Keep Your Shot Sharp With Shotgun Shooting

By: Linda Gallagher

With the upland gamebird and waterfowl seasons right around the corner, wingshooters all over the state are not only getting their dogs into shape, but their shooting skills as well by enjoying one of a number of shotgun sports available to Michigan shooting enthusiasts.

“A few rounds of trap, skeet, sporting clays or any of the shotgun sports are a great way to prepare yourself for that first wild flush of the season,” said Tom Stewart, Vice President of the Michigan Trapshooting association. “But, although folks often use the shotgun sports as tune-ups for hunting, I’m seeing more and more people getting into the shooting sports just for fun. The shotgun shooting sports, especially trap, skeet and five-stand, are something that, even in Michigan, can be enjoyed year round-you’re not limited to shooting only during the hunting seasons.”

shotgun shootingWith many people finding increasingly limited hunting opportunities, Stewart and others connected with shotgun shooting sports both for fun and competition say that all of the shooting sports continue to increase in popularity.

Although he himself doesn’t hunt, Stewart says he shoots either trap, skeet or sporting clays at least three times a week since he began shooting shotguns at the Capitol Area Sportsmens League near Lansing in 1989. An NRA Instructor and Range Officer, Stewart belongs to four clubs, shooting competitively whenever time allows. “Primarily, I’m a trap shooter,” he said.

A sport which began in Europe several hundred years ago, trap became popular as a shooting sport in the 19th century when live gamebirds used for targets were replaced by clay targets after their development in 1880 by George Litowski, an American. A round of trap consists of 25 shots, five each from five stations or posts in an arc beginning 16 yards behind one trap house. After five shots at one station, gunners move to the next station at a trap puller or rangmaster’s command. The gun is shouldered prior to the release of each target, which is released immediately on the gunner’s command of “pull.” An oscillating trap throws targets at an unknown angle within an arc of 44 degrees. The target must travel a minimum of 48 yards, no more than 52, and it must rise between 6 and 12 feet 10 yards in front of the house.

A game which requires consistent timing, a sharp eye and proper swing, trap shooting provides an ideal introduction for those new to shotgun shooting, or for beginners new to the shooting sports, but isn’t as beneficial to the upland shooter as skeet, a derivation of the trap shooting game.

Skeet began in Massachusetts in 1915, when grouse hunter Charles Davis invented a game he called “shooting around the clock” to improve his wingshooting. Davis placed a portable trap on the ground at six o’clock on an imaginary clock face 25 yards across, shooting targets from each “hour.” Lore has it that Davis’s neighbor objected to the patter of shot on his chicken coop, so Davis cut the circle in half and added a second trap facing the first. The game was soon re-named “Skeet”, a Scandinavian word meaning “shoot”. Skeet, which became very popular in the U.S. after World War II, consists of 25 shots, beginning with a high-house clay at station one, then a low house clay, then a double at four other stations. Top tournament shooters attain perfect scores of 25 by pre-mounting their guns, using a sustained lead system, and calculating their forward allowance precisely.

A short-range game, most skeet targets are broken within 25 yards, and many are taken at half that distance. Special skeet or improved cylinder chokes are ideal for the game, along with size 9 or AA pellets, in guns ranging from the .410 to 12 gauge, similar to most common upland gamebird needs for shotguns in the field.

Michigan skeet ranges, both private and public, run from very basic to the latest in shooting technology, with all the bells and whistles. Bob Wallner, a resident of Sterling Heights who recently acquired his first bird dog, enjoys an occasional round of skeet at Algonac State Park or at Pontiac Lake Recreation Area. “I like the facilities at Algonac a little better,” he said. “Algonac is always less crowded. It’s basic there, you throw your own clays at both ranges.”

Other public facilities, like those at Island Lake State Park in Livingston County, are state of the art. Island Lake offers trap and skeet ranges with noise abatement systems, two levels of five stand, and a fully-automated sporting clays course. If you enjoy wingshooting, swinging a shotgun at a target, or playing a round of golf, you’ll love sporting clays, a game introduced to America in the 1980’s which simulates shotgun shooting under natural conditions. Called “golf with a shotgun”, each round of sporting clays offers a unique perspective which reflects the natural terrain of the area. Consisting of 50 targets over any number of stations, sporting clays utilizes special clays, such as the “battue”, which imitates the flight of the wood duck, “rabbits”, daunting little white clays which travel along the ground at amazing speeds, “minis”, which resemble hurtling doves, and clays which fly to incredibly vertical heights, similar to the springing teal. Gunners walk or ride the course, which usually comprises several acres, and in regulated leagues and competition, may mount their guns only after the target is released, much like real hunting conditions. Chris Hatcher, of Wixom, has only been wingshooting once so far, but enjoys the sporting clays course at Island Lake State Park. “It’s very realistic. I picked up shotgun sports a couple of years ago, and have since gotten my dad into them as well. It gives us something to do together outside, and all year long, at that. We’ll usually warm up with a quick round of five stand.”

A few years ago, after realizing the obstacles presented by winter and limited available property for sporting clay enthusiasts, the game of five stand was developed. A modified form of sporting clays, five stand is also similar to trap in that gunners shoot five shots at each of five stations, for a total of 25 targets, but instead of one trap in front of the shooter, there are from six to eight throwers located around the field throwing standard, mini or “mid” targets, as well as rabbits and battues. Gunners shoot from different positions on a stand from various elevations. Five stand courses are becoming more common in Michigan every year at both public shooting facilities as well as private facilities such as the large Southern Michigan Gun Club in Kalamazoo and the Charlevoix Rod & Gun Club near Charlevoix, where hunting enthusiast John Clevenger shoots on a regular basis to keep his hunting skills sharp. “We have sporting clays available to us during the warmer months, but in the winter, with all the snow we get up here, that would impossible, so the trap throwers are moved to the five stand range in the winter. It’s a great way to keep cabin fever away in the winter.

Certainly not a male-only sport, the shooting sports are rapidly becoming more popular with the ladies. “I got tired of sitting home while my husband was shooting at the club he belongs to,” said Yolanda McPherson of Bellaire in Antrim County. “So I tried shooting five stand, and I very much enjoy it.”

Of his wife, who shoots a 16 gauge, husband Tim said with a grin, “She’s good, too. Before long, I hope to get her to try sporting clays, and you never know, she might even be willing to try bird hunting with me someday. It’s great having her shooting with me-now I don’t have to feel guilty about how much time I spend at the club!”

Stewart says in recent years he has seen a significant number of new shooters like Yolanda McPherson. “The shotgun sports are wonderful recreation and exercise for everyone, and it’s sure to add a little sizzle to your shooting.”

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