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Tips for Better Shotgun Shooting

06.01.2023

Even if you have plenty of experience with pistol and rifle shooting, it can be tough to pick up shotgun shooting. Because they involve following a fast-moving target, the skills required for shotgun sports, like skeet shooting and sporting clays, are quite different from those used for shooting pistols and rifles. In fact, in some ways, new shooters may have an advantage because they don’t have existing habits to relearn.

But no matter what your level of experience, we’re here to help you become a better shot. These tips can help you get started with shotgun shooting if you’re totally new to it, or just help you refresh your memory if you’re more experienced.

Let’s get started.

The Proper Shooting Stance

The proper shooting stance is one of the most important factors for effective shooting.

Since shotgun shooting typically involves shooting a moving target, whether a clay target or wild bird, while standing, it is absolutely essential that shotgun shooters stay flexible and relaxed.

To start, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly. This makes it easier to swing your upper body around to follow your moving target.

Now bring the foot opposite your trigger hand a little bit forward (so if you shoot with your right hand, youll want to move your left foot), angling the foot so your toes are pointed towards the target. Lean your body forward slightly, toward your front foot, so the front foot is bearing more of your weight, while the rear foot helps direct your body as you move. 

Most importantly, stay relaxed. With most shotgun shooting, its important to be able to move and swivel from your hips so you can track your target before you shoot. This is true in everything from competition to defensive shooting to hunting.  Finding a stable but mobile stance is key to your success and is the first thing you should work on.

How to Mount A Shotgun

close up shot of a man mounting his shotgun

Next is mounting, or shouldering, your shotgun.

Once youve gotten your body into the right position, move your shotgun to your shoulder. The motion should be smooth and fluid. 

Make sure that youre bringing the shotgun to your cheek, not dropping your cheek down to the shotgun, and generally make sure that the shotgun touches your cheek first, then your shoulder. This is important because it helps ensure consistency, so youre bringing your shotgun into the same position each time you shoulder it. This helps with accuracy as well as speed for things like dove hunting or competition shooting.

When your shotgun is properly in position, the stock should fit firmly against your cheek with your eye in line with the gun barrel. If you cant comfortably do this, take the time to adjust your stock. If you still cant get comfortable, your shotgun may not fit properly. Shotgun fit depends on a few different things, like length of pull, the shape and size of the stock, and more.

Don’t want to give up your favorite shotgun? Don’t worry. Most shooters can get the right fit by making some simple adjustments to the stock, like adding or removing butt padding, adding a cheek riser, or swapping to a different stock entirely.

Most shotguns will have different options that you can get either from the manufacturer, or in the case of more popular shotguns, from the myriad number of 3rd party sellers you can find out there.

If you really want to take your gun’s fit it to the next level, you can bring your shotgun to a gunsmith for a custom stock. This is a great way to ensure that your gun fits you perfectly, and isnt holding you back by being the wrong size.

Custom work like this is expensive, but it often incredibly worth it in terms of ergonomics, comfort, and performance at high levels. If youre already doing well and want to up your game, this is a great next step.

Tips for Pointing a Shotgun

close up of a mans hands pointing his shotgun, ready to fire

Remember, shotguns are typically pointed, not aimed. Not sure what that means? Well, when shooting shotgun, targets generally appear suddenly and move fast, so you dont have the time thats typically required for aiming. Instead, shotguns need to be pointed. Thats means directing the shotgun more intuitively, but there are still tips to help you point more effectively.

Once your shotgun is in position, keep both eyes open and on the target. Dont focus on the sight. (Yes, sight. Shotguns typically only have a front sight, no rear sight). Keep the eye on the side with the gun (so the right eye for right handed shooters) aligned with the barrel. Ideally, this will be your dominant eye. However, eye dominance and hand dominance aren’t always the same, which is why, again, it’s important to keep both eyes open.

Move both your body and your arms together as you follow the target. If you have the correct stance, this will be much easier. In addition, make sure that the shotgun stays firmly in place against your cheek and shoulder, even as you move.

Dont point the gun directly at the target if its moving though. You need to lead it, meaning point ahead of the target. A proper lead ensures that the target hasnt continued out of the flight path of the projectile by the time the projectile reaches where the shotgun is pointed.

There are a few different methods that can be used for lead shooting.

First, theres the sustained lead. This is when you keep your shotgun aimed ahead of the target throughout the swing, then fire while still swinging your shotgun. This is a tricky method to execute properly, so its best reserved for experienced shotgun shooters.

For beginners, the swing through method is better. When using this method, instead of following the moving target with your muzzle, you instead start with your gun pointed behind the target, then swing your shotgun across the target and pull your trigger as the sight lines up with your target. This method isnt as effective as a sustained lead, but its much easier for beginners to master.

Follow through is incredibly important to avoid shooting at a space behind the target. You need to make sure your muzzle is actually pointed ahead of the target when you pull the trigger to account for the distance traveled by the target while the shot is in the air.

Finally, theres snap shooting. This method doesnt use a swing. Instead, you just point your gun where you think your target will be. This can be a useful method for a crossing bird at close range and more or less directly in front of you, but thats really the only situation where this method is useful. Its definitely not recommended for most shotgun shooting situations. Where this really excels is in certain skeet/trap shooting situations where you can predict, with a high degree of certainty, where the target will be traveling and at what speed.

Pulling the Trigger

As weve already discussed when talking about pointing vs aiming, speed is of the essence when it comes to shotgun shooting, and thats true even with pulling the trigger.

When it comes time to pull the trigger, do so quickly and firmly, but without jerking too hard and pulling the gun off target. Its easy to get excited and yank your barrel to the side, and if you find yourself missing to the side youre shooting from, this is often the issue.

Again, make sure to continue swinging your shotgun at the same time as you pull the trigger back. If you stop your swing while the target keeps moving, youll hit behind the target as well.

The other thing to keep in mind is that timing is crucial for hitting moving targets, so working on dry fire drills and other training methods to improve that aspect of your shooting, without needing to go to the range, spend money on ammo, or worry about recoil and noise.

Being able to simply focus on a consistent and repeatable trigger squeeze is a key part of any shooting discipline, including shotgun shooting. Though it is often overlooked because shotguns arent usually considered precision weapons.

Tips for Better Shotgun Shooting: The Bottom Line

The best advice, however, is that you need to practice, practice, practice.Reading shooting tips like these can certainly help, but it’s no substitute for actual experience at the shooting range.

Because pointing a shotgun is intuitive and theres very little time to think, creating muscle memory is absolutely essential. The only way to build that muscle memory is with repetition.

And remember, this is only general advice. For the best results, enlist the help of a qualified shooting instructor. They can look at your form and make personalized recommendations based on your individual strengths and weaknesses.

three shotguns laying in some hay with a beautiful sunset in background