How to Shoot a Shotgun

Don't laugh ... rifle and pistol shooters need to master a different skillset to shoot scatterguns effectively. Here are the basics.

posted on April 11, 2024
How To Shoot A Shotgun Lede Ssusa
Image courtesy

If your start in the world of guns and shooting came in the form of BB guns, rifles or pistols, you may find that the gestalt of shotgun shooting a bit difficult to master. One thing that might help you would be to "start over," with the fundamentals of shotgun shooting, and build on them over time. We've previously talked about how body positioning and stance can make a world of difference; today, we'll cover some ideas to help you get your shotgun on target. 

Figure Out Which Eye is Dominant
Just as most people favor one hand or the other, we also favor one eye or the other. This can become a bit problematic if they're opposite sides; the most common iteration is right-hand dominant but left-eye dominant. That's called cross dominance, and if that's a factor in your shooting journey there are indeed ways to get around it. This article will show you how to determine which eye is dominant. (If, however, you are ambidextrous...well, congratulations!)

Start With a Straightaway Target
Accomplished hunters, trap and skeet shooters fire from a number of positions, and with targets coming or going from many directions, angles, speeds and distances. But at the very outset, you should practice on targets that are flying in only one basic direction. Here, the trap is set so that it will throw the target fairly straightaway in front of you. Initially, each target should follow virtually the same flight path and travel at a relatively slow speed. The background against which the target will be thrown should be clear—an open sky with a low horizon line and no obstructions would be the ideal. On a regulation trap field, you'll want to try to shoot from a position immediately behind the trap house. On a skeet field, the best place to start is on Station 7 with a straightaway low house target. All of this enhances your ability to concentrate and focus on the target for this next exercise. 

Learn to Point
Before you actually start working with your shotgun, it's advisable to grow accustomed to running through the shooting fundamentals with a target—but with your index finger substituting for the shotgun itself. (Yes, you will feel silly...but it really does help.) This exercise will teach you to point toward the flying target without having to simultaneously concentrate on the necessary body movements required to position the shotgun. This will also enhance your ability to concentrate on the target at all times.

Start by assuming the basic "boxer" stance, but with your index finger pointed at a 45-degree angle to the ground as illustrated. Remember, line up your stance with the expected target breaking area. If your right eye is dominant, point with your left hand finger. If your left eye is dominant, point with the right hand finger. By doing this, when the time comes to add your shotgun to the mix, your stance will be correct.

Now, focus your eyes on the area where your target will first appear and call, "pull." As soon as you see your target, immediately and smoothly move your finger to the target and keep your finger aligned with it until it hits the ground. Practice this motion several times. Notice that you looked at the target all the time, not the finger you were pointing with. This is a very important concept in shotgun shooting: Shotguns are pointed, not aimed. The difference is that your eyes must always remain focused on the target, never the shotgun barrel or beads.

When you begin to feel comfortable with this pointing exercise, add a sound effect. (Remember how we said you were going to feel silly? Yeah.) When the target is released, again move your finger to it smoothly. At the instant your finger "touches" the target, simulate pulling the trigger by saying "BANG!" Remember to follow through. There's a distinct purpose to this: In shotgun shooting, it is imperative to be able to time your shot so that you pull the trigger as soon as your muzzle touches the target. By saying "BANG!" you are learning to recognize and develop a mental picture of actions in shooting that should eventually become instinctive.


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