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Do something different in the dove field

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
Aug. 29, 2003
On Monday, Mississippi's 2003 mourning dove season will open. Thousands of hunters will tramp the fields and pierce the skies with number 8 pellets, hitting far less than half the birds they shoot at.
The gray darters are the most difficult live targets that most southern shooters will ever encounter. And that is precisely why most of us go dove shooting the challenge of hitting them. A crossing dove that changes directions with each flap of its wings and stops in a puff of feathers at our shot is something to make one's chest swell a little.
Shooting at doves quickly reveals whether the shooter is having an on day or an off day. The finest marksman has off days. And when one has an off day on doves it is likely to be a way off day. Conversely a few days see amateurs dropping every bird that flies by. It is a sport of extremes.
So what if you have one of those days when you can't miss and it appears you will have your limit before the ice melts in your drink cooler. This is the ideal time to accept my challenge. If you are not already an ambidextrous shotgunner, switch over to the other shoulder and give the birds a try. For many people, it is much easier than they think to learn to shoot off both shoulders.
I have encouraged shooters to try this shotgunning test before, and I will keep up the urging because I have experienced the benefits. Way back when I was in my 20s I developed a serious eye disease and temporarily lost the central vision in my right eye my shooting eye. When dove season came along, I was shaken when I couldn't see a flying dove or my gun barrel when I leveled down for a shot.
Only choice
Of necessity, I switched to my left shoulder the only way I could see to shoot. Shooting off my "wrong" shoulder was awkward at first. But soon, during that very first hunt, I was knocking down birds from my off side. On subsequent hunts the birds fell with uncommon regularity. I would later learn that my left eye was my dominant one even though I am right handed.
When some of the central vision in my right eye miraculously returned a couple of years later, I could again shoot right handed. But by then I was shooting better with my lead eye on the left than I had ever shot right handed. The result is that I am completely ambidextrous when it comes to shooting shotguns or rifles. This is such a huge advantage for shooters and hunters, that I urge everyone to learn to shoot both ways.
When a bird, deer, elk or any game animal presents itself quickly so that there is only time enough to react without thinking, I raise my gun and fire without considering which shoulder to use. There is an element of excitement during the typical shot and afterward if you should ask me which shoulder I fired from, I am unable to tell you. The side I use probably is influenced by which hand is carrying the firearm.
If I am shooting a deliberate shot such as from a shooting house on a deer field, I will usually choose the left shoulder because my left eye does not have the scars to distort and block out part of my view as does my healed right one. I see 20/20 through the very center of my right eye and thus can shoot with accuracy. But there are scars surrounding the peephole through which I can see.
Which eye is boss?
Learning to shoot from the off side is not as difficult as it may seem, especially for those who happen to have a dominant eye that is opposite their dominant hand. Determine your dominant eye by holding both hands, fingers extended, at arms length clasping them together so that a marble-size "hole" is formed where the base of both thumbs come together. Sight on a prominent object (like a door knob) through the hole. Now bring your hands slowly to your eyes, staying strictly focused on the object. The eye that is peering through the hole when your hands touch your face is your lead eye.
If that eye is on the other side from your lead hand, you are in luck. Shooting from both shoulders will be easy once you get past the initial awkwardness.
It is so nice to be able to bag that gobbler with confidence when he comes up on your off side. But the real benefit is in the dove field on those days when it takes two or three boxes of shells to get your limit, or on the skeet or trap range. Giving half the punishment to each shoulder sure beats taking it all on top of one big purple bruise.
And, as I have experienced several times while shooting during meetings of gun industry representatives and outdoor writers, breaking a thrown clay target right handed and switching left to break the next one can impress your peers and precipitate envious questions.
A dove field is the ideal place to become an either-side shooter because you are shooting a lot and repetition is the key to making the switch. Commit to getting past the first ungraceful shots, and you may find an exciting and useful new skill.