Shotgunning Style Offers Hunters Help

Bob Fitzgerald will debunk everything you think you know about shooting your scattergun. He’ll deconstruct your shooting stroke — like any good instructor, he will break you down, then build you up — and send you home breaking targets from all conceivable angles and distances.

Fitzgerald, veteran shooting instructor and gunsmith at the Minnesota Horse & Hunt Club in Prior Lake, Minn., is a wing-shooter extraordinaire.

Jack has decades of experience, and he has even instructed members of the royal family,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s a lot to live up to.”Fitzgerald teaches the English Method, a wing-shooting style popularized by his good friend and mentor Jack Mitchell of Cornwall, England. Mitchell taught the method at the Minnesota Horse & Hunt Club for years, and Fitzgerald has finally taken his place.

The U.K.: A Noble Wing-Shooting Tradition
The United Kingdom, Fitzgerald said, has a long and noble wing-shooting tradition. The U.K. has dozens of shooting schools, and even more instructors that have varying abilities and teach a variety of shotgunning methods.

Mitchell’s English Method is “an evolution” of many other methods taught in the U.K., Fitzgerald said.

Babe Winkelman
Babe Winkelman

“What Jack did was throw out all the unnecessary things and stuck to the things that have to happen to break a target or kill a bird,” he said. “That way you get a shorter list of things to remember when you’re shooting, and it is more repeatable and easier to teach. It’s a simplification.”

Added Fitzgerald: “If I can take an 8-year-old kid who has never handled a gun and have him breaking targets inside of 10 minutes, I’d say it is fairly simple.”

Fitzgerald said the English Method has two easy-to-understand steps. First, you should keep both eyes open when shooting. Second, you must keep “both eyes on the target from where you see it until it dies.”

“That means you never, ever look at the barrel of the shotgun, or those stupid little beads,” he said. “Anytime you look at the gun, it will stop moving because the target doesn’t exist and your computer — meaning your brain — is off. It’s similar to baseball. When you’re trying to hit a baseball, you look at the ball and not the bat. Remember, your eye can only focus on one place at a time.”

Don’t Look at The Barrel
To illustrate, point your finger at an object across the room, Fitzgerald said. When you do, your finger should be a “blur” and the object itself should be in focus because that’s where you are looking.

“When you look at the gun barrel, even for a split second, you loose the sharp image of the target,” he said. “That’s where many shooters get into trouble. They forget that they have to really concentrate and focus on the target.”

Imagine you are in a hunting situation, walking a field for pheasants. Fitzgerald said the natural inclination for most hunters is to immediately shoulder the shotgun when the bird flushes. With the English Method, Fitzgerald teaches the opposite approach. When a bird appears, your front hand (the one that’s holding the forearm) should begin tracking the birds’ flight path, like “following the vapor trail of a jet.”

“Once you have the track of the bird defined, the last thing that happens is that the gun comes up to your cheek. If your head remains still, and you touch your cheek, the gun will be positioned correctly on your shoulder. Then you pull the trigger. Your shoulder has nothing to do with where you shoot; it’s your cheek. If you learn this, it’s enough to kill any moving target. If you leave any one of those things out, you won’t.”

What About Leading The Bird?
But what about “leading” the bird, a question Fitzgerald often gets.

“Think about this for a second. The gun speed has to be faster than the bird to catch it, therefore you already have a built-in lead,” he said. “That’s good for most people out to about 40 yards. Past that point, what you would do is make sure the gun goes past the bird. And to do that, you simply look there, because the gun will go where you look. You’re extending that flight line with your eyes out in front of the bird, and the gun will go there. This is something you will learn by experience and practice. But for most shots, the lead is already built-in.”

The crucible, Fitzgerald reiterated, is getting on the right track, or flight path, of the bird. If you’re not on the right plane, above or below, you will miss. If you are, a dusted target or a felled bird will likely follow.

Fitzgerald said some of his most successful students — that is, those that grasp the English Method right out of the box — are those who have no shooting experience.

“I like teaching anyone who hasn’t the pulled the trigger, particularly kids, because they have a blank slate,” he said. “They have yet to develop any bad habitats, and they’re always very willing to take instruction.”

Even so, Fitzgerald said he teaches about 200 students a year. And many hunters come to him when they go into a shutgunning funk.

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