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.