Joy of Hunting
If you’re shooting off your left shoulder, make that your right arm. Let’s call it the “forend arm” as it’s the one that sits way out from your body supporting the gun, as opposed to the one that pulls the trigger. Usually, but not always, this is your weaker arm – it definitely is in my case.
One way to strengthen both arms is to practice gun mounts – a good exercise in itself, needed to achieve good form. But there are also good reasons for working just your forend arm. It needs to be stronger, for starters, since it bears most of the weight of your gun at an awkward angle (like a broomstick).
The other reason is to get it used to working for you as an equal partner! I am so right-hand dominant that my left arm just follows along behind, so when it has to lead, the right arm just wants to take over. If this happens with a gun mount, guess what happens? The barrels tip downwards and you look like you’re tracing the mark of Zorro as you lift the gun to your cheek. Our nifty pheasant only needs a millisecond to get up speed and out of range, time that you have wasted in a poor mount. Whereas, if you get used to exercising your left arm by itself, you train it to be conscious, play its part, and act in concert with the right arm. The poor pheasant doesn’t have a chance with your smooth mount led by your forend hand.
You can do a couple of exercises very easily, with a small dumbbell, that will achieve this strength. I’m using a 5lb one but I’ll soon be up to 8lb, or you can start with 3lbs (or a can of tomatoes).
Ex. 1: Cup the dumbbell in the palm of your forend hand, palm facing ceiling, as if you were supporting your gun. Swing your hand in an arc outward from your body and up (push up first, then out), to about eye level, as though you had to reach over a very large beach ball in front of you. Drop your hand back to rest and repeat a bunch of times.
Ex. 2: Hold the dumbbell cupped in your forend hand, as before, and swing out from your body sideways over the beach ball, moving from the waist, tracing an imaginary circle in the air (it’s more like an egg-shape), slowly, as if pointing to a crossing bird. Keep your hand moving. Keep going till you get tired. Then do an equal number in the other direction (maybe before you get too tired….).
Refinement: If you know what the ready position is, assume it as you do these exercises.
Once you’re done, reward your right hand for being patient by hefting a nice glass of wine or a beer!
While you’re resting, ponder this. You might say, “Well, I’ll never have to lift an 8 lb gun – I’ll just get a light gun or a smaller gauge”. I thought that. My gun of choice was a light, 12 ga Ethos, until I fell in love with a true sporting gun, beautifully balanced and a pound-and-a-half heavier than I was used to. My thinking is, shoot the biggest gun you can – as long as it fits you – so you can have the best ratio between fire power and recoil reduction, and a smoother swing. Shoot a 12 gauge if you can manage it – and don’t let lack of strength in your forend arm defeat you on this.
You may still want a smaller gun for hunting quail or doves (you can never have too many guns), but if you plan to hunt waterfowl, seriously consider beefing yourself up to match the ideal gun rather than trade down for want of some arm muscles.
Afterthought: if this reduces “bra overhang” do the other arm as well!
Here’s a 2-minute video so you can see the exercise demonstrated: