September 22, 2013

Hunting: Accomplished wingshooting isn't a shot in the dark

By BOB HUMPHREY

I've heard from several instructors that women tend to make better shooters, partly because they're willing to listen to and follow directions. Most men, on the other hand, figure they already know enough, or are too stubborn to admit they don't.

I'm humble enough to admit I probably could have used a few lessons before, though I doubt I would have sought them out. But after a recent eye injury forced me to go from right- to left-handed shooting, I achieved a whole new level of humility. I viewed it as an opportunity rather than a problem. If I had to learn to shoot all over again, why not do it right this time?

Fortunately, I live near L.L. Bean's Outdoor Discovery Schools in Freeport, which offers shooting lessons with top-notch instructors.

Mine was Keith MacDonald, a registered Maine guide, an avid big game and bird hunter, and an award-winning competition shooter in skeet, modern skeet and sporting clays.

Before I picked up a shotgun, MacDonald gave a little introduction on shooting lessons.

"Most guys learn from a relative, a friend or the local pro at the gun club," he says. "That may get you by, but you're still going to have good days and bad days shooting, and you certainly aren't going to win any tournaments."

The Discovery Schools instructors learned from world-class shooters, and pass their wisdom along to their students.

Next he asked if I had shot much. I indicated that I started when my age was barely in double digits and have been wingshooting ever since. It was the answer he'd anticipated, and he soon set me straight.

"A lot of guys," he began, "even avid hunters might shoot a case of shells a year and think that's a lot. I'll shoot that much in a couple weeks."

Of course, MacDonald is not your average shooter. In addition to shooting competitively, he runs the Five-Stand Sporting Clays course at the Outdoor Discovery Schools Fogg Farm complex, which offers participants a lifelike replication of wingshooting and a great opportunity to hone skills.

But you can't hone something you don't have to begin with, and while I had experience, I don't know that I really possessed what you could call skills. So I was eager to learn more.

MacDonald then proceeded to describe the four-step process he uses to teach proper wingshooting. Along the way he also explained how each step addresses common mistakes, like too much movement and too much awareness of the barrel and sights.

"Don't look at the bead. Look through the sights at the bird."

He also talked about proper gun mounting and the importance of consistency and slow, smooth movements.

Then it was time to shoot. Switching from right to left was nearly like learning from scratch, so I was the perfect student. I obediently followed each and every suggestion and correction Keith offered. At first it was painfully awkward. Gradually, I became more comfortable. By the end of the lesson I was breaking clays more consistently than I ever had before, even from the right side.

It was an eye-opening experience in several ways. I discovered that switching from right to left, even after more than 40 years of shooting, is not that difficult. More importantly, it taught me the value of proper instruction. I shudder to think how many more birds I might have bagged over the years had I been taught right when I first learned to shoot. Proper instruction can benefit any shooter, whether you're a green horn, a grizzled veteran, or in my case, both.

For more information on wingshooting lessons, the Five-Stand Sporting Clays course or other outdoor instruction, contact L.L. Bean's Outdoor Discovery Schools at 1-888-552-3261 or outdoor_discovery@llbean.com.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

bhhunt@maine.rr.com

 

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