There was just a tinge of concern in my wife’s voice.
“What are you doing?”
I lowered and raised the gun. Repeated the motion, then repeated it again, each time swinging to a different imaginary target. The smoothness of this motion is critical if the shooter is to have any reasonable chance of consistently hitting a softball-size, acrobatic target whizzing at 30 or more miles per hour.
“Practicing my gun mount.”
“In the bathroom?”
Granted, it isn’t every day that a woman walks into the bathroom and discovers her husband pointing a shotgun at the mirror, although it shouldn’t have seemed all that unusual. She has grown accustomed to my sometimes seemingly erratic work-related behavior after more than two decades of watching me pursue exploits ranging from willingly risking violent sea sickness and possible drowning to casting for cobia from a kayak on the cusp of an approaching storm to traveling 1,000 miles for the opportunity to lie down in a field of ice and hunt geese.
My wife does not hunt but grew up in a family crowded with men and guns and wild game. Still, the unexpected discovery of a spouse wielding a shotgun in the bathroom tends to raise eyebrows and levy concerns. I grasped that an explanation was needed.
“It’s better if you practice in front of a mirror.”
“Can I see it?”
I handed her the gun. She turned it over in her hands, then brought it to her shoulder, swinging across the mirror to the corner of the room above the showerhead. Flawless form.
“It’s heavy,” she said, handing it back. “Is it new?”
“It’s a Davide Pedersoli black powder double barrel,” I explained with more enthusiasm than was probably necessary, pointing out the crosshatched English stock and double triggers and 28½-inch chrome-lined barrels. “That’s so you can use steel shot. And it has screw-in chokes, too. It weighs 7 pounds.” I could see this was failing to impress. “It’s a fowling piece.”
“What kind of shells does it shoot?”
“It’s a 12-gauge, but it’s a muzzleloader, so you kind of make your own shells.”
“I know what a muzzleloader gun is,” she said with a wrinkled brow. “We have several. Is it new?”
“Well, yeah. It came from Cabela’s (cabelas.com). The company loaned it to me. I’m going to use it for doves.”
“This for doves?”
“Is it loaded?”
Several seasons ago, while dove hunting in Breckinridge County on a cloudless, blistering hot September opening day, I spotted a curious sight. The field was crammed with hunters. I’d arrived early and claimed a spot at the west end of the field, not far from a stand of timber. This allowed me to scan the field with the sun at my back. Most of the shooting was concentrated near the south end of the field, but after a couple of hours I had managed to empty a box of shells.
From the northeast corner of the field, a white puff of smoke could occasionally be seen followed a second later by the rumble of a muffled boom. Someone was gunning for doves with a muzzleloading shotgun—something I found intriguing and daunting. When the muzzleloader hunter left the field (with a limit of birds), I caught up to him and inquired about his old-school firearm.
“You ought to try one,” he said. “They’re enjoyable to shoot, but you’ll also hit more of what you’re aiming at.”
When I laughed and said that didn’t seem likely, he practically grew indignant. From the nearby field, gunfire echoed like popcorn.
“That’s what everyone says. But you will ’cause you won’t shoot so damn fast.”
I decided to try.
Kentucky’s dove season opens Sept. 1. For most hunters, doves will be their first opportunity to partake in some wing shooting action since duck season closed seven months before.
For many gunners, the layoff will be painfully evident.
Wing shooting is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition) as “the act or practice of shooting at game birds in flight or at flying targets.” The definitive word is “at.”
The mechanical complexities of wing shooting are far too complex to be explained here, but it is a physical act similar to striking a golf ball or hitting a pitched baseball in that it looks easy but is not. That’s probably why so few people can do it well. Practice and knowledgeable instruction will cure many shooting ills. Unfortunately, most hunters, myself among them, spend few hours at the shooting range.
Lessons, of course, aren’t needed. All men are born with unwonted shooting skills. Just ask any of us.
Readers may contact Gary Garth at firstname.lastname@example.org