The Key to Bagging More Birds? Know When to Shoot

Whether you are hunting ducks, geese, doves, or pheasant, timing your shot correctly gives you and your hunting buddies a better chance of bagging more birds and putting more meat in your freezer. However, this is easier said than done because the perfect time to shoot depends on many factors beyond range, including weather, bird flight patterns, and your own personal shooting abilities. By identifying what your ideal shot is and working backward from there, you can develop a range of acceptable shots that will lead to a higher success rate in the field.

identifying the shot

Hunting is equal parts art and science and it is impossible to guarantee success with every shot. With this in mind, there are a few things that every hunter can remember after the bird is in sight to land more shots regardless of bird species or whether you are in the blind or jumping birds in the field. These four tips will help you know exactly when to shoot.

 

A close shot is an easy shot

It may seem simple and obvious, but a close shot is easier to hit than a distant shot. Many hunters get too antsy and anxious in the blind and they may take a shot that is out of range or bust the sky with a couple of rounds hoping to get lucky and hit a far-off duck. This is a mistake. Not only are you wasting ammo, but you are also alerting other area birds to your presence and potentially sacrificing future shots.

You know a close shot is a good shot, so how close should a bird be before calling the shot? Well, there are a few schools of thought here. Some folks swear by waiting until you can see the bird’s eye, probably an homage to William Prescott at Bunker Hill, while others rely on waiting until a bird’s color or wing pattern is in view.

close shot

The best answer is that the distances of a close shot can vary based on many factors, however, the closer the bird is to you when you shoot the more likely you are to hit it. By waiting an extra second or two as a bird decoys in, or holding off on shooting birds at long distances you will dramatically increase the rate at which you kill birds and undoubtedly increase your harvest.

 

Coordinate your efforts

Hunting for waterfowl or upland birds is rarely an individual sport. Most of the time you will be hunting with at least one if not two or three other people. In hunting, there can be strength in numbers if everyone in your party is communicating with each other and coordinating your efforts.

For example, when hunting from a blind one person must be designated as the caller. They will be in charge of calling the shot, no one in the blind should pop out and fire until the caller gives the ok. This ensures that the element of surprise is maintained until the last second and everyone has a good chance of hitting the mark. The caller is typically the hunter with the most experience or the leader of the group. Often the success or failure of a hunt is determined by the ability of the caller to call good shots and avoid calling the shot too early or late.

coordinate your effort

In addition to simply calling the shot, the caller can also keep the hunters informed by effectively communicating where the birds are flying, in what direction, and how close they are passing with regard to the blind. All of this does more than improving the shot quality for all members of the hunt, it also keeps everyone safe by reducing confusion and letting people know where to look for the shot.

 

Shoot in rhythm

Once the shot has been called it is up to you to close the deal. However, many hunters get this far only to get too excited or too nervous and they end up shooting out of rhythm and miss the target. Being able to shoot in rhythm means that when the birds are flying, muscle memory takes over and you can seamlessly transition into a shooting position and squeeze off a shot at precisely the moment you mean to.

Unlike waiting for the bird to come closer or coordinating your efforts as a team, shooting in rhythm is not something that typically can be learned quickly in the field. Developing confidence and shooting with muscle memory is the result of hard work at the range and countless rounds being fired so that your body can hit the shot without your mind needing to overthink it. This is really what separates the skilled hunter from the novice and it is the reason why many newbies may leave empty-handed.

Of course, there are things that you can control to help you shoot more smoothly and efficiently. These include:

  • Keep your gun at the ready – the beauty of hunting is that you never know exactly when the animal you are hunting will appear, this is especially true with birds. By keeping your gun at the ready, with your hands free to shoulder your weapon, you can reduce the chances of fumbling with your gun and improve the speed at which you can get your shot off.
  • Think about your feet – you should have a good-sized area in front of you where you can plant your feet before taking a shot. Moving bags, lunch boxes, and ammunition behind you ensure that you can pop up and take a shot when it is time. This also is a key safety concern, tripping while firing a weapon is extremely hazardous.
  • Move quickly and smoothly – in bird hunting you want all of your motions to be quick and smooth while tracking the game through the sky. This means that you want to avoid jerking motions that can move your gun off target and reduce your accuracy. By moving your muzzle quickly and purposefully through the sky you create a smooth arc that will improve your chances of hitting the bird.

 

Know your limits

As with everything in life, in hunting it is important to know your limits. If you have only been practicing shooting trap at 20 yards it is going to be difficult, if not impossible, for you to hit the target at 35 or 40 yards. This is also true for considering the type of shot within your range, for example, shooting a duck hauling across a lake is a more difficult shot than shooting a duck that is decoying in, even at the same range unless you have been practicing that shot.

The reality is that many hunters miss birds not because they are shooting above, below, in front of, or behind the bird, they are missing because the bird is out of range. As the distance between you and the bird increases, so does the spread of pellets. This means that shooting at birds that are far away can result in only one pellet hitting the bird or the bird flying right through the pellets unscathed. Knowing your limits allows you to skip shots that are too difficult and wait for the bird to make another pass giving you another, hopefully, better, shot at taking the bird.

know your limits

To find your limits you need to practice and shoot clay pigeons. When you practice often you can see where the holes in your shooting are and which shots are your best and worst. This gives you the chance to analyze shots in the field and only take shots that are within your limits. Of course, it is important to simulate the likely conditions of the hunt, which means taking shots from a variety of angles and distances to give you the most realistic practice that you can get before heading out on your hunt.

 

Wrapping Up

Hunting for waterfowl or upland birds is one of the most fun and exciting types of hunting, they can be high-action and give many hunters a chance to bag their limit. Although many hunters may miss more times than they hit, knowing when to shoot can raise anyone’s average. The key considerations in determining when to shoot include:

  • Shoot only close-in shots
  • Coordinate your shots with your teammates
  • Shoot in rhythm
  • Know your limits

In the end it all comes down to practice and execution, the more that you can practice these tips in real life, the more effective they become. By following these simple tips this season you and your buddies will use less ammo and bag more birds without having to make any major changes to your hunting style.

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About The Author
ed matthews Ed Matthews

Ed Matthews is a passionate hunter based in Colorado, where he hunts for elk, dove, waterfowl, and pheasant. Ed loves to write in a number of niches, from insurance to education, but his favorite topic to write about is hunting.