Sharpen Your Shooting Skills This Summer

Time slows down in summer, right? It sure seems that way sometimes for pheasant hunters.

As the dog days of summer plod by, we do have things to think about: Summer vacations, kids’ ball games and swim meets, endless yard maintenance and gardening. But doesn’t your mind drift to hurrying it along so pheasant hunting season can begin again?

For many, that’s the case. Once the season wraps up, many of us would be happy to skip the rest of winter, all of spring and summer, and just jump ahead to the next season. As perfect as that sounds, there is no such as a perfect world, so we just have to wait.

What to do when waiting for pheasant hunting season to begin? One thing you can do to make the days speed up a bit is to work on your shooting skills. And, thankfully, there’s more than one way to do that. Honing your shooting skills during the off-season will keep you sharp and ready for pheasants come fall.

Sporting Clays

The first technique is to engage in a type of clay pigeon shooting known as sporting clays. It’s an activity that really helps keep your good form in place. Following moving airborne targets and aiming to hit them presents a challenge most closely resembles being out in the field on a pheasant hunt. While shooting at a clay range won’t exactly recreate authentic field conditions, often it’s the best off-season representation.

You’ll be presented with a variety of challenges when you shoot sporting clays. Typically, shooting sporting clays involves shooting from 10 different stations over a natural terrain course; each with 10 targets. These targets can be sent into the air one at a time or in pairs, depending on the station. With pairs, one target can be sent airborne with another quickly following, or they can be launched both at once.

The launching of two clay pigeons in rapid succession or simultaneously presents a shooting task quite similar to when pheasants are being flushed in the field. Add the unpredictability of speed, angle, elevations and trajectory, and the situations encountered in sporting clays resembles the closest thing to a real pheasant hunting scenario.

Skeet Shooting

Another shooting activity to build your pheasant hunting skills in the off-season is skeet shooting. Skeet always involves two targets, both launched from a separate housing. The housings are 180 degrees apart and the shooting stations are along the arc connecting them. Targets are launched in the general direction of the opposite housing, so they essentially cross paths. Speed, trajectory and angles of flight will differ with each launch. The shooter knows that two targets will always be launched, so a double barreled gun or quick action pump action shot gun are the best to use for skeet.

In skeet, one launching station sits higher than the other and there are eight total shooting stations along the arc. The arc itself has a 21-yard radius. Each station presents different challenges regarding when each target is launched as well as which targets must be shot at first. This type of shooting offers less unpredictability and more structure than sporting clays, however both present challenges that will pay off during pheasant hunting season.

Whether you choose to do one or both styles of range shooting, it’s recommended you use similar chokes for actual pheasant hunting. Changing your chokes alter spray patterns, and for range shooting to help you, it’s key to maintain pattern consistency. Getting out on the range during the offseason is recommended at least once or twice a month, especially during warm weather.

Dry Fire

During the cold part of the off-season, an indoor activity known as dry firing helps keep your shooting skills sharp. Dry fire is a “no ammo” activity and can be done at home. Excellent places to practice include basements and garages. However dry fire should be undertaken with severe caution. Ensure your firearm is completely empty and alert other household members you’ll be doing this activity. If there are windows where you do this technique, you may want to close the shades so neighbors don’t misconstrue what you’re doing.

Dry fire involves turning around a full 360 degrees in your practice area and honing in on certain objects as “targets.” They can be a door handle, a corner in the ceiling and other small elements of your practice room. Setting up a dummy target can also be helpful. You may be able to mount a laser function on your gun to ensure you are getting the most out of your practice. Using a trigger cap can also protect wear on your firearm and increase safety.

Crow Hunting

To achieve a real-life feel to your practice activities, hunting crow can be another option. Crow present similar challenges as pheasant in that they are live flying targets, but you’ll have to account for other aspects. First, crow respond well to decoys and calls. Practicing an accurate crow call can take a few tries, but can be worth it. Like most other birds, hunters that hunt crow have to perfect only a handful of calls.

Perhaps the most underrated benefit of crow hunting is learning concealment. Crows have uncommonly good eyesight and you’ll need to be well camouflaged. If using decoys, you may need to exert some patience after putting them down. You can avoid long waiting times by studying their daily traffic patterns and get decoys down while the birds are not in the area. There may also be seasonal and bag limits for crow hunting in your area. Always make sure that you are hunting crow in season wherever you are.

Fresh for Pheasant Season

If you use one or more of these activities over the summer, you’ll be a better marksman and in better condition to bag more birds when pheasant hunting season starts. You’ll see that your harvest ratio will likely go up. Keeping your shooting skills sharp during the off-season reduces the number of birds you just wing or cripple. Crippling a bird doesn’t really help you, other hunters or the pheasant population.

Summer is the perfect time to do any of these activities. And as you do them, the days will speed up and the opening day of pheasant season will be here before you know it.