Gun Fitting

Dear Technoid,

Shotgun Report is the best website for shooting information on proper technique, gun selection, and so on.

I seem to have a problem shooting (hitting) flushing birds, mostly woodcock and grouse. I could be shooting high because the entire bird is in view while pulling the trigger. I am not sure if I am “cheeking” the gun properly during the noise and rush of seeing the bird take flight. Maybe I am a bird watcher rather than a bird hunter!!

I do okay at the skeet range, scoring 13-17, while mounting the gun for each target. Can you make a suggestion that will help keep my head down on the stock and hopefully improve my shooting in the field and at the range. A gun fitting might help, but there are plenty of people hitting birds and targets without going this route.

My field and skeet gun is fixed choke (M/IC) 20-gauge Beretta 686S. The gun was purchased used and to the best of my knowledge has not been modified. I am a left-handed shooter and I have adjusted to my cross-eye dominance by closing my right eye while raising the gun to the target. Perhaps my gun selection is in error. The gun could be too light or the chokes too tight. A trip to the gunsmith or the purchase of another gun is not out of the question, but my technique could probably improve.

Thanks in advance for your time.


Dear Steve,

I would love to help, but long distance style analysis is a sometimes thing.

First of all, unless you hunt in far north areas where they just sit in the pine trees, in my opinion ruffed grouse are THE most challenging game bird that there is. I know that every area of the world has its favorite bird, and I have hunted a lot of them, but North America’s rough grouse tops the list for me. Woodcock, when they are not packed in as flight birds, can also be as challenging as anything- especially if you are using a flusher, not a pointer. There is no shame in not hitting every grouse and woodcock you shoot at.

Secondly, if you shoot skeet to practice for hunting, why on earth don’t you shoot it the same way that you hunt? Shooting skeet with a pre-mounted gun is a great way to make it easier and get high scores, but it does nothing for you as a hunter. Learn to shoot skeet holding your gun the way you do in the field. International Skeet is a skeet game where the gun butt is started at the belt line. It is the game shot by the rest of the world and shot in Olympics and World Championships. Only in America do we shoot skeet with a pre-mounted gun.

Blinking down (closing the dominant eye as you raise the gun) is a perfectly good way to handle cross dominance. It is an excellent way to deal with it as a field shooter. Practicing skeet with a low gun will help you practice your blinking down also.

As to a gun fitting, I really can’t say without seeing you shoot. The fact that many people shoot off-the-shelf guns well really doesn’t matter. A lot of guys can go into the haberdasher’s and pick a 42 regular suit off the rack too. A lot more can’t.

Why is it that we are more than willing to spend hundreds of dollars in gas, food, motels, licenses and guides on each hunting trip, but are reluctant to part with $200 to get a stock properly fit and bent? Having a gun that shoots where you look is like having a good dog. You just don’t know how nice it is until you have had one once in your life. If you are willing to buy a new gun, surely you are willing to spend a little extra to get this one to fit.

You say that you see the entire bird ABOVE your barrel and think that you might be shooting high. Actually, it would be just the opposite. If you see the entire bird above your barrel and your gun is a flat shooting one, you will end up shooting low. This is something that your gun fitter will spot for you in a second.

One way to determine this is to “read” your breaks at skeet. Team up with an experienced skeet shooter and he will show you how to tell where you are on the clay target by the way that it breaks. You don’t get any feedback when you miss entirely, but if you just “fringe” some targets, you can tell if you are high, low, etc.

As to your gun selection (a 686 Beretta 20 gauge with IC/Mod), you have picked a fairly classic upland bird gun. While there are certainly many other possibilities, you have definitely picked one of the good ones. The type of gun isn’t the problem.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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