Summer of a Thousand Shots

6769f154-dfcf-4efb-86a9-d047ec108286 By Tom Carpenter, Pheasants Forever Editor

It was like “Upland Makeover, Carp Edition.” (Carp is my nickname for those who know me, and hopefully you are getting to do just that through features in, and the back page of, Pheasants Forever Journal, as well as Pheasants Forever STORIES online.) To wit:

There was a new job, editor at one of the world’s best conservation organizations; a new dog, Lark the little Epagneul Breton; a new attitude if that’s possible toward my already-avid upland lifestyle; and a new shotgun - a sweet little Benelli Ultra Lite in 12-gauge. I felt bad relegating my beloved (and once dainty) old straight-stocked Remington 870 to the bullpen; but the new little 6-pound semiauto fit me like a glove out of the box and was going to carry like a feather.

But there was one more piece to the puzzle: Becoming a better shooter.

You see, I’ve never been a bad shot, but never a great shot either. Streaks both good and bad. Easy shots blown and tough shots made. Above-average at snap shots but poor when there was time to think. 

In all I probably got more pheasants than I missed. But, inspired by a new pup and shotgun and folks who love to just shoot, I wanted to miss less. 

My usual summer shooting routine was to pound out a couple rounds of trap in August and call it good before hitting the uplands starting in September. So I changed things up. Teaming up with someone passionate about shotguns and knowledgeable about good shooting was a first step. Rachel Hoveland, a Pheasants Forever staffer, filled that role. She’s always up to shoot. 

My first round of trap last early summer was a 13: over .500! My second round: a 9. 

I listened to Rachel’s gentle suggestions at both informal league nights and random weekend shoots when we found time. Work on foot position. Get head down, cheek on wood, and glue it there. Swing hard and keep the gun moving. I just wanted to hit more birds come fall. Any shooting was good shooting.

You might laugh, but by the end of summer I was shooting 17s and 18s fairly consistently. One round, I got a 21.That felt good, no great.

So did the shots that were adding up. Some “automation” was happening. In August, a few rounds of sporting clays brought 50 shots each and I hit stuff pretty good. In my third round of skeet, I scored in double digits – yes, a 10. So I counted things up: 34 rounds of trap, some sporting clays, the skeet … well over a thousand rounds. Not what really really serious shooters do in a summer, but, I hoped, a difference-maker for me.

I could probably look at my hunting journals and come up with in-the-field numbers from the hunts that followed last fall, but the only stat that matters is this: I know I hit more live, wild birds. Some confidence breaking little clay disks translated into better shooting on big, live roosters … Few “gimmes” that weren’t. Not many “wish I had that one backs.” Steady shooting. Not perfection – it’s hunting – but consistency.

The process was fun. Warm afternoons and sultry evenings on the range. A cool beverage with good friends afterward, with talk of little clay birds broken and those left intact and real birds and bird dogs and pheasant country and fall. 

It was my summer of a thousand shots. This summer I’ll try to make it 2,000.

Tom Carpenter is editor at Pheasants Forever.This Carp's Corner column originally appeared in the Summer Issue of Pheasants Forever Journal.