Envisage a situation where you have all the equipment required to go hunting — A top-class shotgun, a bagful of shotgun ammo, proper clothing, and all the other bits and bobs — and then not being able to bring a single bird down; courtesy, no practice.
All that splurge of money and you didn’t put in a single day in the range shooting clay targets. Relax, you are not alone. A lot of hunters, especially first-timers, make that mistake. However, it does stop you from having all the fun.
Don’t wait to hit the range for shooting some lifeless targets. You don’t want your leg-pulling buddies to insult you every time you miss out on hitting one in the real world. The first and foremost thing is to learn the basics of the shotgun.
It is the numero uno essential in going down the long road of learning how to aim a shotgun. We have compiled an entire bag of basics that you will need to know while learning and getting on the journey of becoming a crack shot with a shotgun.
The History Of The Shotgun
A shotgun — also called a scattergun and historically known as a fowling piece — is a long-barreled firearm created to shoot a smooth-walled cartridge known as a shotshell. The smoothbore shoulder weapon was designed to fire multiple pellets in a diverging direction from the muzzle.
It was primarily used to aim at small moving targets like birds. The earliest “fowling pieces” appeared in 16th century Europe. The 17th century saw the barrels being elongated for increasing efficiency, accuracy, and precision.
The modern shotgun came into the picture much later in the 19th century with improvements in cartridges, gunpowder, and other guns. The double-barreled shotguns were born after shortening and lightening the barrel of the existing models.
Then came the choke bor,e which aimed to limit the diversion of the pellets and provide an increased range and more precision. It was in the 1880s that Repeating Shotguns began taking center stage.
The Repeating Shotguns were designed to be loaded with multiple cartridges at once, which automatically came into the firing chamber by cocking the gun. Then came the modern semi-automatic weapons, which were much more precise and accurate than the shotgun.
The effective hitting range of any modern weapon is more or less around 50 yards, that is, up to 45 meters. Earlier the shotgun was a hunter’s best friend, but now it is also a firearm of choice for trap shooting and skeet shooting, which have become popular sports.
They come in a variety of styles and sizes and are still used as police weapons in many countries. The versatility of the shotgun has helped it survive the test of time.
Load, Aim, Fire!
Knowing some basics is necessary before handling anything, especially a firearm, because of the dangers it possesses. There are a few things that you must keep in mind.
1. Take Off The Bead From The Barrel
- When you purchase a brand new shotgun, it either comes with a fiber-optic sight or front bead right at the end of the muzzle of the gun. Take a pair of pliers and unscrew it. Don’t throw it away as it might come in handy at some other time or for some other pursuit.
- For wing-shooting, a front bead is not required. It only brings your eye close to the end of the shotgun barrel. This getting close to the barrel takes your focus away from the bird you are trying to aim at.
- Removing the front bead helps you keep your focus where it should be — on the bird.
2. Record The Pattern Of Your Shotgun
- Experts suggest to pattern your shotgun before you take it out for actual shooting.
- If you are a learner, ask some professionals at your nearest range to do it for you.
- This is done to check if your gun is functioning accurately or not. A dysfunctional weapon is much more dangerous than a properly working one.
3. Handle It As If It Were Loaded
- Do not forget to wear ear and eye-protective wear while shooting. Keep the protection gear on as long as you are using the shotgun — no half measures.
- When you are not firing or aiming, keep the barrel pointing downwards. Always have the muzzle facing the ground when the gun is not in use. You don’t want to hurt yourself or anyone else, even by mistake.
- Before you try loading, aiming or firing a shotgun, learn to respect the shotgun for all that it can do — it is a deadly weapon and can take lives, don’t ever misuse it.
4. Keep The Grip Right
- At all times, hold the gun with your non-dominant hand. Keep the hand on the hand stock that is roughly around the middle of the grip.
- Form a “V” using your index finger and thumb and firmly hold the shotgun with your supporting hand.
- Now, take your firing-hand around the trigger-guard on the grip just behind the trigger.
- Imagine giving a light handshake. That is precisely how much pressure you have to apply while holding the gun.
5. Ready To Aim
- This is where we focus on how to aim a shotgun. Put the gun’s grip softly with the shoulder of your dominant hand. The hands stay in the same position; just the gun moves up to the shoulder girdle.
- Keep your butt firmly in line with your shoulder. You are going to need a lot of stability to handle the recoil, and hence this position is very important to learn and master.
- A proper grip and soft positioning with the shoulder will absorb the kickback. A failure to keep a smooth and firm position of the shotgun’s grip around the shoulder area will make the recoil much more painful when you fire a shot.
- Keep your feet at a little distance from each other with the knees slightly flexed. Turn your body roughly around 40 degrees to the side of the potential target your dominant hand is on.
