Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"The Art of Sport Clay"

“A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition.”
Rudyard Kipling

A wee week ago or two my husband had a hankering to go shooting; sport clays that is. He invited me to go along and give the sport a try. I had been shooting with him once before and had the unique opportunity to shoot such fine hardware as a WWI Springfield, WWII M1, and special ops guns as a Stehyr Aug, M1, AR15, and a mini M14. My favorite was the Springfield, in case you were wondering, though I am old fashioned by nature so that would be my obvious gravitation. All in all, I was a pretty good shot for a beginner. I found the experience surreal as I had only seen this sort of sport dramatized on film. Not every day you get to go shooting, never mind shooting such a variety of rifles, and shooting with a former Ranger, special ops guy (that’s my husband who would like to jokingly be referred to as Magnum in my blogs or he’ll have to, well you know the saying…)! Shooting was fun once you got the hang of it and I learned that the power behind a gun is not to be taken for granted.

So when Magnum asked if I would like to try sport clays he did not have to twist my arm. However, in an attempt to appeal to my elitist, princess wanna be snobbery that I pretend to own, he went to great lengths to glamourize the outing. “Oh, you know sport clay is a royal sport, that’s what they do on Downton Abbey. This is the sport for the upper class; this is a very refined activity, like fox hunting or croquet. Nothing like a day amongst nature, taking in the fresh air, the birds, a crisp fall day, and then retiring to the lodge with a cigar and brandy. This is a very sophisticated sport. I think you will really like it.”

I didn’t need the sales pitch; I was on board the second he asked me to go. First of all, any opportunity I get to spend with Magnum is a good time; secondly I love the outdoors; and third sport clays is the sport of royalty and I am a princess (see my blog “Princess Dumpster Diver”).

We packed up our car with vests, bullets, a Remington and a Stoeger, and headed to the fields. I was dressed somewhat rugged, wearing my Troxler riding wellies from my mock fox hunting days, some army green comfy pants, a fanny pack of bullets wrapped around my waist, and my hair in a pig tail reading to shoot, my royal garb of blazers and tweed saved for another day.

We arrived at the shooting course out in the North Carolina country. There was indeed a lodge but no one was smoking cigars and sipping brandy; Picture more Duck Dynasty versus Downton Abbey. The bathroom was clean though. We filled out release slips, were briefed on safety (with the number one rule of importance: never point your gun at anyone. Duh!) met our guides and headed out with our guns.

Before we started the course we warmed up on the wobble trap. A wobble trap is a deck that sits about fifteen feet off the ground and is about 5 feet deep by 20 feet wide. The trap, overlooking a field and some woods, is meant to simulate the actual course enabling the shooter to practice targeting the clays.

To paint the picture, the process of the wobble practice goes something like this: Peering out into the woods, you load your gun with two shells, remove the safety, and give the signal for the guides to release the clay “Pull!” A clay disc comes floating from the side, gliding gracefully towards the trees, a steady yet firm hold, eye on the target, pull the trigger and shoot the clay.

“Hey honey, want to go first?” asks Magnum.

“Sure.” I said. After all I was now an experienced shooter after having gone shooting once before. Why not dive in and give it a go. Of course I had never shot a shot gun but how different could it be?

I loaded two shells from my fanny pocket, removed the safety, gave the signal to release the clay, “Pull!” keeping my eye on the target and pulled the trigger.

The kick force from the gun sent me two feet back, spun me around, causing my shoulder to take such a hit I felt as though I had been shot. With a numbing pain running down my arm, slightly in shock from the force, I dropped the gun to grab my arm and in the process, pointed the weapon at my husband. Everyone yelled, “Whoa, drop the gun.” which I proceeded to do but I dropped it right where I was standing and to a degree that the gun was still aiming at Magnum. The force from my dropping the gun on the ground could have triggered the gun to shoot the remaining bullet but fortunately it did not. I quickly came to my senses as I gently placed the gun in the holding bar. Phew, everyone was safe!

I began to tremble, my arm aching and numb. I drew back from the wobble and cussed and said, “I’m done!” I worked to hold back tears as I felt so silly to think I would be cut out for this sport, even worse, that I had almost shot my husband. The man survived a few wars and his wife almost took him down. I took the power of the gun for granted and fired with too much confidence.

Still in pain and shock, I stood back and voluntarily became a spectator as Magnum took the podium. Using the gun I had just shot, the second bullet still remaining, safety off, clay gliding, he aimed and shot. Magnum jumped back a little from the kick. He scratched his head and thought something wasn’t right. The guides also noticed something wasn’t right. The gun shouldn’t have this big a kick. So Magnum and the two guides took a closer look at what was loaded and realized we were shooting turkey shells left over from Magnum’s recent outing of turkey hunting.

Now turkey hunting is another story all together, one I will share when I get the opportunity to go a hunting for turkeys. I have learned though that turkeys are big and mean and require bigger shells. Bigger shells, especially shot from a gun that is not meant to hold bigger shells, packs a big kick. Interpretation, no wonder the gun kicked so much! I was given the wrong shot gun shells and anyone would have encountered the same scenario, pro or novice alike.

Once we all recovered from the shock of the shells, we all had a good laugh and proceeded to the clay course. I felt relieved that I wasn’t as much of a novice as the turkey shells proclaimed and was looking forward to giving the course a try. Shot guns still pack a kick but I was given a vest with more padding and I learned to position the gun a little better to absorb some of the force.

We headed out to the course which is kind of like playing golf. There are stations. After a few stations I began to relax a little more, which apparently is the key to hitting targets. Our guides got a kick, pun of course intended, at my aiming and how close I came on a few occasions. Towards the end I was looking like a pro and I felt like one too.

I didn’t fumble when loading and I didn’t hesitate when shooting. However, I also didn’t hit any clays either. Didn’t matter, I was having fun, enjoying the fresh air, the stroll along the paths, the trees, the cool crisp autumn day, and the time I spent with my husband. I marveled at his accuracy of aim, envisioned him in battle with pride and admiration for the hero he is.

We rounded the corner towards the very last station. If I could have crafted the ending to this story with complete poetic license I could not have crafted it any better. I took my stance, loaded, locked, removed the safety and hollered “Pull!” I was relaxed, took my time as the clay came soaring thirty feet in front of me, gliding gracefully like a bird into the crisp, blue sky. I took my last aim, shot and I hit that clay dead on, shattering it to pieces. What a rush! I screamed and hollered  while everyone around laughed and cheered and agreed this was the way to end the day.

And to think I almost quit earlier that day. Sometimes things get off to a bad, really bad start but if no one gets hurt, or shot, let the show go on, don’t ever quit or you never know what targets you can hit. You may miss that one opportunity for a big break, reaching a bulls eye, or simply just spending a day stopping to smell the roses, allowing life to slow a little amidst the simple pleasures that are always abound.

Boy I had a cherry on my shoulder at the end of the day; my badge of honor. I enjoyed watching it change colors throughout the week and recounting my story to others. Magnum’s birthday is right around the corner and I am planning to get him a membership to the sport clay club, which is actually quite affordable for a royal sport. There we can spend our days like Dukes and Earls and Ladies, shooting clays and then retiring to the lodge by the fire with a cigar and brandy.