Teaching Points
By Tom Hayes 

"The author going over some shooting tips, with his son Joel.  Clay target shooting is a great way to warm up a novice shooter for bird hunting."

Hunt Clubs like Good Go Ing are excellent training grounds. One of the big advantages to membership is the ability to keep the dogs on the ground and in birds year around.

It is not only important for bringing young dogs up to the task of working birds, but also brings a great deal of pleasure to older dogs who may be starting to show the wear and tear of doggie years. 

Deep snow that obliterates solid cover can be a problem, but here and there clumps of brush will still afford a winter-time outing.

This little column is not about any of that, however.

This is about what an important place a facility like Good Go Ing is for training Hunters.

I genuinely appreciate getting the opportunity and privilege of introducing people to the sport that I deeply love. This does not always only involve young people, but certainly that is deeply rewarding.

I have brought a number of associates, as guests, out to Good Go Ing to get them an introduction to shooting and to bird hunting. What I will report here is the combination of experiences that will make for a successful introduction to the sport – it is NOT what I have put all together at one time so far! But, it ought to work!

First and foremost is getting the new hunter through firearms safety training. Hunters Safety classes are excellent and are offered through may local resources in the area. I have not checked it out, but I am aware of one person who is currently taking the “class” via an internet website and will then report to a testing center on a designated day to take the written test and meet with representatives of the sponsoring body for some hands on demonstration of safe handling. I am anxiously awaiting a report from the person I know who is doing this.

Even after the new hunter has had the Gun Safety class, I always start with my own version of the course. Normally, I supply the gun for the first few times and provide the specifics on operating the equipment.

Just like when I was young and Dad was teaching me, I really do like working with a break action or a pump rather than turning a newcomer over to a semi-auto. I have a couple of over / under guns which I consider ideal trainers because they combine break action with NO-HAMMER. My single barrel break actions all have hammers which do add an element of danger to the experience as hammers have been known to slip out from under a thumb. Extensions attached to hammers are a good idea. I use them on a couple of my scoped lever actions and have come to swear by them in that application. I have not yet put extensions on the break action shotgun hammers, mainly because I so seldom use them. Good project for a rainy day.

In the progression of training, I like to get the student used to the idea of swinging the gun with targets. It is not necessary at the very start to shoot the targets – the idea is to train the swing and especially the follow through after the shot. A dog training dummy is a handy object as they are big, visible and go slow. Repetitions are the key. By standing just behind the students gun shoulder and tossing the dummy, you can get an idea about how the student is swinging and especially if they are stopping when they say, “BANG”.

The next step in the progression is using hand thrower launched clay pigeons. They start near the shooter and fly relatively slowly. And, if you throw them over a grassy field, much of the time the un-hit targets will remain intact and can be reused.

If available, a mechanical launcher, the kind that either stakes to the ground or the kind where the operator sits astride the framework, is the best next step. The birds, if loaded consistently will tend to fly to a pretty predictable path so the shooter can have the advantage of knowing where the bird will be going. This can be good, but also bad. It is an opportunity for the student to pick up the bad habit of shooting at the spot, rather than following the bird. It is best to position a “coach” beside the shooter while a second helper throws the birds.

Then after a few “rounds” of this kind of training, a trip to the trap range can provide some great lessons, not only in shooting technique, but in humility as well. Again, having the “coach” standing just behind the students gun shoulder can provide a great view of what is going on. Too much advice, however, is to be avoided. Let the student miss a few, and be prepared to answer questions rather than give feedback on every shot!

Something that has worked well for me with new shooters is to plant the birds myself in full view of the new “hunter” and control the situation from approach to flush to shot. The point here is to get the shooter to swing on a flying bird, make the shot, and hopefully, make their first clean kill. It will do wonders for their confidence and enthusiasm.

"(L to R) Tom Hayes and Jerry McAllister introduce Marc Hoffmann to a successful pheasant hunt."

Finally, taking to the field with liberated birds planted as Jason and Errol see fit to simulate the wild bird situation brings it all together. 

When your new shooter is handling their gun safely, getting onto the birds on the rise, swinging through the bird and making the shots it is time to give them and yourself a big pat on the back.

A couple of other tricks to consider:

As a kid growing up out in the country, the neighbor kid and I used to blow up balloons and let them tumble off across the grassy field in a stiff breeze and shoot at them. I tried this the other day with a new shooter out at Good Go Ing and it did not work too well that day. I think we needed a stiffer breeze and bigger balloons that would sail better.

I had Jason put out little pink flags to mark the general spots where he had placed birds. Marking the plants was simply my attempt to provide the new shooter the best possible opportunity to succeed. While it did give me a way to reduce the surprise of the flushing bird, it did take away from the experience. I can see marking the first couple of birds like this as an alternative to me planting the birds as mentioned above, but it should be limited. The surprise of the flush is a huge part of the experience.

I took a couple from England, who had literally never handled a gun at all, through a portion of this sequence and they absolutely loved it. They ranked the whole deal right near the top of the experiences they had during their one full year “holiday” trip around the world!

Another Englishman living in the Hudson, WI area has now embraced the sport and gone on to buy a shotgun. I am trying to persuade him into buying a hunting dog and consider joining Good Go Ing. 

Several young people have passed through the process as above and look forward to trips to Good Go Ing whenever they can find the time and it matches up with my schedule.

Take care, Be Safe, and Help a Newcomer join our ranks!!