Things Change When You Must Sit Up to Take 'Em
I often harp about practicing good wing-shooting form, including proper foot placement, weight distribution and other factors.
However, much of that advice is useless in two common waterfowling scenarios: hunting in a layout blind or open-water layout boat. We use those horizontal hides because they're darn effective, almost eliminating our vertical profile and camouflaging us from incomers. But because those blinds require us to lie on our backs, notions of foot placement, weight distribution and even a normal swing and follow-through disappear, and shooting becomes a new adventure.
But it doesn't need to be that way. Even if layouts throw you off at first, you can learn to shoot competently from them by remembering three basic tenets.
Before you shoot from a layout, you must sit up quickly while simultaneously moving your body and gun to intercept the target. This is just like standing to shoot from a blind or cattails — only more physically demanding.
Practice provides an easy fix. During the off-season, work on sitting up and mounting your gun at the same time. You don't have to spring up like a jack-in-the-box (though it doesn't hurt). Just do so quickly enough that you can swing on and shoot at the bird before it sees you and escapes.
Sometimes, layout blinds require another minor maneuver: swinging open the blind covers. That's easy with many models but difficult with a few stiff, clunky products. Buy blinds that make it easy.
Focus on Movement
You're much more nimble on your feet at the sporting clays range than on your back in a corn field. Further, you can swing your shotgun more smoothly at the trap line than in a bobbling layout boat. That's why it's especially important to concentrate on a smooth gun mount, aggressive swing and instinctive follow-through when hunting in layouts.
That's easy enough on many shots, such as incomers or birds flaring above the decoys. However, it gets trickier with hard-crossing targets or even high overhead birds. Remember, you can't shift your weight when you're in a layout, so you need to focus on keeping your gun moving ahead of the target. This might be counterintuitive at first, but you'll pick up on it after a few volleys.
Right is Wrong (or Left)
Did I mention you can't position your feet when hunting in a layout? As such, it becomes difficult to shoot to your strong side — that is, to your right if you're right-handed or your left if you're a southpaw. Your body simply does not move that way. As a result, you'll notice that most of your misses occur when a target veers to your strong side and physical limitations slow or halt your gun.
You can't correct this, but you can often avoid it. Don't let targets get too far to your right. A bufflehead floating over the decoys 15 yards away but 90 degrees to your right looks like a cake shot, but it's really tough. Instead, take that bird as it approaches at 25 or 35 yards but only a 45-degree angle to your hide. Instinct might tell you to let the bird finish, but you're far better off taking strong-side birds long before they hit that magic line of gun stoppage.
Prediction: If you hunt much from a layout blind or boat this season, you'll shoot a pile of birds. But you might also feel somewhat out of sorts when shooting. Practice. Stay aware. Keep that barrel moving. Soon, that awkward act of rising from a coffin-like contraption and twisting your body to shoot will feel quite natural.