We have all heard them, in some cases we know several of them. The person who is the greatest hand with a shotgun since Nash Buckingham, Herb Parsons, or even Tom Knapp. They are certainly the best around the campfire, at the holiday cocktail party, in the local “watering hole” of even in the workplace break room or around the coffee pot.
It’s the guy who used the same box of shotshells for two years on a 3-day South Dakota pheasant hunt while taking a limit of roosters every day. The person who consistently takes his 15 dove limit and has shells remaining out of the box of 410 shells. Ditto for his 15 bird limit of southern Bob White quail. With Ruffed Grouse he finishes his season with more days of limits than anyone in hearing distance no matter whether the cycle is up or down. With waterfowl, it is always the same story, the most limit outings with the minimum expenditure of ammunition. The only problem is that no one has ever been able to witness this shooting prowess. We all have our own opinions that we usually keep to ourselves. Good approach!
Have you ever wondered how you (we) would stack up against this self-proclaimed expert? At this point, I will go on record as stating that I am totally opposed to any type of competition that includes the taking of wild game. It has no place in ethical, recreational hunting. Hunting is a personal activity and I see no benefit to allowing it to deteriorate into some sort of competition.
However, there is a Politically Correct, socially acceptable, and FUN way to evaluate our shooting proficiency against others and even our expert. It is call clay targets and can go by the name of Skeet, Trap, or Sporting Clays. Now I’m not thinking about a trip out to your local club or range on a Saturday but rather a full-fledged tournament. During the summer months we are in the season for State, Regional and larger Charity tournaments with multiple events during each so why not plan to participate in one. Note: I include the various wildlife conservation events as Charity tournaments.
I’ll focus on Sporting Clays for this discussion because that offers the greatest target variety for bird hunters but similar structures are found in both Skeet and Trap. The typical State Championship Tournament will offer a Main Event with 200 targets shot over 2 days. Then there will be numerous sided events to keep us hunters occupied. There are usually 20 gauge, 28 gauge, & 410 bore sub-gauge events along with 5-stand and often the relatively new game called Super Sporting (offering 2 shot singles and pairs). If you go early there is usually a Preliminary Sporting Clays event and for those who just can’t get enough shooting there is some kind of farewell event. And did I mention Side-by-Side and Pump Gun Events? Such a tournament can give you over 500 targets to test your skill and can provide a long get-away weekend.
The results can be both eye opening and a learning experience. Hopefully, you will discover that relative to the other several hundred participants you are actually much better than most. Or if not better you are at least in the middle-of-the-pack. If you fall on the other end of the standings, you can identify where you need a little work or at least realize that some conversations are best avoided. If you do enter multiple events, you will probably learn that your performance with some guns was significantly better than with others. This could be grounds to clean out the gun safe or perhaps pave the way for a new purchase! You will likely observe that your performance on some days is simply better than on other days.
A large tournament where the cost is in the $1.00 per target range is not a trivial expense but even with overnight lodging and travel meals it will still be substantial less than a 3 day bird hunt at some lodges and you will get to make the gun go “Bang” 500 times or more vs less than 25 times on a 3-day pheasant hunt. And you do NOT need to be a National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) member to shoot, you can register in “Hunter” class.
Sure there will be some challenging targets, as there should be in a state championship, but I can assure you that won’t be the case for every station. Range owners don’t want to scare customers away, they want to entertain them and entice them to return. It’s called good business and breaking targets is good for business.
At most big tournaments you will find that the targets are not really that hard to hit but are often easy to miss. They will test you skill and isn’t that one of the reasons for going, to compare your skill against other sportsmen and sportswomen? That and the fact that it is FUN. Fortunately, I’m in my 23rd year of enjoying the fun of tournaments and over the years I have proved that there hasn’t ever been a target thrown that I can’t figure out some way to miss – missing is part of this game but you learn and move forward. I can also guarantee you that if it wasn’t FUN, I would have quit a long time ago.
Now if you could only get Mr. Expert to go along to prove that he can Walk his Talk. That may be more difficult than breaking a 35 yard quartering away midi!!
Phil R. Hechler
NSCA Level II Instructor