The One True Way to Shoot a Shotgun

Oooooh, I can feel it already: You read that headline and you wanted to punch me.

That or you’re still reading this story because you’re a terrible shot, desperate for anything that might make you better.

If it’s the latter, go get your gun fitted. Then practice, practice, practice.

If it’s the former … well, good instinct!

When I took my first shooting lesson eight years ago, I was all ears. I memorized my instructor’s lucid explanation of how lead changes as the angle of the target’s trajectory increases. I was obedient and diligent, doing everything he told me to do, and slowly, I began to improve. This is, by the way, why every shooting instructor I’ve met loves chicks – as a rule, we listen and do what they say, whereas they say guys are more stubborn and more likely to cherry-pick the advice they want to follow.

A year later, I met another shooting instructor, and while I didn’t need a beginner’s lesson, I listened to everything he had to say, and he, too, helped me shoot better. One of the things that stuck with me was the Churchill mount, which started with the stock tucked under my armpit. It worked for me, so I adopted it.

A couple of years after that, Instructor No. 1 saw me at the shooting range and immediately told me I shouldn’t start with the gun tucked under my armpit because – I kid you not – my boobs were going to get in the way of the mount.

Well, folks, lemme tell ya: While I’m not a flat-chested, skinny eighth-grader anymore, I’m reasonably sure I’m not buxom enough for this to be a problem.

And I’m totally sure “Damn you, breast!” has never been a curse I shouted as a bird zipped past me unharmed. I have a lengthy list of more worthy scapegoats: Not having a good gun mount before pulling the trigger. Wader boots getting stuck in the mud. Overthinking.

That was the first time I had a recognizably male response to a shooting instructor, albeit with classic female passive aggression: “OK,” I said, smiling inauthentically. And I proceeded to ignore his advice as soon as he walked away.
Since then, I’m pretty sure I’ve done a number of things that would utterly horrify Instructor No. 2 as well. For some reason, I started raising my barrel to intercept my targets, rather than following a traditional swing-through or sustained-lead method. And holy cow, I have destroyed some clays that way.

After that random mutation in my shooting, I met Instructor No. 3, who actually recommends that method for really great reasons. He approved of my spontaneous development as a shooter.

But even No. 3 looked at me disapprovingly when I told him I’ve hunted twice with a shotgun sight that obviated the need for proper shotgun mount or even proper cast. It’s total heresy, but, dang, I have killed me some birds with it. Quite effectively.

Being well indoctrinated by all my instructors, I’m still fighting guilt over that one. Omigod omigod omigod, how can I forsake perfect adherence to the same gun mount every time?

Answer: Because when I’ve removed the sight, it’s become clear that I still know how to shoot without it. Mwa ha ha ha haaaaa!

Look at me – I’ve become the cherry-picking shotgun student! I’m suddenly feeling empathy for guys.

But this is not about which gender’s learning style is better; it’s about the obvious truth that whatever helps you shoot well is valid for you and the fact that I appreciate everyone who’s passed on a helpful shooting tip, even if I think you’re nuts for some of the other stuff you’ve said.

Holly A. Heyser is the editor of California Waterfowl Magazine. A hunter, forager, writer and photographer, she lives in Sacramento, California. You can see more of her work at


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