5 ways shooting clays improves your bird hunting

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Shooting clay pigeons—trap, skeet, or sporting clays—can help hone your shotgun skills while you wait for hunting season to arrive.

The months leading up to the fall hunting season can seem interminable for the avid bird hunter, but they provide an excellent opportunity to sharpen your skills with a scattergun by busting some clay pigeons. Whether you’re competing or just slinging birds for laughs, here are a few ways doing so will make you a better marksman and deadlier hunter.

1. Gain familiarity with your gun

Shooting clays is inexpensive and fun, which guarantees you’ll end up logging some serious trigger time. That, in turn, means you’ll become intimately familiar with your shotgun. Your finger will instinctively and deftly manipulate the safety. You’ll be able to load and unload your shotgun in the dark. Troubleshooting? You’ll know exactly how to quickly clear even the gnarliest jam. Familiarity with the trigger pull, knowledge of the gun’s pattern, all the essential aspects of mastering a firearm will become second nature with repetition and the continued practice afforded by clay-pigeon shooting.

2. Hone your visual acuity

Shooting clays helps a shooter to more quickly and consistently gain target acquisition. The key to successful shots on airborne targets is to find the shotgun’s front bead and stay peripherally aware of it, but keep your eyes’ focus on the target. It’s counterintuitive, particularly for those who have more experience shooting rifles and handguns, where accuracy improves by focusing on the front sight.

3. Develop patience

It’s challenging to patiently wait on a circling flock of mallards, but doing so can make the difference between a fruitful hunt and a bust. Shooting clay pigeons rewards the same kind of patience and control required of a hunter in the field. A typical shooter’s instinct calls for them to fire quickly, before their target gets out of range. But a hasty shot on a clay—or a bird—will likely yield a loss. Just remember that pellets moving at 1,200 FPS will catch up to even the speediest birds. Take your time: Track the target through its flight path and pull the trigger only when you’re locked on and ready.

4. Master shot follow-through

Another bad habit that’s easy to develop is not following through on passing shots. A shooter may try to predict where the bird will go, aiming at a point in the bird’s trajectory in hopes that their shot will intersect with the bird at the exact right moment. Shooting clays quickly illuminates the shortcomings of this technique. Instead, follow the bird along its path, and keep swinging through the shot even after pulling the trigger.

5. Bring the gun to bear more quickly and consistently

It may seem simple, but even the act of consistently shouldering your gun and getting a consistent cheek weld can dramatically improve your marksmanship. When shooting sporting clays (although you can choose to do this with trap, too), you start with your shotgun at port arms—not shouldered. Upon calling for your bird, you have to bring the gun to bear while tracking the bird and finding your sight picture. This practice ensures you become more fluid and consistent in shouldering your gun and acquiring the sights, preparing you for that euphoric moment a rooster flushes or a wood duck comes whistling overhead.

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