- It’s a good idea before heading out – Discuss the obvious. At all times, treat the gun as if loaded.
- Go over the common rules – Embed them even if you know them. Assure to use the proper gauge and ammo type, check it twice.
- The shooter sequence – The shotgun shell goes into the gun ONLY when on a shooting station and you are to fire.
- A Problem? – If the gun does not fire, point the muzzle downrange and wait for a full 2-minutes.
By Forrest Fisher
When my 34-year old nephew, Jonathan Liebler, asked what I was doing the day of the baby shower party set for his beautiful wife, I had a solid answer. “I’m driving your Aunt to your moms’ house for the party, of course.” He replied, “Good, you know I found out that guys are not welcome at those events. I wanna invite you to check out the sporting clay club just down the road from there, are you in? Jeff (Jon’s brother) and I go there often. It’s such fun!” There was so much enthusiasm in his voice! I was blown away by his sheer energy and anticipation. How could I say anything else except, “OK, man, that sounds great!” I was pretty excited.
Jon went on to explain, “Most folks shoot the usual over-under style shotguns, but any shotgun that holds two rounds can be used. I can’t wait to try out my new Berretta 12 gauge I recently bought, I got it used at a local gun show. I patterned it, and I’m pretty pleased that it seems to shoot well. Jeff is bringing his Mossberg over-under 12, what do you have Unc?” I replied, “Well, I have my favorite Berretta 20, the black onyx model, and my old Ithaca over/under 12 from the 1960s that I gave to your cousin, my grandson, Collin. He likes that gun, he used it to shoot trap at his old high school trap team league. He got pretty good with that gun, they won the league 1st place trophy that year. You know Collin is with us down here in Florida now.” With excitement, Jon answered, “That’s great, let’s all go together then! And so we did.
When we arrived at FishHawk Sporting Clays in Lithia, Florida, it was about 11 a.m. Jon and Jeff met us in the parking lot and there was that special, unmistakable, magic of new adventure and excitement in the air. The facility was modern, computerized for initial registration, and fully equipped with golf carts and rental gear, including shotguns, hearing protection, and ammo. In 10 minutes, we were set to go and provided with a trail map of the shooting station layout. Impressive.
Back to the vehicles to get our firearms and ammo, we all talked about safety first. As we moved from truck to golf cart, we opened the breach of each gun and peaked down the barrel to check for a clear, shiny reflection to daylight at the other end. I picked up Jonathan’s gun and said, “Hey, who cleaned this gun?” My sly grin gave my joking a giveaway. They all laughed. We went over the safety stuff just like when the guys were kids, treating each gun as if it was loaded. We went over the process of shooting, never to load the gun until we were at the shooting station, then finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. After shooting, eject the spent ammo and move off the station, action open. Of course, eye and ear protection for the full time on the course.
When the family boys get together for a day at the shooting range, especially a sporting clay shooting range, it’s going to be a fun time. Especially when it’s a first-time sporting clay experience for one of the guys. Jon explained the many course options as we headed down the cart trail to the range area. First-time sporting clay shooter, Collin Voss, motions toward the field and speaks to his cousin, “Can we go A then B, real quick?” Bang! Bang! Jon Liebler answers, “Nice shooting bro! You are really picking up the targets so quickly. The hardest thing about having not done this before is finding the targets as they go flying left to right, right to left, straight up and away, straight across and at you, or bouncing along the ground.” Voss answers, “It’s simple. Watch me.” Everybody laughed. Collin continued, “This is awesome fun. I love this sport.” Jon’s brother, 32-year-old Jeffrey answers, “Not bad for a bonehead kid bro.” Collin is just turning 21 this year. Everybody laughs again and the banter game is on.
Jon hollers above all the other group shooting sounds in the area, “Let’s go over to one of my favorite stations down the trail here, I think you’re gonna love it. Jeff and I like this one to see if we are still on time with our hockey reflexes – it’s quick and it’s a challenge for us. See what you think.” Collin grins and gabbles back, “Uh-oh, are you guys setting me up again?”
In all, at FishHawk Sporting Clays in Lithia, Florida, there are two 8-station courses, one 11-station course and one super sporting clay course of 16 shooting stations. Each station is denoted in a sequence via separately labeled trail marker colors (red, blue, white and green). Easy to follow on foot or in the golf cart. Each station offers from two to four clay bird release platforms. Some stations throw small clay discs (birds), and some toss regular-size clay discs. The type of target bird is noted on a clipboard hanging to the left of the shooter in the shooting platform. Type of small game or bird species. Each target as noted on the clipboard ID is a bit of a surprise. All of them are fun, especially when competition fun grows between family siblings.
Jon hollers, “How many in a row is that Jeff?” Articulate and deadly accurate, humble Jeff mumbles softly, “16, I think.” He looks over my way with an unassuming grin, whispering, “Thanks for opening the door to all this stuff when we were kids. I remember it like yesterday, we were with my dad way back when at your East Aurora Fish and Game Club in New York. Those days were unforgettable.” I whisper back, “I know I’m getting old when I have to think about when that was.” Jon answers, “You brought me, my dad, and Jeff to the club, opened up the trap range and showed us how to hold the shotgun, aim with both eyes open, then lead the target and squeeze the trigger. You let me hold the release controller and with you holding a single-shot .410 gauge shotgun, told us to stand about shoulder-wide but to stand as comfortable as we could – as if we wanted to jump high and far. Then you said, hold the gun lightly and squeeze the trigger real soft.” I grinned from my heart that time. Collin jumped in, “I wasn’t there for that, I wasn’t born yet!” We all laughed. “Move over little guy, who’s turn is it?” hollered Jon. Slowing things down a bit, Collin added, “But when you took me there, you placed a foam pad under my right shirt shoulder and said, pull the gun in sort of snug to my shoulder. When the bird goes up, aim right at it, then squeeze the trigger.” You said, “You’ll get it after a few tries. Don’t worry if you miss it. It takes time. There’s no pressure, it’s just fun. You get to try again and again.” The kids didn’t know that on those first experience moments for them, I had set the machine to throw the birds straight away, making it a bit less complicated to powder a bird. By the time we left, it was a powdery day.
As we navigated the well-managed course, there were no two shooting stations alike. The surrounding trees, swamps, ponds, hardwoods, pines, ground cover, and general terrain, were new and different at each stop. The differences changed the target presentation and provided a brand new shooter-view and illusion, a new challenge at each station. I thought the changes were very much like actual dove hunting, rabbit hunting, chukar, or pheasant hunting. Quick reflexes, distance judgment, target speed, and angle of flight adjustments are all required from the shooter.
The best news is that there is no closed season at a sporting clays range. When wildlife hunting seasons do open, the shooting skills of folks that practice on courses like this are better and far more accurate. During hunting season, it’s more fun in the open-season fields and woods. The shooter is trained and confident, and success feels good on the field and, later, on the dinner plate.
Thank you Fish Hawk, and thank you, Jonathan, Jeff and Collin. Was a pleasure and honor to watch each of you guys shoot safely…and so well. Each one of them is a powder-poker. Safe, efficient, accurate and full of fun. At the end of that day, I looked up and said, thank you, Lord.
To learn more about the official rules of sporting clays, be sure to check out this link: https://nsca.nssa-nsca.org/what-is-sporting-clays-2/.