Wyatt Earp once said, “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” Not much has changed in the 154 years Winchester has been in business. Even personal defense experts would concede that fast isn’t necessarily effective; in fact, a balance of speed and precision is foundational to iconic personal defense expert, Rob Pincus’ Intuitive Defensive Shooting courses. Bottom line, shot placement stops a threat. It also breaks clays, folds wings, and puts meat in the freezer. Thank goodness, this approach isn’t lost on Winchester. The following are shotgun tips and tricks to hit more targets.
Blast from the Past
To be sure, Oliver Winchester was driven to create a lasting legacy. While his endeavors began with clothing and morphed to interest in Volcanic Repeating Arms, it was indeed his unveiling of Winchester’s first model, the 1866 Yellow Boy Lever Action Rifle, and its subsequent popularity, that earned him a spot in our history books and birthed the firearm and ammunition brand that, for all intents and purposes, is woven into the fabric of our American way of life.
By 1886, 20 years after Winchester opened its doors and just a year before offering the Model 1887 lever-action shotgun, Winchester released Rival Shot Shells in 10- through 20-gauge offerings. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Winchester continued to innovate firearms, centerfire and rimfire ammunition, as well as shotgun ammo—case in point, AA Shot Shells, introduced in 1965 and still a competition and dove hunting favorite. Of course, this is also where I tread into less familiar territory. So, I was excited about a recent opportunity to visit with a couple of Winchester’s world-class sporting clay competitors, Desirae Edmunds and Zachary Kienbaum. I asked, and they answered. I hope we all walk away from this short read as better-equipped clay busters and dove hunters with these shotgun tips and tricks to hit more targets.
Winchester’s Desirae Edmunds and Zachary Kienbaum
Desirae Edmunds: I began shooting sporting clays at the age of 14 in Anchorage, Alaska, through the Local Fishand Game program. Over the next several years, with my parents’ and local support, I began shooting in clay target leagues and weekend sporting clays tournaments at my home club Grouse Ridge in Wasilla, Alaska. Grouse Ridge’s owner Harry Brunnhoelz, Sr. ,took me under his wing giving me my first shooting lessons..
I shot my first Nationals in 2004 and my first U.S. Open in 2005. This was the beginning of many more years of travel for sporting clays tournaments. Since moving to Houston, Texas, in 2012, I have registered more targets than ever before (approximately 9,000 per year). I stepped onto the world stage and shot my first World event in 2012. I recently made a move to Savannah, Georgia, where I continue to compete, hunt, and fish. Since then, I have amassed multiple national and world championships for myself and my country using my Beretta DT11 L.
Desirae’s awards: Six-Time NSCA Championship Tour Ladies 1st (Only lady to win the title since its inception), Three-Time PSCA Tour Ladies Champion, Two-Time U.S. Open Lady Champion, Two-Time Lady National Champion, Two-Time World English Lady Gold Medalist, Two-Time World FITASC Lady Bronze Medalist, Five-Time World Cup Ladies Bronze Medalist, Nine-Time Lady All-American, Eight-Time All-American Lady Captain, and 16-Time Member of Ladies Team USA.
Zachary Kienbaum: I grew up in Salinas, California, and my Father, a California Highway Patrolman, was a lifelong hunter and outdoorsman. Long before I became a hunter myself, he took me along on his hunts and taught me to love and respect the outdoors. As a sportsman, my father discovered sporting clays around 1990 and soon after, introduced me to the sport. Around that same time, he also had a stroke. Throughout much of his recovery, he wasn’t as comfortable taking his 12-year-old son on hunts, just the two of us, as he was before the stroke. Instead, we began spending most of our time at the gun club shooting clay targets. In hindsight, I realize this was because he was worried about something happening to his health; at the club, there were more people around to help. I’m convinced, had the stroke not happened, that we would not have started shooting competitively, and I wouldn’t be doing what I do today.
Other than a three to four year hiatus in my early to mid-20s, I’ve been competing ever since. In 2012, I moved to Houston, Texas. Houston is widely considered the hotbed for sporting clays in America and proved to be a good move. I was able to compete more often and amongst the nation’s best shooters. As a result, my shooting career really took off. After coaching in the southeast quite a bit and falling in love with Forest City Gun Club and the surrounding area, I decided to move to Savannah, Georgia, in early 2020.
Zachary’s awards: Two-Time NSCA National Sporting Clays Champion, Two-Time World FITASC Sporting Championship Runner-Up, Two-Time US Open Sporting Clays Runner-Up, Two-Time NSCA Championship Tour Overall Champion, Seven-Time NSCA All American Open Team Captain, 25-Time NSCA All American, 26-Time Member of the US Sporting Clays Team, and past World, National, and U.S. Open Junior Champion.
