Both factors should be considered. Trying to shoot with a too-long stock is a real exercise in frustration. The gun is hard to mount, requires excessive and uncomfortable adjustment when it is mounted, and pretty much prohibits the development of a good shooting form. Typically, shooters with a too-long stock let the butt drift down onto the upper arm rather than mounting it solidly into the "pocket" of the shoulder. With bad form, the beginning shooter will not shoot successfully and will suffer more recoil than necessary.

Many shotgun manufacturers offer "Ladies and Youth" models. These have stocks that are about one-inch shorter than their standard models and are a good starting place. Remember, though, that cold-weather hunting means bulky coats, and that may demand an even shorter stock.

Most Ladies and Youth models are in 20-gauge. Within reasonable range, the 20-gauge can be a good waterfowl gun, particularly with some of the premium nontoxic pellets such as Bismuth, Federal Tungsten Iron, Kent Impact, and Remington Hevi-Shot. With steel pellets, the 20-gauge is more range-restricted, but with a beginner, that's not necessarily a bad thing. With a 12-gauge gun of the correct dimensions, the lighter steel loads work just fine and don't produce excessive recoil.

Most adult women remain the same size, but kids grow. Take that into account when shopping for a "starter" waterfowl gun for a youngster. It would be smart to select a model for which adult-sized stocks are also available from the manufacturer.

As mentioned, gun fit is an important aspect of the recoil issue. Gun weight also affects recoil because heavier guns absorb more of the jolt. However, this must be balanced with the fact that some female and most young shooters have less arm and shoulder strength. Light guns firing light loads are a tried-and-true solution. Also, there are several recoil-reducing devices available. Some are inserted into the stock and some go in the magazine. (Some of these replace the three-shot plug—but you should check to be sure.) The magazine devices have the added benefit of putting more weight out front, which promotes a smoother swing and better follow-through.

One of the most effective recoil-reducing measures is the development of good shooting form through lots of practice. Proper gun mounting and a good shooting stance help deal with recoil. Much recoil can be caught in the hands before it hits the shoulder. No one can teach a new shooter to do all this automatically and consistently; it has to be learned and ingrained by practice.

Practice-shooting at clay targets also adds greatly to the "comfort in the situation" part of the equation for all beginning waterfowlers, regardless of size, sex, or age. Having a degree of confidence in one's shooting ability is a great way to begin the first actual waterfowl hunt. There are enough new challenges in the real hunting experience that comfort with the gun shouldn't be one of them. Actually bagging a few birds is one heck of a good start. There's nothing like a bit of success to encourage beginners to want to go waterfowling again.

Top 5 Turkey Hunting States

Spring is upon us!  Chirping birds now compliment the early morning cup of coffee, fresh scented rains wash away winter's paleness, temperatures begin to warm, and best of all, the rising sun acts as an orchestra conductor, sounding off thunderous toms and yelping hens!  Ahhh, another hunting season has arrived.

The restoration of wild turkey populations across the country is one of the greatest feats of modern conservation.  They currently exist in all 50 states, yup, you can actually book a turkey hunt while vacationing in Hawaii!  While so many states offer great turkey hunting opportunities, I set out to ask some of the leaders in the field to give me a list of their Top 5 Turkey Hunting States.  The results were clear, and they indicate the abundance of turkeys throughout the U.S., as 18 separate states were listed out of a possible 30 different choices from the six "seasoned" turkey hunters.  Take a look and see how your state faired.  However, don't be discouraged if it's not listed, it's probably just because they haven't hunted there yet.

The Top 5 Turkey Hunting Destinations:

  1. Florida - Having the earliest season in the U.S. and only place to chase Osceolas, it's no surprise that Florida stood apart as a must-hunt destination on 5 out of the 6 hunter's lists.
  2. Missouri - The heart of the Eastern Turkey range and source of many transplanted birds that contributed to population restoration success across many states, especially in the Great Lakes Region.  The abundant population and generous two bird limit ranked Missouri high on 3 out of the 6 lists.
  3. Kansas - It's as good of a turkey hunting state as it is a deer hunting state.  Kansas offers the chance to chase 3 subspecies within state lines: Easterns, Hybrids, and Rios…no wonder it ranked within the Top 5 on 3 out of the 6 hunter's lists.
  4. Nebraska - A premiere destination to chase Merriams' and Hybrids.  Tags are over-the-counter for residents and non-residents alike, and they offer a special early archery season, which put Nebraska in the Top 5 on 3 out of the 6 hunters' lists.
  5. South Dakota - Narrowly edging out Kentucky for the final spot in the Top 5, South Dakota's strong Merriam's population makes it a popular destination for those chasing a grand slam.  The diverse landscape and multiple subspecies allowed South Dakota to crack the Top 5 on 2 out of the 6 hunter's lists.

Best Camo Patterns for Turkey Season

Article Written By Brandon Cox,

camo patterns

Are you ready for turkey season this year? Is your bow set up? Have you been to the range to shoot? What's your camo selection like? Do you have the best camo patterns for turkey season? Here, we will go over the different types of camos available for turkey season. Below, we will go over are choices for the best camos for turkey hunters.

What You Need to Know about Camo for Turkey Season

Turkey hunters hit the woods in spring and fall. During both seasons, the weather is rather warm, which means you don't need heavy duty gear. You'll be able to stay warm with lightweight clothing. In general, you want to choose a pattern that features a woodland/brush elements. We've picked the very best below and reviewed them for your benefit.

