Our Outdoors: Target Tips

By Nick Simonson

A great target shooter is a great field shooter. The ability to hit a clay streaking away at 43 miles per hour correlates closely with the same form, pivot, focus and follow through necessary to hit a rooster flushing into the sky, a ruffed grouse rushing down a forest path or a group of ducks coming into a decoy spread.  While target and field shooting have a lot in common, there are a few areas where they differ, often to the betterment of the hunter’s bag, and the same mentality in each can help overcome any difficulties when things go awry.


For many, a zipping clay target appears to simply be an orange blur.  Over time, however, shooters are able to pick out the tiny ridges on the edge of the clay, and of course, the thick black line at the bottom of the bird.  This black ring is often the recommended point of focus for many new shooters, lost in the excitement of trying to keep up with a moving orange streak.  Once they begin seeing the hard black line on the target, they are better able to track it, and ultimately smash it.

The same focal point is provided by many popular game birds in the field.  From the circle of white feathering on the neck which gives the ringneck pheasant its name, to a similar ring on a mallard drake just below its head, many popular game species have a finer target that can be picked out in the field and focused on before the shot.  For those creatures which might not, after a few flushes and experiences in the field, it becomes easier to pick out eyes, and beaks, and other small details on which to refine the focus while mounting the gun and tracing the flight path of the bird.  A shot placed on these smaller targets will also connect with wings and help better collect the quarry.

Out of Place

In the controlled environment of the trap range or a sporting clays station, form and follow through become a matter of repetition with elements put together in the same pattern and feel throughout the warm weather season.  In the field the season changes day-to-day as clothes are donned and doffed with each front that moves through the region and the environment underfoot shifts with every step.

Who hasn’t done the 270-degree pivot to chase an upland bird that makes its escape behind and to the right, in a motion that pulls on the obliques and hip flexors, or been surprised by a covey of partridge at the end of a long walk when feet are heavy and guns are slung across the shoulders, far from ready for that snap shot?  While certainly less controlled, and much more physically demanding, the same mount, form, focus and follow through also prevail in these situations.

One at a Time

Few things can be more maddening than missing a string of clay targets in an otherwise perfect round.  The ability to rebound after one, or two, or three or more circles on the scoresheet and start converting clays back to Xs comes from the mental strength to put the last bird in the past and move on to the next target.  The same task of forgetting the last missed flush and moving on to the next bird in the wild can be difficult, especially depending on the day.  Where a person is guaranteed to see 25 clay targets in a round of shooting, that’s usually not the case with a walk in the field.

The elements of excitement surrounding the hunt – the colors, the dog work, the companionship and the sound of wings – are easy distractions that can pull focus away from the shot, and the anticipation behind a pointing dog can build it to an even higher level.  Overriding the adrenaline can be tough, but remembering the focal point is key.  Keep tabs on what went wrong on a miss and adjust for the next bird.  Remember that getting lost in the moment and getting the bird aren’t mutually exclusive either!

Take the tips and processes employed from a summer full of target shooting and transfer them over to the field.  Most of it may feel like second nature, but there are a few elements to overcome in the wild to create success and get back on track after a missed bird or two.  In time, the correlation between the two types of targets will become as clear as the black line on a clay, or a white ring of feathers on a rooster or mallard zipping through the air…in our outdoors.

Featured Photo:  If you can hit a clay, you can hit a bird…most of the time.  Simonson Photo. 

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