By Chuck Nottingham
Like you hit a trip-wire, Hungarian pheasants burst from high grass at your feet, a dozen grey flares erupting noisily into the still September morn.
The sudden cacophony of whirring wings is always a rush. You freeze half a second before snapping the breech shut while somewhat sluggishly shouldering the double scattergun. You waste another half-second pointing to center-flock instead of an individual bird. In the confusion, you lose your bead for the briefest instant.
The covey scatters. The feathered blur you're tracking suddenly darts right, pulling you slightly off balance. Your bead's dead on when you "slap" the trigger, but dead-on's too far behind the tiny missile accelerating away, and you ventilate air it's just vacated.
Your trigger-finger fumbles the merest fragment going to the left barrel as you shift feet to continue swinging right. Your bird's at the edge of maximum range when your second shot goes low. Too late, you realize your cheek nudged the comb of your stock for a good rifle shot but not so good for this shotgun.
Welcome to first-jump jitters! With September first and upland game bird opening day less than two months off, here's a plan to tame first-jump jitters. A couple hours every other week will get us in good shape. First flush will still be a terrific kick, but we might have a bird or two to show for it.
In the first two weeks of pre-season, let's take the time to clean our guns thoroughly, smoothing up actions and getting familiar.
Side-by-side doubles work a tad differently than over-and-unders. Needless to say, pumps and auto-loaders differ, too. All are unlike the deer rifle we handled last fall.
Working actions and rehearsing shoulder-mounts detect hitches in both our guns and ourselves. As always, we make sure our guns are unloaded before cleaning and handling.
Now let's pattern kind of like sighting-in bullet guns. No need to get fancy. The 27- by 23-inch newssheets like the one this article's printed on are target enough. We staple newssheets to cardboard boxes 30 to 40 yards away and shoot the same loads we'll use to hunt, until most pellets hit center-page.
Carefully note the best relationship of bead to ramp to "spotweld" the place where the shooter's jaw contacts the comb of the shotgun stock. Once on target, we try to keep bead-ramp-spotweld identical for each and every shot.
Basic courtesy dictates we use disposable cardboard for target-backers, rather than tearing up permanent standards at a range or worse someone's gate. Clean-up's appreciated as well.
We're into the first week of August time for range-work, so let's rustle up clay pigeons and a thrower.
If we practice alone, throwers need to be mechanical devises. Practicing with partners, simple and inexpensive hand-throwers suffice. The big advantage to mechanical traps is they don't snicker at misses.
Let's drill with clays thrown straight away until we can break five clays in a row.
Arrange throwers so clays fly across our zones of fire, widening angles as much as situation and safety allow.
Most bird hunters use three basic methods to consistently bag birds going across zones of fire:
- Point-and-shoot. Math prof Bob Cosgriff was the best point-shooter I ever saw. As birds flushed, Bob's on-board computer calculated speed and lines-of-flight while he racked in shells. He'd point where the bird would be and gave the trigger a precise slap never a jerk. Every bird went down.
- Sustained lead. Lots of hard-core rifle shooters seem to favor "aiming" shotguns instead of "pointing." Depending on speed and distance just like leading a running target we hold our beads a steady distance in front of birds-in-flight while squeezing off shots.
- Swing-through. The most successful game-getters I've been around mount their shotguns behind flushing birds, feet apart allowing for balanced turns, leaning forward, swinging front beads through the birds' lines-of-motion. They "slap" triggers straight back as beads pass the birds. Curved strings of shot lay up for the birds to fly into, as gunners continue ranging ahead of the bird's projected flight in smooth follow-through. True poetry in motion.
For first-timers and old hands alike, shotgun care, patterning for best "bead-picture," and clay-busting in the weeks just before season helps diminish "first-jump jitters" and boosts our chances of success on opening day.
I'm starting now. How 'bout you?