It's important to remember that turkey hunters need to stay hidden. A turkey has a very acute sense of sight and is prone to escapes when spooked. If hunters don't have an effective shot, they may leave the woods empty handed. Turkey appropriate camouflage gives hunters the upper hand, it allows them to blend into any landscape when they sit motionless in the woods. However, as anyone will know you need to be comfortable when sitting motionless, so it's important to choose cozy clothes that feature the appropriate patterns.

When covered in the right camo, a hunter may get away with an ill thought out move. However, a hunter who isn't wearing the right camo will certainly spook a turkey and ruin his hunt and probably any of his buddies that are in the woods too.

Camo Pattern Choices and Quietness of Clothes

Believe it or not, not all camo patterns are created the same. You'll need to think about what camo you need to wear and how quiet the camo will be in the woods. It's important to match your camo to the surroundings around you. The best turkey hunters will have a whole array of clothing in their closet.

camo patterns

In the spring, you should choose camo that is mostly brown and gray. When leaves begin to sprout on the trees, you should choose a pattern with a heavy green leaf emphasis. Turkey hunters that hit the woods when there is snow on the ground should wear all white. The biggest manufacturers of hunting apparel on the market will put out new patterns every year, but you don't need new to buy new camos every year. Instead, simply follow the basic rules below and choose a pattern that can be used for more than just one season.

Mossy Oak Obsession

One of our favorites is the Obsession pattern from Mossy Oak. In this pattern, Mossy Oak uses several innovative elements that allow you to get close to small game. The background is light with textured bark, spring and fall colors, limbs, and lots of shadows throughout. With this pattern, Mossy Oak delivers clothing that easily replicates nature. Due to its uniqueness, you can wear it as soon as bow season opens and continue to wear it until spring season ends.

Realtree MAX-5

Another favorite turkey hunting camo pattern favorite comes from Realtree. The pattern in this camo features flooded timber, prairies, marshes, agricultural fields, grasslands, mudflats, and anywhere else you might find geese and ducks. When wearing these camos, your outline will be broke up to help keep you concealed from turkey, big game, and other predators in the area. It's especially popular with hunters that hunt in areas that are sparsely green.

Realtree MAX-4

It's no surprise that another of our favorites is also from Realtree. The Realtree MAX-4 is ideal in areas with open terrain. When there are no geographical limitations, a hunter can simply melt into grasslands, deserts, marshes, croplands, or even a treetop when wearing this camo pattern. Another bonus associated with this camouflage is that it's good for turkey, whitetail, big game, and small game hunting. What that means is you don't need a dozen different camo patterns in your closet to hunt all year long.

Mossy Oak Shadow Leaf

It's time to talk about Mossy Oak again. The Shadow Leaf camo pattern features realistic leaves, shadows, and limbs. When wearing this pattern, you'll blend into spring woods excellently, which makes this pattern ideal for late-Spring turkey hunting and early bow season for deer.

Shooting Lessons from a Limit of Woodcock

By Phil Bourjaily


Phil Bourjaily

A pair of woodcock taken during a hunt in Wisconsin.

Woodcock are wonderful, odd birds, and a lot of fun to hunt. They are also good shotgun teachers. They are slow fliers. As near as I can find online, the consensus is that they fly 28 mph, which is about what I would guess. But they bob and weave through the thickets like little knuckleballs, and a lot of shotgun ammunition is expended in their general direction, often to no good result.

I re-learned a few lessons about woodcock on my trip to Wisconsin two weeks ago. First, I learned that Muck Boots do you no good in swampy cover if you leave them in the motel room. I had to hunt in low-cut Merrill hikers and my feet were soaked five minutes into the hunt and stayed that way all day. On the plus side, the locals were complaining about their heavy rubber boots while my feet were unencumbered, if prune-like, by the end of the hunt. My feet were wet but my legs stayed fresh. Fortunately, it was not a cold day.

Second, and more germane to this blog, woodcock teach patience with a shotgun. They flush close and fly slowly. You have more time to shoot than you think you do. Ten years ago, last time I hunted woodcock, three of us were standing together taking a break and chatting when a random woodcock flushed. Sporting clays shooter Andy Duffy was with us, and he had time to close his gun, take two giant steps to one side to save our eardrums and still shoot the bird in easy range. In general, giving a woodcock time to get up out of the branches and into the open above the canopy usually results in a better shot anyway. I shot the first of my limit of three woodcock backing up one of the locals, who walked in to flush a pointed bird and wasted both his shots right away as the woodcock was bobbing around trying to find a way up and out of the thicket. I let him finish shooting, by which time the bird was up and above the canopy and an easy shot for me.

Woodcock teach the futility of aiming a shotgun and the importance of trust and of letting your subconscious call the shots. Give your subconscious targeting computer its head and you can make shots you would otherwise screw up with over-thinking. All you need to do is keep your eyes on the bird, not the gun, and your eyes and hands will make little corrections you're not even aware you're making.

For instance, someone flushed the second bird I shot while I was standing near the edge of a trail, and I got a rare, clear chance at the bird as it flew across the trail opening. It was a crossing shot, and I had to swing through the bird, as it caught me by surprise. Just as I was about to pull the trigger I thought "Oh no, I'm behind this one," to which my subconscious mind replied, "Shut up and pull the trigger" which I did, and the bird folded up dead. The third bird sat tight in front of the dog in a pine thicket. It flushed straightaway, but dipped erratically as it went. I mounted the gun and my cautious, conscious mind said "You're to the left of that one." Having long since learned to ignore that voice, I pulled the trigger and killed the bird anyway. Let your eyes and hands do the work of shooting. They are really good at it. Besides, your conscious mind has other things to think about, like remembering your rubber boots.

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