The end of September in Vermont brings Grouse season and the boys are coming by Ptarmigan to report on their pre-season runs through their favorite coverts. Common practice is to get an idea what the birds are preferring and to prep the dogs before opening day. When asked how the puppy did last season the typical answer would be, with proud exclamation, “fantastic! I only wish I could have been just as good with my shooting”. Being a veteran wing shooting coach, and always one for job security, I suggest I could help. Again the typical answer would be “oh I know what I’m doing wrong. I’m peeking. I just have to make myself stop peeking.”
“Peeking” is an expression used by wing shooters for lifting the head and looking high over the gun just before shooting. As the eye raises over the breach of the gun the muzzle subconsciously follows. This creates a gun that is pointing higher than the eye is looking. Although the movement might be slight, over distance it can be greatly exaggerated. A lift of less than one half inch will result in a miss of several feet high as the line of sight and line of bore intersect and move farther away from each other down range. The reason why it is difficult to stop lifting the head is because “peeking” is usually a symptom and not the actual problem.
Peeking is generally a subconscious reaction created by a mistake made earlier in the gun mount sequence. By far the most common reason for peeking is the need to acquire or reacquire the bird after the gun mount. It is considerably more difficult to get a good visual on the target when you have the distraction of gun barrels. The head lifts involuntarily to better see the bird over the obstacle. The best way to eliminate the distraction is to understand priorities and change the gun mount sequence.
Most self taught wing shooters base their methodology on the simple fact that birds move like screaming demons and nothing good will get done unless the gun mount is made as quickly as possible. The sequence this creates puts priority one at the end; snap gun mount, chase, attempt to clearly acquire target. This is when peeking occurs. Priority is target acquirement. Even a baseball batter with perfect technique has to see the ball with extreme clarity before he swings.
To change from mount, chase and pray to move, mount and shoot requires changing order of priorities. First is visual, the bird has to be seen with as much clarity as possible. Second is forehand, it is a sense of holding the forend like a flashlight and maintaining a beam on the bird while keeping visual contact. Last is the gun mount hand, which follows the lead off the forehand and slides to the cheek. All the while the forehand is flash lighting and the gun mount hand is sliding, the eyes are counting the pinfeathers on the birds head. This is body and gun movement efficiency.
There are a few other possibilities that could create a “peeking” issue including improper gun fit. This is best to be analyzed and corrected by a reputable gun fitter. That’s right, it may not be your fault. But remember as you try to explain the miss to your pup, who just performed flawlessly, that he only understands hard and soft single syllable commands and that’s why he is looking at you with a cockeyed head.