Missouri Offers CONSEP Class for Hunters

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"Pull!" called 12-year-old Jared Rackers, and a 4-inch clay disk rocketed out of a clump of trees. The youngster from Jefferson City tracked the orange target with his shotgun and pulled the trigger. His 20 gauge barked, but the target sailed on untouched.

"You were in front of that one," said Outdoor Skills Specialist Ben Schlader. "You waited a little too long."

Schlader handed another shell to the youngster, who reloaded his gun and called for another target.

Bam! Another target sailed off without damage.

"You were off this much," Schlader said, using thumb and forefinger to illustrate the narrowness of the miss. "The next one’s going to break."

"Pull!" called Rackers, and another target scooted into the opening, then disintegrated at the shotgun's report.

"Great!" Schlader praised. "You hit that one on the back end. You need to give it just a little more lead. You're doing awesome."

Rackers and his father, Vince, were among 11 hunters who took the Effective Wingshooting, the CONSEP Way, a course offered by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Jared was allowed into what normally is an adult training course because he was an experienced shooter and the class was not full.

The weekend event started with a two-hour classroom introduction to the subject at Runge Conservation Nature Center Aug. 22 and culminated in an all-day hands-on workshop offered Aug. 23 or 24. The purpose, said Schlader, is to give participants the skills they need to be more skillful, more ethical hunters.

"Wingshooting is a complex skill that can be tricky to learn," said Schlader. "Until you master it, you miss a lot of shots, which is frustrating. Even worse is the possibility of wounding birds that you can't recover. Doing your best to be sure you recover every bird is an important part of ethical hunting. This training helps people be the best, most ethical hunters they can be."

Missouri's Effective Wingshooting program is part of the Cooperative North American Shooting Education Program (CONSEP). What began as a continental program has spread to several countries and continents. Wherever they are offered, CONSEP classes focus on three fundamentals of effective, ethical hunting – equipment and ammunition selection, shooting skills and accurate distance estimation.

"Hunters today have a mind-boggling number of choices of firearms and ammunition," said Schlader. "Marketing hype complicates the choices even more. We try to demystify the process with factual, accurate information."

He said CONSEP is based on decades of scientific research, including taking thousands of game birds under strictly controlled conditions and then conducting necropsies to determine exactly how far different types of shot penetrate different species at various ranges.

That information allows hunters to select shotguns and shells capable of producing quick, clean kills. Each CONSEP participant receives a data sheet with all the information needed to select the right combination of gun and shells.

The hands-on portion of the Effective Wing-shooting course begins with an assessment of participants shooting skills. Each participant shoots at eight clay targets thrown to simulate the flight of a mallard passing at 20 yards. CONSEP research showed this is the most common shot waterfowl hunters face. Schlader said most CONSEP participants are surprised to learn that they cannot make this shot reliably.

"The standard we want to achieve is to break six out of eight targets. With a group of 20 shooters, usually fewer than three do it at 20 yards."

"Don't worry about these targets," he said. "Don't let them get in your head. We don't care about targets. They're just clay birds. What's important is being prepared when you are in the field shooting at wild birds. You want to be a responsible, efficient hunter. If you keep your head in the game and practice and practice and practice, I promise that you will be able to break three-quarters of the targets at 20 yards. Most of you will do it at 30 yards."

Besides target shooting, CONSEP participants get the chance to test how their shotguns perform with different ammunition. They fire test shots at 4- by 4-foot sheets of paper to determine how far apart the pellets from different ammunition are at different distances from the gun. This "patterning" exercise is an important part of ensuring that all the elements are present for quick, clean kills.

Besides having adequate shooting ability and equipment, hunters must be able to estimate distance accurately to ensure they take only ethical shots. CONSEP training achieves this by teaching "subtending," comparing the hunter's gun barrel to birds of different sizes to gauge distance.

"Hunters are the original conservationists," said Schlader, "so we set high ethical standards for ourselves. CONSEP training helps us live up to those standards. The fact that it makes our hunting more satisfying and saves us money on ammunition is just icing on the cake."

Participants use their own shotguns in CONSEP workshops. The Conservation Department provides ammunition, but participants are encouraged to bring their own ammunition if they want to use it to pattern their guns.

More than 200 Missouri hunters have taken the CONSEP course. Upcoming workshops include:

  • --Sept. 26 and 27 at the 63 Gun Club, Macon. Registration deadline Sept. 25.
  • --Oct. 3 and 5 at the University of Central Missouri Shooting Range, Warrensburg. Registration deadline Oct. 1.
  • --Oct. 10 and 12 at Fountain Grove CA, southeast of Chillicothe. Registration deadline Oct. 8.

For more information, visit mdc.mo.gov/hunt/gamebird/wingshooting.htm.