Shotgun tips and tricks to hit more targets
KEVIN: What are your top shotgun tips and tricks to hit more targets?
- Pulling the trigger. You cannot replace trigger time. A person can learn a lot and essentially teach themselves how to improve simply by trial and error.
- Be consistent. Consistent practice breeds consistent habits. Even mounting the gun at home whenever you can drastically improves shooting. Also, be consistent with your equipment. Eliminate as many variables as possible in order to breed consistency in your approach and shooting.
- Seek out and take instruction. Just like most things in life, when we are new at something it can be frustrating, embarrassing, or nerve wracking to fail, especially in front of others. We all have had teachers throughout our lives for a multitude of things. Shooting is no different.
- Make sure your gun fits. Fit is probably the most overlooked factor when someone first starts shooting. The gun MUST shoot where we want it to, or it can lead to other issues as we try to progress.
- See your target. Shooting a shotgun is a game of pointing, not aiming. The biggest difference is where our eyes are looking as we deliver the shot. We want complete visual focus on the target and only peripheral awareness of the gun—not the opposite.
- Gain experience! You have to do it if you expect to progress. Practice shots that give you trouble. If you’re competitive, enter as many competitions as possible. Nobody starts off good. Learning to shoot and learning to compete are two different things.
H&B: WHAT ARE YOUR AMMO CHOICES FOR CLAY TARGETS AND DOVES?
Desirae: For clay targets and dove, Winchester AA or AA Diamond Grade 1 oz. 1250 fps. Super-X also is a great choice and similar to my target ammo.
Zachary: For both, I prefer Winchester AA Super-Handicap. This load is an absolute hammer on doves, but for a lower cost alternative I also enjoy shooting Winchester Super-X.
H&B: WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TO PREPARE FOR DOVE SEASON?
Desirae: Get out to the target range, and fire your hunting gun. Shoot clay targets with a flight path resembling the flight of a dove. Dove shooting is often called “Pass shooting” or in clay target terms “Crossing” shots. If that is what I will be seeing in the field, I want shoot clays flying in similar fashion.
Zachary: Get out and shoot clays with your hunting gun. Often hunting shotguns are different than competition guns, and comfort is critical. Get your decoys and bucket or seat ready. Make sure you have lots of Winchester ammunition.
H&B: WHAT ARE YOUR BEST TIPS FOR HITTING MORE DOVES?
Desirae: Learn the visuals. Shotgun shooting is a “pointing” game, not an “aiming” game. We point a shotgun and aim a rifle. Focus on the bird, and visually pick out something specific. Also, take your time. A slow, smooth, and consistent gun mount and motion into your shot provides much more accuracy. Practice your gun mount at home. Pick a line on a wall and practice mounting the gun to your face while moving through the line. The front hand does the work. The back hand only pulls the trigger. When mounting your shotgun remember, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”
Zachary: Keep your feet moving, and take the extra step. A lot of times we first see a dove coming in long before it’s within shooting distance. Be prepared to move your feet or rotate your foot position since doves often fly erratically and make last-second moves. You don’t want to shoot off-balance. This is a common problem in all wing shooting scenarios.
Picking one bird at a time and focusing intently on it as you pull the trigger isn’t the end of the process. When our eyes are on the target our brain is telling our hands where to point. We want to follow through with the swing by keeping our eye on the bird until impact. We all have that friend who misses consistently behind because they stop their gun as they pull the trigger. Their gun stops because they stop looking at the bird in the last moment. Finally, pick out ONE bird at a time.
H&B: WHAT IS THE SINGLE BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU SEE HUNTERS MAKE WHEN TRYING TO SHOOT DOVE?
Desirae: Not being deliberate and selective in every shot taken. We often get excited and tend to rush our shots physically and early. Be patient and make a smooth, quality shot. This ensures a higher percentage of hits and less wounded birds. Be deliberate and selective.
Zachary: Like I said earlier. Keep your feet moving and body rotating for better balance when shooting.
For a great dove recipe, click here.
H&B: WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO SHOOT WINCHESTER AMMUNITION?
Desirae: Winchester has provided American-made ammunition since the 1890s, creating a deeply iconic brand. They have continually improved their products all the while supporting the shooting industry. Winchester’s quality control is relentless, and it shows in performance. I need the utmost confidence in my ammunition every time I fire the gun and make no compromises in using the highest quality ammo. Winchester consistently delivers.
Zachary: I shoot Winchester because it’s as American as anything gets. Whether it’s building ammunition for the military to keep our freedoms safe, or ammunition for outdoorsman to pursue their hunting passions, Winchester has always been there. In addition, my father was always a huge Winchester ammunition and firearm fan. I literally grew up with Winchester, and the brand is near and dear to my heart.
Need the best Winchester ammo for clays? Click here.