The Globe outdoors columnist

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I find it hard to understand how a dog owner can let the dog lay on the couch for 11 months and then can’t understand why the dog gets so tired on opening day.

Dogs need conditioning, and so does the person with the gun. Hunters suffer the same issues of non-exercise in the off season. I try to start walking about a month ahead of the opener so at least I can hold my own with the rest of the group.

There are other aspects of conditioning that a hunter needs before the opener, and most hunters don’t get this important exercise done, either. This is to spend some time practicing their shooting skills. They hunt for 10 weeks in the fall and the gun goes in mothballs for the rest of the year.

Shotgunning is much like playing pool, in my opinion.  Being a great pool player is about keeping your senses sharp. Pool requires that you be able to make many different kinds of shots. Hunting requires the same ability.

This can take the form of shooting a few clay pigeons with a hand thrower with a few friends once or twice during the summer months.

There are actually three different more organized ways to practice your shooting skills. The first of those is to go to a range and shoot a round of trap.  A round is 25 shots.

Trap shooting is good practice.  There is a central machine located about 15 yards ahead of the shooting group.  They are placed in a half circle behind the thrower. Each person calls for a bird and the machine sends out one clay target. You shoot once, the next shooter shoots once and so on until each of the five shooters have fired one round.  

You shoot five times and then move a short distance. Each shooter will shoot five rounds from five different locations, all located just behind the thrower. All of the birds will be going away from the shooter at a slightly different angle depending on where you are standing. This shooting takes lots of concentration to excel at.

The second form of practice is to shoot a round of sporting clays.  A round here is 50 shots.

The setup is very different.  You move between stations that might be 40 yards apart.  Each shot is different. They may cross from left to right. They may cross right to left, and yet some other targets will come from a distance directly toward where you are standing.

The distances also vary.  Some shots are 20-yard shots and others are 40-yard shots. There are times when the machine will throw two targets at one time, requiring you to make two shots in very quick succession.  There are true pairs where two targets fly at the same time and report pairs where, when the sound of the shot is heard on the first bird, the second bird is then thrown. Report pairs are easier than true pairs, but both are harder than shooting singles.

Because the distance varies, this requires more or less lead and makes the targets harder to break.

Sporting clays is a very close simulation to actual hunting. Trap targets, on the other hand, are mostly going away from you originating from the same distance. There is a trap range at the Worthington Gun Club and a sporting clay range in Lakefield at the Horse Barn and Hunt Club.

There is yet a third method of practice, and this is called shooting skeet.  This I have never done because there are no skeet ranges close to Worthington.  

The activity includes clay targets thrown from a high house and a low house. Sometimes you get two thrown at each other and you have one shot to break them both when they cross paths in front of you. I would really like to try this sometime but will have to seek out a location to do so and then drive there to make it happen.

It is the responsibility of every ethical hunter to make good shots and make clean kills, which requires practice.  

I hear stories about pheasant hunters who shot six birds but only retrieved two of them.  This is because they were not dead when they hit the ground, and ran off.

A good dog is a great help in this situation, but I have a saying that a dead rooster does not run off. Practice your shooting skills now, as the seasons for many game animals open in the next six weeks. Condition your dog, condition yourself and condition your shooting eye to have a better season afield this fall.