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Becoming a More Effective Waterfowl Hunter

During the early 1900’s, waterfowl hunters were the leaders of this country’s conservation movement. True to that tradition, waterfowlers are still ardent conservationists who care deeply about the birds they hunt – and the need to conserve is just as great today as it was a hundred years ago.

Because of dwindling habitat, waterfowl numbers are under tremendous pressure. This makes it important for waterfowl hunters to be as efficient as possible and do everything in their power to ensure that every duck or goose that is shot is retrieved. Improving hunting techniques will not only help get good shots, but increase the likelihood of lethal hits.

The Cooperative North American Shotgunning Education Program (CONSEP) provides the following tips to assist hunters in becoming as effective and efficient as possible, and to reduce unretrieved losses.

Tips for Successfully Bagging a Bird

•    Shoot within your personal maximum shooting distance – no “sky busting.” Know the effective range of your shotgun and your own shooting skill. The average hunter is able to shoot successfully at a target that is less than 25 yards away. Set decoys in such a manner to bring the birds in close. Set specific decoys so that they can be used as yardage markers. When birds are in the decoys, you know they are within your effective range. Practice at a trap or skeet range is critical to determine and improve your skill level.
•    Learn to estimate distances.
Hunters can train themselves to accurately estimate distance to a target by using the end of the shotgun barrel as a gauge against the size of the bird, using landmarks in the field as reference points, and tracking or following the target with gun barrel or finger.
•    Take your time — but not too much time. Concentrate, fire the shot with a steady hand and swing through smoothly. Pellets must penetrate a vital area to bring down a duck instantly. A well-placed shot provides a quick, humane kill.
•    Follow through with your shot. Keep the barrel moving after firing your shotgun. Learn to pull through the target. Allow more forward allowance (lead) than you think is necessary when a flock is passing by; many birds are not taken because hunters shoot behind the flock.
•    Do not shoot into the middle of a flock. Often such shots wound adjacent birds. On an incoming flight, select an isolated bird, such as the last or highest bird, or a bird on the edge of the flock.
•    Do not shoot at birds flying away if they are beyond 30 yards. If the back of a bird is facing you, the bird’s vital organs are shielded by ribs and backbone, making it much more difficult to take that single, lethal shot.
•    Do not shoot through brush or trees.
•    Know where your bird is going to fall. Ideally, the waterfowl should fall in open water where it is easier to retrieve.
•    Do not shoot at one bird while retrieving another, especially if the first bird has landed in dense cover. Take a mental snapshot of where the bird landed by lining up the spot with something on the horizon or select a landmark such as a tree or an easily identifiable plant. Don’t erase that mental snapshot in the excitement of trying to bring down a second bird.
•    Practice shooting with the ammunition that is appropriate for the type of game you are hunting. Use appropriate shotshell loads and chokes for various distances and types of game.
•    Do not shoot duck loads at geese. Geese require larger shot. Using ammunition intended for ducks will only wound the geese. Generally, using larger shot is more lethal and causes fewer unretrieved losses.
•    No more than two hunters should be shooting simultaneously. Fast shooters and slow shooters can easily upset the timing of their companions if multiple hunters are taking shots at the same time. Two hunters should take turns shooting or decide which hunter will take which bird.

With proper training and practice, hunters can reduce their individual wounding losses. Every hunter is repeatedly faced with a decision to shoot or not to shoot. That decision should be made with respect for wildlife. “Pulling the trigger should not be the most important part of the experience,” says Tom Reed, former national hunting and fishing coordinator for the National Wildlife Refuge System. “An understanding of waterfowl behavior, waterfowl habitat and the environmental conditions is a tie between people and the resource.”

Last updated: November 21, 2012