SEATTLE - You can virtually hear the shotgun-shell manufacturers of the world rubbing their hands together in glee this week as hunters prepare for early September's traditional dove opener. You know it, I know it, and everybody with a 20 gauge and a grain field from San Diego to Seattle to San Antonio to Sarasota knows it: we're going to burn through massive amounts of shells over the next few weeks, fellow members of Shotgun Nation.
That may or may not apply to Olympic medalist and World Cup champion trap shooter Corey Cogdell.
Although she's admitted to a little bit of frustration during a dove hunt, the difference is that a "frustrating" shoot in the world of an Olympian is when it takes 18 shots to bag a 15-bird limit instead of 17. While many of us will arrive at our appointed fields on opening day with a half-rack of 7 ½ shot, Cogdell will saunter onto a sunflower plot near San Antonio, Texas for a Cabela's corporate dove hunt carrying a couple of boxes of dove loads to run through her Krieghoff K80.
Cogdell, though, is nothing if not generous with advice on how to improve your shotgun skills. Fresh back from the London Olympics (she finished sixth in trap this year) and training for the next World Cup, she's into a sidelight career as a shooting coach and "shot doctor". Cogdell has only been hunting doves since 2006, when she moved from her tiny hometown of Eagle, Alaska to Colorado to train, but the challenge of hitting a 6-ounce bird that's capable of 60-mile-per-hour acrobatics appealed to her sense of competition immediately, and is one of her favorite hunts of the year.
Here are some of Corey C.'s tips on how to be a better dove gunner this season:
TAKE IT TO THE FIELD … THE SKEET FIELD, THAT IS
Corey says: "You really should shoot a little bit before your first hunt, and skeet is probably one of the most realistic simulations of dove hunting – most of the time you're not taking flushing shots like at a pheasant, but you're getting a lot of crossing targets and birds coming from behind you over your head, or straight incoming. You can simulate all of those shots really well on a skeet field."
BUT PRACTICE SMARTLY
Corey says: "If you're out on the skeet field, you'll want to try to simulate conditions you'd expect out in the dove field. For instance, a lot of time when you're hunting doves, you don't have a lot of time to see your target, mount your gun and wait for the bird, so I recommend practicing with the gun at your hip. Force yourself to mount your gun while you're picking up your target, just like you would on a hunt. And have your buddies throw a target without telling you it's coming – you don't call for the bird, it just comes. That forces you to react just like you would when a dove comes whipping in at 60 mph. Also, a lot of people shoot from a stool. If that's how you shoot, bring your shooting stool out there on the skeet field and practice shooting while seated."
ON THE SUBJECT OF SHOOTING WHILE SEATED
Corey says: "Our bodies are made to function in a certain way, so if you take away your ability to push with your knees and to generate power or movement from your legs, you're handicapping yourself. You might be comfortable sitting on a stool, but you have to realize what it's going to do to your shot. Sitting versus standing, you're obviously going to slow your barrel speed because you don't have the power of your legs to help you. You have to use your arms and core more when you take your legs out of the equation, and although the sight picture may look right, your guns speed is almost always going to be slower. It's not that you can't shoot well while sitting, but you have to be more in tune with your body and make adjustments to it."
ON COMMON MISTAKES SHOOTERS MAKE
Corey Says: "The biggest common mistake is that lots of hunters go out and shoot doves, but they've been shooting rifles so they're used to looking at the sight. That's a major difference: you don't want to look at the sight. Especially something that flies as fast as a dove, you want to keep your eyes glued to the target, trusting that the barrel is going to be in your peripheral vision, but you're not actively looking at it. People will make a really nice move, have the right lead, and at the last second they'll check their sight and drop their gun. They'll start off right, and at the end of the shot, the gun dips down and the follow-through is off. Also, when you get to the process of mounting the gun, you want to think about not just mounting it straight up, but toward where the target is going. If you're shooting left to right, you don't want to mount it straight up, and then straight across to the right like you're building a box. You want to mount it in more of a straight line from point A to point be, which is where the bird is headed."
ACCOUNTING FOR A 60-mph TARGET
Corey says: "Our bodies and brains are amazing in that they can do all these calculations in a split second when we're shooting. The goal when you're hunting any kind of flying game is to match the speed of the target and then increase your gun speed by 1 mph faster. As you pull through the front edge of the bird and pull the trigger, it's really important to maintain that gun speed. If I'm shooting a dove that's going 60 mph, my gun speed has to be 61, but I have to maintain that speed all the way through the process. Anytime you're trying to speed up your normal routine, you're definitely going to suffer. People will get stuck worrying about their speed, but it's just as important to continue to take your time, go through your routine, get your gun in the right position and your face on the stock cleanly. You're better off shooting a bird that's 10 to 15 yards farther away and making a good shot than trying to rush it and take a bad shot that's 10 to 15 yards closer."
ON GOING IN THE TANK (AND GETTING YOURSELF OUT)
Corey says: "It's funny to think about hunting having a mental game, but as someone who shoots competitively and takes that approach into hunting, I think the mental game plays into it. Confidence is important. You have to have a positive mindset that you're going to have fun, you're going to make some really good shots, and you're going to have an enjoyable experience. You may think 'Oh, man, I haven't practiced and I'm going to suck,' but you have to overcome that. Guys get out there and start pissing and moaning about not hitting anything, and it's not fun for anyone. Use it as a challenge, and a chance to improve. If things go bad, think back to the things you could work on. Can you change your mount? Are you looking at the head or tail of the bird? Are you keeping your eyes on the target all the way through the shot? You get tight because you want your shots to count, but sometimes it just doesn't happen like you want it to. That doesn't mean you can't fix it."
THE MOST DIFFICULT DOVE SHOT IS …
Corey says: "For me, the most difficult shot is a long crossing shot, or a dove that whizzes right overhead, coming from behind me. The straight going-away shot, it's hard to determine the speed because you just don't have the angle to gauge it. It's easy to miscalculate that shot. The long crossing shot is probably the more difficult for most people, though. That's one that the whole 'match the speed of the target with your gun barrel' doesn't always apply. There are so many other factors that plan into that shot: What kind of ammo are you shooting, is it 50 or 60 yards out, etc.? You have to give that a lot more lead than you would normally feel like you need to, and that's difficult for most people."
ON THE CORRECT GUN AND GEAR
Corey says: "Having a gun that fits you is the most important thing I can stress. If you're a more petite person, a lot of standard shotguns are going to be more difficult to mount because they're too long. Guys will take their kids, girlfriends or wives and have them shoot their gun, but it's clumsy because the gun doesn't fit at all. If you can find a gun that fits your body frame, you'll be much more comfortable and you'll shoot better."
Corey says: "Everybody loves dove poppers: breast stuffed with jalapenos and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon. Lately, though, I've been taking both doves and pheasant, chopping the meat and sautéing it with garlic, mushrooms, olive oil, some fresh thyme, basil or terragon, and using it in a cream sauce over mashed potatoes. It's a really hearty fall dish, almost like a gravy. I'll make a roux and add some cream and extra butter, and then fold in the dove and mushroom mix. It's awesome over mashed potatoes that have been flavored with a little horseradish and garlic for a little extra zing."
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