Shoot

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If you’ve got an idea that gun owners are rock-ribbed, red-necked good old boys who chew tobacco and eschew outsiders, you need to visit the Bass River Rod and Gun Club.  I did, yesterday.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Kevin’s experience with gun clubs wasn’t promising. He’d shot at clubs in Connecticut and on Long Island, and he hadn’t found the membership to be warm, fuzzy, and inviting. People didn’t talk, nobody offered to help, and members pretty much kept to themselves.

If those are the unwritten rules of gun clubs, the Bass River guys missed the meeting.

The club has both trap and skeet on the weekends, and we showed up yesterday morning, guns in tow. We walked into their field house, an oversize shed with a makeshift wood stove and a motley assortment of La-Z-Boys, several of them occupied by members.

Immediately, one of them stood up, introduced himself as Bill, and shook hands with us. Then he introduced the rest of the crowd. We said hello all around, and I told them I was a new shooter, with a brand new birthday shotgun I wanted to try out. They said, essentially, that I’d come to the right place.

It turned out that we weren’t wholly prepared. We didn’t have eye and ear protection. Not to worry, they had spares. We had the wrong kind of ammunition. No problem, we could swap it for some of theirs. I only had a choke for trap, and Kevin only had a choke for skeet (the choke tightens the shot pattern by narrowing the barrel at the end). Nothing they couldn’t work around.

Kevin told them that he’d wanted to bring me there in part because he didn’t want me to learn to shoot from him. If there was somebody there who was an experienced shooter who could come with us on our skeet round, that would be ideal.

“Everyone here is an experienced shooter,” Bill said, and Roger volunteered to help me.

Skeet and trap are both shotgun target sports. The basic difference is the angle at which the target, a bright orange frisbee-shaped clay disc, flies in relation to the shooter. In skeet, it can come toward you, go away from you, or cross directly in front of you. In trap, it always goes away from you, but you’re shooting over a longer distance.

Skeet was invented back in the 1920’s and, in 1926, Hunting and Fishing and National Sportsman magazines jointly sponsored a contest to name the game. The winner of the $100 prize was one Gertrude Hurlbutt, who is said to have derived “skeet” from skjuta, the Swedish for “shoot.” (I would have chosen a different entry, the more evocative “bang.”)

Bass River does skeet in the morning and trap in the afternoon on Sundays, and since it was still morning we did a round of skeet first. We walked up to the first station and Roger explained where I’d be standing, where the target would be coming from (the high house, behind me), and where, ideally, I’d shoot it.

He helped me position the gun properly on my shoulder and angle it so I’d be in the right position to take the shot. He let a practice target fly so I’d know its path. And then it was time to do it for real.

I mounted the gun, and I felt the adrenaline coursing as I said, “pull.” The target came into my field of view, and I shot my brand-new Remington 870 20-gauge for the first time.

I missed, of course.

“Don’t worry,” Roger said. “It takes a while to get the hang of it.”

I tried again, and missed again. And again.

Then we switched so the target would come from the low house, which was across the field. It would be coming toward me, from about the 2 o’clock position, and passing to my left. “Pull,” I said, trying to keep my eye on the target instead of the gun.

Miracle of miracles, I hit the thing.

“You got it!” Roger said.  He sounded genuinely pleased.

I got it. Of the twenty-five rounds, I hit exactly two clay targets. But two is a hell of a lot more encouraging than none, which is what I fully expected.

Kevin, who used to shoot quite regularly, was shaking off the rust of the last fifteen years and getting his gun legs back. At first he missed about half, but then he hit two doubles (two targets released simultaneously from different positions) in a row and his game was back on.

As we went through the round, Roger explained some of the basics of target shooting with a shotgun (handguns and rifles are different). Once you mount the gun properly, you’re not supposed to look at the little bead on the end of the barrel. You’re supposed to look at what you’re shooting, and track the target by using the gun as an extension of your body. “Be one with the gun,” he told me.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s like other athletic endeavors. You train your body to make the motion, and then you trust it to bring the golf club back to the ball, or pull the oar through the water, or hit the target with the shotgun. I have personal experience with trying to make golf clubs and oars do my bidding, and I’m told it’s the same with tennis racquets and baseball bats. My brother Aaron says pool cues are that way, too.

Aaron’s a very good pool player, and he got that way by playing all the time for several years. I’m a mediocre golfer, but I would be a terrible golfer if I hadn’t played all the time for several years. I’ve rowed a lot for a couple of years, and I’m finally seeing some improvement. The key to sports like this is practice.

I shot fifty rounds yesterday, twenty-five at skeet and twenty-five at trap. I did a little better with trap; I hit five or six of my twenty-five. In some ways, it’s a little intimidating to think that those are the first fifty of what have to be many thousands of shots if I expect to develop any kind of proficiency, but I’ve found that developing new skills is one of the most satisfying aspect of having uprooted myself from the city and done a lifestyle U-turn.

I watched as some of the Bass River regulars shot trap (they even let me push the button to pull the targets). It is a pleasure to see anything done well, and it wasn’t just that they hit bird after bird after bird. It was the efficiency of their motion, the confidence with which they handled weapons which, mishandled, can kill people.