- Do not keep your finger on the trigger yet. This is important as it can be perilous. Hold the stock right behind the trigger guard with your remaining fingers, while the index finger rests on the guard.
6. Fuse Your Cheek With The Stock
- When you are learning how to aim a shotgun properly, you have to develop what is commonly called “cheek to stock weld”.
- A cheek to stock weld is simply the alignment of your eye with the shotgun’s sight and barrel by fixing your cheek firmly with the stock.
- Your shoulder makes your pectoral muscles flex when the butt of the shotgun is pulled into the pocket so that your head can rest against it by a slight flex of the neck.
- If the shotgun has a sight aperture around the halfway point of the barrel, align the gun to line up the sighting point near the tip of the shotgun barrel with the aperture.
- It will take a lot of practice to let the exact positioning of the cheek on the stock become a part of your subconscious mind. Also, you have to keep working on aligning the sighting point accurately to get the best results.
- When you are mastering how to aim a shotgun, practice is the key. You have to become quick and comfortable with initial adjustments before moving on to pulling the trigger.
7. Practice And Master Your Swing
- Apart from learning how to aim a shotgun, you have to develop the skill of doing it quickly. Practicing and mastering your swing is of utmost importance.
- With an empty barrel and all your safety equipment on, practice how to bring the gun into position for aiming and firing as quickly as possible. Do not try to hasten the act and ignore the posture. Take time to get into the proper position as that is necessary. Build and develop speed, subsequently.
- Push the firearm straight out from the body. Place the base of the stock firmly against your shoulder. Keep it tightly tucked in the space created by your shoulder and body position.
- Just like in baseball and golf, handling a shotgun properly has a lot to do with the swing. Whether you use it for hunting or trap shooting, bringing a shotgun into position quickly, comfortably, and at the same time accurately is absolutely necessary.
8. Decide The Target
- Once you are thorough with learning how to aim a shotgun, it is time to aim at a target and get ready to fire.
- Shotguns are well-suited to strike through moving targets in the air. If you practice at a range or a safe empty area, you might want to aim and fire at clay birds, just like in trap shooting.
- Gun ranges usually have automatic mechanisms for launching clay targets in the air. They also have various positions on the range from where you can aim and shoot those targets.
- It usually is a straightforward process. You have to pick a position, get ready, and then shout “Pull!” for the machine operator to launch a target in the air.
- This is a great place to gather some anecdotes from experienced shooters who come there to practice. You can walk around and watch others too. Observe their techniques closely and then try to apply those when you practice shooting yourself.
Mastering The Art — Shotgun Shooting Styles
There is an old saying, “you ‘aim a rifle’ and you ‘point a shotgun’”. This tells a lot about how to aim a shotgun — you actually can’t do that. With the multiple pellets discharged at a single press of the trigger, you just point it in the direction of your target and let the bullets do the rest.
There are mainly two styles of operating a shotgun. The usage of them would depend on your preference and comfort. Nonetheless, both are equally effective and produce the desired results once mastered.
These are the two styles of shooting and a brief on how to operate them:-
1. Sustained Lead
- Point your shotgun ahead of the game.
- Next, swing at the same speed along the line of flight of the target.
- Fire in the set direction.
- Keep the swing going after the shot.
2. Swing Through Lead
- Follow the path of flight of the target until it is in line with the muzzle of the shotgun.
- Pull the trigger and fire.
- Continue swinging even after the shot.
How to aim a Shotgun – Conclusion
Shooting with a shotgun has become a fun sport in recent times, and people of all ages can enjoy it. Apart from being a popular sport in the Olympics, trap shooting has gathered a wide range of enthusiasts from all across the globe.
It is a great way to go out with family and friends and enjoy a fine outing. With a good coach and training, and a well-designed instruction manual, you can practice and become a crack shot successful hunter.
It is important to note that safety must always be your utmost priority, whether you are trying to become a pro or just having fun with your buddies. Never play with a shotgun without learning how to aim a shotgun and how to handle it.
Make sure you don’t end up hurting yourself or others, both while practicing and during actual hunting. Shotguns are dangerous firearms and can cause fatal damage if they are mishandled or messed with.
Our short guide might be sufficient to give you a brief about how to aim a shotgun, but do not consider this to be enough to pick up a shotgun and go out for hunting instantly. Any guide might help you to get knowledge, but it does not train you.
Find a good coach or trainer and practice hard before trying to fire a shotgun alone. Hard hours of training in the field help perfect the aim, and you never know, you might as well become a hotshot hunter or a professional trap shooter in the future.
Michael Castaneda is a 45-year old war veteran from Michigan with a deep interest in guns. After the war, Michael took a pledge to never touch a gun except for the purpose of self-defense. He created Machine Gun Books to guide people on self-defense and providing information on guns and accessories.