Regardless of hunting experience, mistakes will be made; read about some of the most common errors the author has seen over the last 30 years
Each fall I get to hunt with people from around the country of varying degrees of experience. Frequently, they ask me after a few days of hunting, “Why are you always on the side the bird gets up on?” or, “How do you always get easier shots than I do?”
That said, here are some common errors I see other hunters make.
Mistake No. 1: Incorrectly approaching dogs on point
There are many common errors I see folks make when walking up to a dog on point, so this one is going to be a long one.
Let’s say you and your buddy are out chasing birds. His German Shorthair goes on point, the moment that every hunter is dreaming about. In this scenario alone, I see multiple mistakes made by new as well as more experienced hunters.
The most common one I see is what I refer to as “people backing.” That is where as soon as the person sees the dog on point, they stop and stand behind the dog. This is wrong. The dog has done its job, now it’s time for you to do yours; now is the time to get in front of the dog and get that bird in the air.
That said, there is a correct way to approach a dog on a point. I see many new hunters walking up directly behind the dog and staring at it; my suggestion is to first look at the cover and try to figure out where you expect the bird to be. Remember birds aren’t going to want to fly back over the dog, so approach the dog from the side directly towards where you think the bird is going to be. This will set you up for a shot without the risk of the dog getting between you and the bird. If you are hunting with a friend, this is the time to work together to cover escape routes for the bird and to work as a team—both the person and furry friend—so everyone can get some shooting and hopefully give your dog a retrieve.
Mistake No. 2: Not working cover as a team
Using that as a segue, I see people work cover the wrong way while hunting many upland species. Truthfully, it’s very simple if you take some time to think about the nature of game birds.
As I mentioned, birds don’t like to flush over a do—with a few exceptions. For example, when hunting sharptails in plum bushes or willow patches, if a dog goes on point on the downwind side of the cover we need to be walking around to the upwind side to cut off the escape route as well as to not get blocked from seeing the birds when they flush.
Also, don’t stand close to the bush the birds are in. Give yourself 10 yards or so from the cover so you can see the birds go out either side.
Another pro tip: if I’m in position and the birds haven’t flushed yet, I carry a few golf ball-sized rocks in my vest and I’ll pull one out, toss it in the bush, and get ready for things to happen!
Mistake No. 3: Not reloading after a flush
Many types of game birds often do a staggered flush: quail, sharptails, huns, and pheasants to name a few. After the birds have flushed and shots have been fired, get your gun reloaded as quickly as possible and be ready to take a shot on a late flusher.
Sometimes there are a lot of miles between groups of birds, and I have seen this mistake made hundreds of times by hunters of all experience levels.
Mistake No. 4: Shooting too fast
Understand, there are times to shoot fast and times to take your time.
When hunting ruffed grouse, shoot as fast as possible as the gaps are hard to find and the birds are fast as hell. Yet, with most other species, hunters have way more time. If you are hunting in the West in the wide-open spaces, here is a good rule of thumb: give the birds a two- or three-second count, then fire. Make the first shot count and don’t rely on the second barrel. This is how to shoot doubles on a rise of birds.
Overall, there are many other tips for shooting at covey birds such as huns and quail that I will address in the next section, but this is a good place to start.
Mistake No. 5: Not practicing during the off-season
There is a slew of benefits to spending some time at your local gun club during the off-season, so many that it’s hard to know where to start.
First, it will help you become comfortable with your shotgun. It may seem obvious, but I see many hunters that put their shotguns away at the end of the season and don’t pull them back out of the safe until opening day. If you are one of these folks, don’t be surprised if you get some funny looks from your bird dog or hunting partners as you miss the first few birds of the year.
There are also many different games you can play at most gun clubs, and they all have their purposes. For western hunters, trap has many benefits, as, with most western species of birds, the game will replicate the flush of them accurately, as well as the range of the shots.
Personally, I am a fan of playing all of the games and trying to be as good of a shot as possible so when the moment comes and birds are flushing under your feet, you can make the most of your opportunity.
Lastly, it shocks me how few hunters pattern their new shotguns. Each shotgun can have a wide variance in point of aim and can shoot certain shells and chokes better than others. It’s as simple as getting a large piece of cardboard, drawing a dot in the middle, holding on the dot, and firing. I start with the choke that I will be hunting with the most and see where the majority of the pattern hits. It’s good to try this with the hunting rounds you are mostly shooting, too. It will surprise you how different it is from gun to gun and shell to shell.
These are a few of the little things that I have learned over my 30 years chasing birds around the country. Hopefully, these little tips and tricks will help you bring home a few more birds the next time that you are lucky enough to spend a day in the field watching the dogs work.
Tyler Webster is a long-time upland hunter and host of the Birds, Booze, and Buds Podcast.