I was born under a bad sign. If it weren’t for bad shooting luck, I’d have no luck at all. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Most bird hunters fill their walls with feathered mounts, talismans of good fortune and souvenirs of the places they’ve been. My man cave has broken branches, invisible holes in the air and photos of me posing with dogs, friends, landmarks … and few birds.
But I can explain! It wasn’t my fault. I may be the most unfortunate shooter on the planet, or at least in the field on every given day. I am followed by a massive gray mist of natural circumstance, when I travel I visit the wrong place at the right time. The conditions that waylay my shot string are legion. Distractions stalk me, just waiting for a point-flush-shot; and that’s not counting all the times I can blame my dog.
My guns are often the root of all shooting evil. A 28 ga. can’t possibly propel enough “golden BBs” downrange for my taste (read: abilities). A 12 ga. is unwieldy, much too heavy for a “snap shot.” And if you’ve seen my dogs work, you know all shots are surprise “snap shots.” The overabundance of pellets in a 12 ga. slows my swing and the spinning of the earth so I’m always behind the bird. Pesky side-by-sides tempt my one good eye with their siren song … which barrel do I look down? The other one.
And while I have no scientific evidence nor has society invented an instrument sensitive enough to prove it, clearly the barrels on my shotguns are parabolas, not straight lines. How else could I always miss to the left (or right, over, under, or behind). I blame the manufacturers (unless they sponsor my TV show, in which case, see additional excuses below and above). And how is it my shotguns accumulate a season’s-worth of crud, mud, and blood while still in their cases, undiscovered until Opening Day?
Mother Nature is the biggest culprit, responsible for most of the empty spaces on my trophy shelf. If it weren’t for her, I’d have a “grand slam” of North American quail, a massive sage grouse, even an albino ringneck gathering dust here in the den. She’s lifted flat ground into precipitous slopes where one foot is in the stratosphere the other in the ionosphere. She’s turned perfectly good soil into gumbo mud just as I pulled the trigger. She’s robbed the very air around me of oxygen as I approached a quivering dog pointing a chukar … so gun mount, trigger pull and flinch are affected by huffing puffing and panting.
On a flushing covey, boulders mysteriously erupt up in my shooting lane, their little brothers sneak under my foot as I approach a pointing dog, while their vile offspring roll into my boots somewhere around mile three on an all-day hunt. Evil tree branches absorb the killing pellets in my cartridge … entire trees grow right into my gun swing.
Her cruel machinations are not limited to the earthly realm. Ma Nature has helped sharptails fly behind the sun as I took a bead on them. Why none of my quail-hunting companions have had the moon get in their eyes, is their problem. On the off chance my dog points one, ruffed grouse fly out of their scent cone as I pull the trigger.
The natural world can be cruel to shooters, whether you blame an omnipotent angry female or not. My dogs have held staunchly for minutes at a time while I limped their way, only to find a trophy pheasant had turned into a skunk. My flushers have gone into a thicket for a ruffie and come out with quills in their muzzle; a find on a ringneck in cattails was a raccoon fight by the time I hobbled over.
Some gamebirds such as sage grouse are just too big to fit in my vest, so I warn them off with a shot to the left as to avoid inconvenience from them. My dog saves me the burden of carrying quail, doves, and Hungarian partridge by swallowing them whole. Even pheasants “covey up” when I’m hunting, so every shot becomes a flock shot that for ethical reasons I won’t take. Don’t judge my high moral standards, you Philistine.
Oh, the shooting challenges the afore-mentioned canine set presents to a skilled trainer and shooter like me. Young ones run too fast for an Olympic sprinter to follow on the prairie. Old ones work too close for a sportsman like me who prefers long shots (why I pass on the “gimme” shots I let others make). Bearded “versatile” breeds are ugly enough to distract someone with sophisticated aesthetic tastes. Pointer tails are a risk on low flushes, cocker tails remind me of the risk, me being an animal lover and all. Setters are cocklebur magnets, reminding one of the hours wasted grooming prior to Happy Hour. Flushing breeds are so impolite as to ignore my “whoa” commands and simply put birds in the air whenever they find them. And Labradors? The mere fact that they were developed from fish-retrieving Canadian stock is enough to put an upland hunter off his shooting.
Some of it is medical. I was born with cross-dominant eyes, and only learned this after my first hunting season where birds took every inning and the entire World Series. I had to hear the news from a perfect stranger who took pity and gave me a lesson. I blame him for the notion that I should shoot left-handed … of which I remind hunting partners at least twice per trip.
My spouse is a co-conspirator, haranguing about my taste in hunting partners, cost-per-pound for pheasant breast, citing honey-do non-performance clauses at every opportunity. All contribute to a billowing cloud of doubt-guilt-anxiety-love-and-devotion that undoubtedly affects marksmanship. She stays up later than me, and for all I know is siphoning most of the pellets out of my cartridges just to turn me back into a fly-fisher. I know for a fact she is not cleaning my guns after a trip – she doesn’t even know the combination to my safe and has never asked for it.
The birds we pursue are a vest-full of (totally, completely legitimate) excuses. Eating and watering well before I’ve finished my coffee, long-gone from level ground by the time I’ve been served a leisurely breakfast. Up when I’m down, close when I’m far, gone when I’m here, there when I’m not. By the way, I coined the phrase “shoulda been here next week.” Wild birds hold for flushers and run for pointers, ignoring tradition and the writing of lesser scribes than I from Hemingway to George Bird Evans. They jink left when I swing right (unless, as aforesaid, flying behind the sun). Pheasants lose their black heads and white rings and morph into drab brown as they flush. Quail shrink to the size of meadowlarks when I mount my shotgun, vexing me but, mysteriously, nobody else in my shooting party.
Maybe you’re a member of my exclusive club, the Fraternity of Flummoxed Shooters. If you are, you know every excuse cited above is absolutely truthful, above reproach and not our fault. If you actually hit a bird now and again, quit bragging and consider yourself lucky you were born under a good sign.
Written by Scott Linden
[Scott Linden is host-creator of the TV series Wingshooting USA, author, magazine writer and blogger. His new website is www.findbirdhuntingspots.com, his podcast is at www.uplandnation.com.] Shooting excuses ©Scott Linden, 2020 all rights reserved for his own hunting stories. You’ll have to make up your own.