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Become A Better Shotgunner

By Susan L. Ebert

Taking the time to practice before the season opens will add to your enjoyment in the field.

A sad truth of waterfowling is that one in every four birds shot is either lost or crippled. Along with both novice and experienced waterfowlers – many with several decades of shotgunning experience – I recently attended training offered through the Cooperative North American Shotgunning Education Program (CONSEP), of which Texas is one of 25 member states. The purpose was to become better conservationists by being better shotgunners.

Ballistics expert Tom Roster spent an evening in the classroom and a day in the field instructing shotgunners at all levels of expertise. Roster's own expertise is formidable: Before joining CONSEP, he was a ballistics specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and he currently serves as technical editor of Skeet Shooting Review and ballistics editor of Sporting Clays magazine.

Roster's methods can improve any shotgunner's skills. Here are some of the tenets of his seminar that you can use to increase your shotgunning proficiency.

Determine your effective range. Shoot clay birds crossing from left to right at about 50 mph at 20, 30 and 40 yards. If you can hit six out of eight at 20 yards, progress to 30; if you hit six out of eight at 30, move to 40. In our group of 19 shooters, only six progressed to 30 yards and only two made it to 40. Humbling as this was for our little group, Roster said that's right on the average for the 18,000 or so shotgunners he's instructed over his 25-year career.

Improve your distance estimation. Roster's method is to use anatomically correct goose decoys on poles at ranges from 25 to 60 yards, but you can set up your own "estimation range" by having a partner stake out life-sized cardboard cutouts of geese, then guessing the distance to each one. Switch roles, and let your partner be the one to estimate distances. Do this until you're consistently less than five yards off in your distance estimation.

Learn subtending. At known distances, see how much of a life-sized duck or goose silhouette you can cover with the end of the barrel of your mounted shotgun. With practice, you can tell as soon as you mount your gun if the bird is within 30 yards – the ego-shattering but factual distance Roster proves to be the limit of effective range for most waterfowlers.

Pattern your shotgun. Using different chokes and loads, find the limitations of your shotgun on the shotgunning range, firing within your maximum effective range. Study the CONSEP table in this year's waterfowl hunting regulations to assist with finding the most effective shot size, selection and pattern for your needs.

Practice, practice, practice. Even though only six of our group of 19 hit six of eight clays at 30 yards at the beginning of Roster's session, by the end of the day, many of us were breaking eight out of 10. Even I – a novice waterfowler with only one season under my belt – hit seven in a row.

Hook up with CONSEP training. While the current CONSEP workshops are primarily for hunter education instructors, workshops for the public are being planned for upcoming years by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's hunter education staff. To order CONSEP videos, contact the International Hunter Education Association at (970) 568-7954.

Training seminars such as CONSEP have been proven to reduce wounding loss by as much as 60 percent. Become a better shot – do it for yourself and do it for the resource.

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