This is a great question and, while we can provide some basic tips, the answer only comes by knowing your equipment and practice, practice, practice. There are many variables that impact how far to lead a flying duck, but these factors can be broken down into a few basic categories: speed of the target, distance of the target, and your shotgun/ammo set-up.

Speed of the target – this only comes from experience in the field. Different species of ducks have different flight characteristics and flight speeds. A mallard duck casually gliding over your spread for a closer look may only require a lead of 18” off the tip of its bill. A speedy greenwing teal buzzing your spread will require a greater lead, more like 30-36”. A high-flying goose that isn’t working your set-up but is low enough for a shot will require a long lead, as much as four feet. The key to leading a flying target is follow-through. There’s an old saying that goes “butt, body, beak, boom!”, meaning that you acquire the target by moving through its body, continuing your swing out in front of the duck, and continue the motion as you squeeze the trigger. If you stop the motion of your barrel as you pull the trigger, you’ve just eliminated your lead. Keep that barrel moving through the shot until you see the duck fall. Doing so also keeps you in position in case a second shot is needed.

Distance of the target – it goes without saying that the farther you are from the target, the longer it takes the shot to reach the duck. The same rules of target speed above still apply, but you also have to consider how close you are to the ducks. Ducks back-flapping and falling into your spread require basically no lead. Ducks passing at 35 yards require about 50% more lead than ducks at 20 yards. This is all relative to your own set-up and equipment, but the principle is sound. The farther the shot, the greater you lead the target.

Shotgun/Ammo set-up – you can’t predict what the ducks are going to do, but one thing you should know intimately is the pattern and capabilities of your shotgun and ammo. One great tip that a friend at Rio Ammunition suggested to me is that you should always try to use ammo with a consistent speed. Whether you are practicing at the skeet range, shooting dove, or duck hunting, look at the “feet per second” rating for your ammo and try to keep it consistent across all the types of loads you use, from low-brass target loads to lead dove loads and even the various non-toxic waterfowl loads you use. What good is it to practice at the skeet range and get comfortable with leading the targets if you switch to a faster/slower ammo for hunting? For me it is 1300 fps. No particular reason other than I can consistently find target loads, dove loads, and non-toxic waterfowl loads that are all in the 1300 fps range, understanding that a variance of +/- 25 fps is acceptable.

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