I have a profound respect for skill. The freezerful of venison aside, if I’m going to shoot a gun, I want to shoot it well.

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Comments

  1. I’m not surprised you had people voluteering to help you. I bet they were falling overthemselves to help the lady with the filmstar hair. I’m sorry after that I didn’t understand anything else you wrote – actually there was some before that I didn’t understand too 😉

    Glad you had a good time though.

  2. I’m totally impressed with you – congratulations! It sounds like you had fun too, and with something you were initially wary of. And it’s very satisfying when you first hit your targets. Mystifying too for awhile, until you get the “muscle memory” to hit your target with consistency.

    I practice on trap or skeet layouts (whatever’s free up at our local gun club). I bring 500 cartridges and my ipod, and I just fire away. It’s a great way to work out any worries, and the practice helps. It also gives you time and a safe environment to get really comfortable with your own gun. You’ve got all the lingo down already too!

    Did you find out which is you dominant eye? Strangely, most women shoot right-handed but are left-eye dominant. It can affect how we see the target. Also let me know if you get a sore cheek from your gun and I can give you a quick (cheap) fix.

  3. Loved reading this one, T…there is so much I do not know. Thank you for opening up new worlds. Not thrilled with guns, but respect those who use them for hunting. Good luck in you new endeavor.

  4. Sarah — So much in life revolves around hair! But I’m sorry I wasn’t as clear as I should have been (after I first read your comment I stealthily inserted a sentence describing what the ‘targets’ are). I try hard to write jargon-free descriptions that everyone can understand, and I don’t like to miss the mark. Thanks for bearing with.

    Jen — 500 at a clip, eh? I suspect you’re an excellent shot. While I don’t aim for expert marksmanship (that would require more practice than I know I can do), I am looking for exactly what you mention — being comfortable with the gun. As for eye dominance, I’m right-eye, but I think it’s pretty close. As for the sore cheek, I didn’t have it. The recoil on a 20-gauge isn’t too bad, and of course I made the amateur’s mistake of lifting my cheek off the stock. I’m trying to correct that. When I do, I’ll have to hit you up for that quick, cheap fix.

    Jane — I’m not thrilled with guns either, which is part of what makes this whole venture interesting. If I’m going to hunt, I have to get over it.

  5. See now and I was thinking that you must have had a sore shoulder the next day (or even today). A sore cheek never even entered my mind…

  6. Tamar, I’m sure you were quite clear but unfortunately on some subjects I’m so clueless I just see goobledegook! Shooting is one of those subjects for me, my friend is the same with physics which is a trial as a student radiographer 🙂

    I do have a lovely mental image of the gun club though.

  7. tom and jane says:

    I had the jump of about 25 years experience on my wife, but both of us have hunted together now for the last 30 years. My wife is finally picking up my technique which in effect, means I don’t even look at the gun barrel, the sight, or anything other than what I am shooting at and what is in the background (for safety). The minute either of us thinks about the motion, where our feet are placed or how we are standing, shooting skills decline. Not thinking works for us.

    BTW, we have lived off the land with our hunting, fishing, organic gardening at our rural home for the last 3 decades and have much experience. We do our own game processing as well as put up all the garden production ourselves. We have raised livestock and chickens and do our own butchering. We live almost entirely out of our freezers and cold storage or fresh, when in season. We live in North Dakota now but my wife is a 6th generation New Englander and I lived for some time in Washington state and Idaho. If anyone has any questions, just send email.

  8. Having come to hunting as an adult myself, I’m especially looking forward to following this part of your journey, Tamar. For me, it wasn’t–and still isn’t–easy. Particularly the killing.

  9. Tamar, I came here at Tovar’s urging (though I’ve seen you on Hank’s blog – I’m his photographer/girlfriend), and I’m glad I did. Reading some of what you’ve written about getting to know hunting, and overcoming an instinctive dislike of guns is fun for me, because that’s the process I’ve gone through for the past four years. I went from disliking guns, to accepting I’d need them, to now having a sizable gun safe that barely fits our collection. Funny how that happens.

    My advice on your shotgunning:

    – Jen is right – you need to know what your dominant eye is, and if you’re left-eye dominant, switch to left-handed shooting asap before you get too habituated. You’ll hit your target more consistently – satisfying on the skeet range (love it when the clays evaporate), vital when you’re dealing with an animal’s life (better to kill outright than to wound).

    – Make sure your gun fits. Guns are made for right-handed, 5-10, 185-pound men. If you don’t fit those measurements, your gun (unless you got a junior model) doesn’t fit you. You can still hit with it, but not consistently, which is very frustrating.

    The stock of a shotgun is cast – or “bent” – left or right, depending on which way you shoot. The degree to which it bends left/right, or up/down, is what determines fit. A quality gunsmith/gunmaker/stockman can help you out. Another alternative is an adjustable-comb stock, in which you can make those adjustments yourself. Looks funny, but it works great. I’ll be writing about the one I just got later today. Both cost hundreds of dollars, but you can waste way more than that on ammunition that misses the mark with poor fit.

    Best of luck to you! And feel free to email if I can be of any help.