Is there anything in the wingshooting world that triggers a greater adrenaline rush than having a covey of 20 quail erupt in your face? Certainly not. Yet while the rush of this experience is thrilling, it can cause a shooter to come unglued and start missing. Simply put: Covey shooting isn’t easy, which is why many shooters wish they could do it better.
Doug Coe is the owner of Pine Hill Plantation, a Georgia-based lodge that specializes in wagon hunts for big coveys of wild-flying bobwhites. As such, Coe has come to know a thing or two about keeping one’s cool in the face of the flush. He was happy to share some tips with those seeking to master the game . . . .
Poise: The first step is to keep your cool—admittedly hard to do amidst total pandemonium. Shooting coveys requires a high level of “executive functioning,” which is impossible to achieve if you come unglued. When anticipating the flush, breathe, relax and trust your instincts.
Time: The birds will be out of range a few seconds after the rise, so the shooter has to think and move quickly. That said, there is usually more time than it seems. Quail are fast, but human reflexes are faster, and the shooter usually has about a half-second extra to make the shot. Use this time to position your feet properly, mount the gun cleanly and execute the shot in a smooth, deliberate manner.
Shooting Form: The bomb-blast effect of a large covey rise often can prompt a spastic response that causes the shooter to abandon the proper form necessary to make the shot. To avoid this, one must remain aware of the aforementioned elements of poise and time. Then it is simply a matter of executing the correct shot sequence in which the eyes acquire the target, the body is positioned properly, the gun is mounted completely, the barrels are swung smoothly, the trigger is pulled (without the head being lifted from the stock!) and the swing is properly followed through.
One Bird: The shooter must resist the natural urge to “flock shoot” and instead pick a single bird that is on a “hittable” flight path and mentally block out the remaining birds. As your conscious is focusing on the first bird, your subconscious is accessing info from your peripheral vision to devise a plan for a possible second bird. As soon as the first bird is hit, your brain will instantly switch to the second.
Repetition: As Doug likes to say, “Shooting the explosive covey rise is about half shotgun skill and half knowing what to expect and not being behind a pine tree when the covey gets up.” As shooters’ covey-rise experiences progress, their brains log information from each rise, and that data (the looks in the pointing dogs’ eyes, the obstacles the quail fly behind, the flight angles, the wing speeds, the timing . . .) helps develop a sense of how things might unfold the next time—which improves success ratios.
Fun: Always remember that you are quail hunting to have fun with the people you are with. Shake off the initial misses, remain positive, keep at it and soon you’ll get into the swing of things. Remember that when a covey gets up, it is you versus Mother Nature—and she is going to win her fair share of the contests. Sure it is awesome when you shoot a pair of birds off the rise . . . but it can be almost as much fun to see a covey get up wild and fly into a thicket where you know they are going to be again next season!