Goin’ southpaw

It seems every turkey hunter has a story about a tom avoiding a 12-gauge smackdown because the bird came in on "the wrong side."

If you're a right-handed shooter, the wrong side is your right side. When seated, taking aim at a turkey directly off your right shoulder is impossible - unless you have the ability to shoot left-handed.

I've been lucky, having lost only one opportunity for a shot when a gobbler drifted too far to my right.

I knew which direction the bird was coming from and should have scooched 90 degrees around the tree to get in better position. Instead, I propped the gun on my knee, pointed it straight ahead and simply waited. I guess I was hoping I could just sort of will the bird to walk into my line of sight.

Of course, I was wrong, and by the time I knew it he was so close I couldn't turn for fear of getting busted.

I let the bird pass by at 20 yards, then clumsily rolled to my right and tried to get up to one knee so I could shoot him going away. No dice. I doubt he even broke a sweat getting out of run range while I flopped around in the leaves like an offensive guard with a torn hamstring.

Back at camp, I told my tale of woe to Gary Clancy.

"Why didn't you just shoot left-handed after he got past you?" he asked.

To Clancy, the question was almost rhetorical, as if switch-shooting was as natural as breathing. And to him, it was. Clancy's dad insisted his son learn how to shoot left-handed as a youngster.

Ironically, he had just published a magazine article based on a Vietnam experience in which the ability to shoot southpaw saved his life. (Another Clancy article, "His Name was Pete," ran in the Winter 2008 T&TH.)

While shooting left-handed would never be a matter of life or death for me in the turkey woods, Clancy did remind me that it was a skill worth learning.

Teaching Yourself

My failed chance at that gobbler took place in 2005. I immediately vowed to take Clancy's advice and learn to shoot left-handed ... and then I procrastinated. Finally, just a couple months ago, I lugged a bunch of hardware to the range specifically to experiment with shooting southpaw.

Because most of us shoot right-handed, I'll talk from that point of view, but if you shoot left-handed, obviously the same concepts apply.

Shooting from your non-dominant side means you are aiming with your non-dominant eye - unless you are cross-dominant (i.e. a right-handed shooter who is left-eye dominant), but that's another topic for another time.

What I thought I knew but had to prove to myself was that if I shouldered my gun on the left, closed my right eye and aimed through a set of rifle-type sights, I could in fact hit what I was aiming at using my left eye.

However, trying to do this with both eyes open was nearly impossible because I'm right-eye dominant and couldn't force my left eye to look through the sights properly.

The first few shots from my left side were not pleasant. No matter how hard I tried to use proper form, it seemed my gun was never settled into that comfortable dent in my shoulder and I couldn't confidently snug my cheek down to the stock.

I was shooting light loads through a 20-gauge Thompson/Center Encore. Like any lightweight gun without recoil-dampening compensation, the T/C delivers a pretty good punch to your face and/or shoulder when not held properly. But I kept on shooting from 15 yards at dots on a large piece of cardboard.

I was amazed to find that after a dozen or so shells, I was already getting the hang of it.

When you go to the range to train yourself, I suggest taking the first several shots with light loads from the standing position. It's just easier. When you are comfortable with holding the gun wrong-sided and looking through the sights becomes more natural, you can then take a seat and practice shooting at targets placed at various angles to your position.

Easier Solution

It's even easier to train yourself to shoot left-handed if you use a red-dot scope. You don't have to worry about aligning the front and rear sights; just place the dot where you want to hit and pull the trigger.

Still, you need to practice the mechanics of shouldering and cheeking the gun on your wrong side.

My southpaw experiment was a perfect excuse to try the new Vortex Strike Fire sight. This 30mm red-dot sight features a 4 MOA dot size (about perfect for turkey hunting) and 10 brightness settings. It also allows you to switch between a red or green dot in an instant, a feature I'd never encountered on a dot sight.

The on/off control, dot color and brightness settings are controlled via rubberized buttons on the left side. All in all, it is a very hunter-friendly design.

I mounted the Strike Fire on a Mossberg 935 and sighted in while shooting right-handed. Once the gun was hitting where it was supposed to, I switched to shooting left-handed at my 15-yard targets with trap loads. Hitting was easy, partly because my earlier practice with the 20 gauge had improved my coordination.

After getting comfortable with the new setup, I had one more thing to try. I loaded up with a 3-inch

Winchester Hi-Velocity No. 5 shell and fired at a 40-yard gobbler target. Magnum turkey loads can be unpleasant to shoot, but shooting them from your wrong shoulder is no fun at all. I pity the hunter who tries this stunt in the turkey woods without practicing first.

I've heard every horror story: a thumb driven into the nose, getting "scoped" over the eye, buttstock tattoo on the shoulder bone ...

Shooting magnum loads from your non-dominant side without hurting yourself requires some practice, but it can be done.

"Ambidextrous" Guns

While I'm on the subject of shooting left-handed, I should mention the value of owning a truly ambidextrous shotgun. Whether you shoot left-handed yourself or you're trying to teach a left-handed person how to shoot, these models' safeties and ejection styles don't play favorites with righties or lefties.

T/C Encore

- This single-shot is available with a 24-inch, rifle-sighted, smoothbore barrel in 12 or 20 gauge. The gun is cocked via a traditional hammer, so there's no right- or left-handed safety to deal with.

Knight KP1

- The frame of this single-shot "utility gun" from Knight Rifles handles multiple barrels, including a 24-inch, smoothbore 12 gauge. Like the T/C, it's a break-open hammer gun.

Browning BPS

- There are various turkey-appropriate versions of this excellent pump-action gun available. The safety is tang-mounted and shells eject from the bottom, making it the ultimate ambidextrous repeating turkey gun.