Rules some­times just need to be bro­ken. At least that’s true with a shot­gun. A huge part of prop­erly shoot­ing a shot­gun has al­ways fo­cused on foot place­ment. A com­mon mantra with shoot­ing in­struc­tors is: “You must have the cor­rect stance if you in­tend to hit the tar­get.”

All well and good if your tar­gets are pre­dictable and you have time to get into po­si­tion. Foot place­ment is prob­a­bly im­por­tant if your clay birds re­quire you yell “Pull,” or if your feath­ered birds are de­scribed by pre­ten­tious writ­ers as “gen­tle­men” and they hold for the point­ers. But for shoot­ing in a less pre­dictable world, it might ben­e­fit you to re­mem­ber that you don’t op­er­ate a shot­gun with your feet. You point the shot­gun with your up­per body. And if you can fo­cus on that rather than on foot place­ment, you will be able to make shots in a much wider range of shoot­ing sit­u­a­tions.

I cut my wing­shoot­ing teeth hunt­ing ruffed grouse with­out a dog. If quail are gen­tle­men, then grouse are jerks. They al­ways seem to flush when you are tan­gled in a barbed-wire fence or a black­berry bram­ble, or are crawl­ing un­der a low branch. If you want to have suc­cess un­der these cir­cum­stances, you learn to shoot fast and to shoot from the po­si­tion you are in, not the one your shoot­ing coach di­a­grammed in a book.

I also love to hunt rab­bits and hares with dogs. Sur­pris­ingly, this can present some of the tough­est “wing­shoot­ing” chal­lenges in hunt­ing. For ex­am­ple, we were hunt­ing snow­shoe hares in north­ern Ver­mont late one win­ter. I was stand­ing be­side a deep path worn into the snow from the hares, lis­ten­ing to the dogs in front of me, when a white blur came run­ning up from be­hind. The hare saw me and swapped di­rec­tions. As I turned, one of my snow­shoes broke through the crust and dumped me back­wards into the deep snow. I man­aged to twist my up­per body and fire a shot. Some­how that magic com­puter in my brain fig­ured all the com­pound an­gles and my Fox Ster­ling­worth tum­bled the run­ning hare.

That’s ex­treme, but if you can learn to shoot well when your feet are out of po­si­tion, you will be much more suc­cess­ful as a hunter.

One way to prac­tice is to walk along the range or a safe woods road fol­lowed by a per­son with a hand thrower for clay birds. The tar­gets are launched at the dis­cre­tion of the per­son with the thrower, usu­ally when the shooter is in the worst po­si­tion to shoot. The idea is that the shooter must be ready to en­gage a tar­get at all times and from any and all po­si­tions. A vari­a­tion is to have a sta­tion­ary tar­get thrower pre­vi­ously placed on the course in ad­di­tion to the tar­gets be­ing thrown by hand. That way the “trap­per” can present mul­ti­ple tar­get sce­nar­ios with­out warn­ing.

sur­prise clays

Another ex­cel­lent drill is for a shooter to walk the path­way on a trap field, go­ing from the far yardage up to 16 yards, and have the thrower pull clays at his dis­cre­tion. Or to walk along a skeet range with your shot­gun at the low ready as you would when hunt­ing. The trap­per throws the bird ran­domly so as to catch you in mid-step or out of po­si­tion.

Learn­ing to shoot with your feet out of po­si­tion isn’t easy, but at the end of the day, it will in­crease the weight in your game bag.

With his English set­ter on point, Robert Bell walks in on late-sea­son grouse.

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