The coyote had me locked in a staring contest. One of us had to make a move. I yelled “Hey!” as loudly as I could. He ducked his head into the tall grass, picked up the fawn and bolted into the woods. I won this round of woman vs. nature. But would I win the next?
Lions, Tigers and Bears? Not Exactly, But…
When we moved from our densely populated suburban home to a mountaintop retreat, I did worry about safety. The location feels isolated, although we have neighbors within sight, separated by approximately a 1/2 acre.
Most of the time, it feels like we’re living in an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. We have deer, red foxes, wild turkeys and gorgeous songbirds. And, Mr. Coyote, who didn’t really want to eat me for dinner. He was just afraid I was going to get between him and the baby deer he’d killed.
Watching nature in action is compelling, revolting and slightly terrifying.
My husband: “We should get a gun.”
Me: “I hate guns.”
If I could blink them out of existence tomorrow, I Dream of Jeannie-style, I would.
But I understand that responsible gun owners exist who deserve to keep their weapons for protection and sport. I’m happy to call several of them friends.
Shooting Sporting Clays in the Hudson Valley
To try to gain a better understanding of shooting for sport, I headed off to Mid-Hudson Sporting Clays in New Paltz, NY. Operating since the 1940’s, this shooting range is spread out over 140 acres and offers newbies like me an “Intro to Sporting Clays” class. This course is required for all first-time shooters and advance reservations are suggested.
Hubby volunteered, enthusiastically, to accompany me on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The range was busy, but not crowded, with a mix of veteran shooters and neophytes. We checked in at the clubhouse which I later learned was an original Sears kit home. The clubhouse has restrooms, snacks and water for purchase and a small shotgun dealership.
Our instructor for the day was the facility manager, Steve Meyen. He introduced himself and our equipment: safety glasses, ear plugs and two shotguns – a traditional break-action or over-under shotgun and a semi-automatic.
Steve must have seen panic wash over my face when he said semi-automatic. He carefully explained that the over-under requires you to manually remove the spent shells. The semi-automatic expels them. Its chamber holds 5 rounds of ammo but we’d only be loading two.
He also showed us the proper way to carry our unloaded guns and then we piled into a golf cart and headed out on the course.
Golf With a Gun
I stopped ducking every time I heard a shot by the time we arrived at our first station. Picture a larger version of a kid’s lemonade stand. Steve suggested we try the semi-automatic shotgun first, since it has less recoil. That’s the backwards motion of the gun into your shoulder after you fire. Note: We went shooting on Saturday. By Tuesday, I had some small bruises on my slightly sore shoulder.
We put on our safety glasses and inserted our earplugs and approached the stand. Steve pointed out the different traps. Marked “A”, “B” and “C”, these are the mechanisms that fire the clay pigeons into the sky. Each of the traps has a different trajectory and are released by pushing a button on a remote control. The traps are exposed at Mid-Hudson Sporting Clays. At other skeet fields, they may be hidden in a trap house.
Ladies first. Steve joked that a round of sporting clays is referred to as golf with a gun in that you move from stand to stand and aim for a target. As I took a deep breath, I hoped my shots with the gun would be significantly better than my previous efforts with a 5-iron.
Steve loaded 12-gauge shells into the shotgun. He advised me to point, not aim at the target, which he’d release when I said “Pull!” I raised the shotgun up, took a deep breath and … WHAAAP! I blew the clay pigeon to smithereens.
I missed the next few and then started listening to Steve’s advice. Follow the target. Don’t jerk the gun. And I started hitting them again.
Then it was my husband’s turn. Apparently, in another life he was an assassin. Wham! Blam! Thank you, ma’am! Then Steve showed us his pro skills and knocked out two clay targets with one shell!
We continued moving to different stations, alternating between the two 12-gauge shotguns and practicing our shooting techniques. Steve explained the different target shooting competitions: trapshooting, sporting clays and skeet shooting. His wife is a ranked FITASC competitor, another variation on clay shooting.
Our final stand was in front of the clubhouse and included a trap that sends a rolling pigeon across the skeet field to simulate the movement of a rabbit. I missed the first few and then I channeled my inner Elmer Fudd and blew that wabbit off the ground!
I still wish we lived in a world without guns, but the experience gave me a better understanding of the sportsman’s point of view.
411 North Ohioville Road New Paltz, NY
Hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mondays & Wednesdays-Sundays Closed: Tuesdays
“Intro to Sporting Clays” Package:
2 boxes of ammo (50 rounds)
ear & eye protection
45 minutes of shooting instruction