Covey birds are explosive. Their numbers and erratic flights unnerve even veteran shooters. As a result it’s easy to lift your head off the stock.
“Peeking” is an expression used by wing shooters for lifting the head and looking high over the gun just before shooting. As the eye raises over the breach of the gun, the muzzle subconsciously follows. This creates a gun that is pointing higher than the eye is looking. Although the movement might be slight, over distance it can be greatly exaggerated. A lift of one-quarter inch will result in a miss of feet as the line of sight and line of bore intersect and move farther away from each other down range. The reason why it is difficult to stop lifting the head is because “peeking” is usually a symptom and not the actual problem.
Peeking is generally a subconscious reaction created by a mistake made earlier in the preparation for the flush and gun mount sequence. By far the most common reason for peeking is the need to acquire or reacquire the bird after the gun mount. It is considerably more difficult to get a good visual on the target when you have the distraction of gun barrels. The head lifts involuntarily to better see the bird over the obstacle. The best way to eliminate the distraction is to understand priorities and change the gun mount sequence.
When the stock properly touches the cheek the shooter’s eye looks straight down the barrel toward the target. Here the author demonstrates proper form.
Most self-taught wing shooters base their methodology on the simple fact that birds move like screaming demons and nothing good will get done unless the gun mount is made as quickly as possible. The sequence this creates puts priority one at the end; snap gun mount, chase, and then attempt to clearly acquire the bird. This is when peeking occurs. Priority is target acquisition. Even a baseball batter with perfect technique has to see the ball with extreme clarity before he swings.
To change from mount, chase and pray to move, mount and shoot requires changing the order of priorities. First is visual: the bird has to be seen with as much clarity as possible. Second is the leading hand (hand on the forestock): it is a sense of holding the forend like a flashlight and maintaining a beam of light on the bird while keeping visual contact. Last is the gun-mount hand: it follows the lead of the forehand and hinges to the cheek. This is body and gun movement efficiency. When done correctly there never should be a feeling of disconnect and the need to reacquire the bird.
Setting up a proper foundation results in proper technique. Properly trained bird dogs and shotguns held in the ready position help facilitate a successful shot.
To make this very efficient gun-mount sequence work requires a proper muzzle ready position when preparing for the flush. Since the next step after visual acquirement is connecting the muzzle to the bird (the flashlight analogy), it would be best to ready the muzzle as close to your line of sight as possible. This will allow it to have the shortest route possible to the bird.
Raising the shotgun to your face results in a proper mount. Here the shooter drops his head and face to the stock and ends up with a muzzle pointed under the flushing bird.
There are a few other possibilities that could cause “peeking” including improper gun fit. This is best to be analyzed and corrected by a reputable gun fitter. That's right, it may not be your fault. But remember as you try to explain to your pup, who just performed flawlessly, that the miss was not your fault but instead because of improper stock dimensions he only understands hard and soft single syllable commands – which is why he is looking at you with a pitying, cockeyed head.
Unless Lars Jacob is running dogs, wetting a fly line or turkey hunting, everything he does revolves around shotgunning. Jacob has been teaching the finer art of wingshooting for over 30 years. He has run programs and gun rooms for the Dutch River Club, Covey & Nye and Orvis Company to name a few. Jacob is the founder and CEO of Lars Jacob Wingshooting, LLC and LJW Roving Syndicate. In addition to instruction, Jacob is recognized as one of the country’s finest gun fitters and recently worked with Perazzi’s Al Kondak to develop the Perazzi Ladies Sporter. He has a soft spot for side-by-sides and has introduced thousands of shooters to the nuances associated with shooting such shotguns. For more information visit www.larsjacobwingshooting.com.