By Brian K. Brecht
As outdoorsmen, we’ve often enjoyed activities surrounding shooting and hunting. In recent years, we’ve found ourselves digging heavily into wing hunts and clay shooting. For some time, Tom has been a part of a Northern California shooting range, and since moving to North Carolina; I’ve found a great range we’ll talk about later in this post.
Shooting birds has it’s own challenges like any other hunting sport, and sharpening those skills takes time and plenty of hours at the local range.
For those new to clay pigeon shooting, there are a number of variations to the sport. The basic idea, coming from claypigeonpro.com is:
“…a collection of sports that simulate many common bird hunting situations”.
You might here it described as “Skeet”, ”Trap”, or “5 Stand”, all of which present different challenges. For this trip however we focused on yet another variation to the sport known as Sporting Clays.
A couple quick descriptions and helpful graphics we found (again) on claypigeonpro.com are as follows:
“Trap shooting is considered to be the easiest of the three disciplines because of the number of clays used (typically one, although in some forms two are used), and because the clays are released in only one direction (although the trajectory and speed can be variable).”
In Trap, each shooter will rotate through the five stations, giving each person the chance to shoot from a different location.
Next, Skeet shooting adds an additional level of complexity with an additional trap house and extra stations.
“…more complex than trap shooting in both the number of clays released, the trajectory of the clays, and the position of the shooters. A skeet shooting range (see diagram below) consists of two trap houses, each set off to one side of the range. The shooter positions form a semi-circle from one trap house to the other, with an eighth position in the center of the field.”
Again, the shooters rotate through each station after each round.
Five Stand, our third variant, the direction the clays fly from alters with each round, instead of moving the shooters. There are five stations or stands, and six to eighteen strategically placed clay target throwers (traps). Shooters fire in turn at various combinations of clay birds such as, 6 & 10, or 1 & 3, or 13 & 8. At each throw, the shooter is presented with different combination of targets, each coming from a different location, with differences in speed and elevation. Obviously there are technics and subtleties for each style.
For Tom and I, it was a beautiful fall morning when we journeyed to Drake Landing just outside of Raleigh North Carolina. For this specific practice session, we’d practice our technique on yet a fourth variant to the sport, that of Sporting Clays.
Sporting Clays, changes up the environment and presentation of targets, this time offering two different throws (like 5 stand) but each at a different shooting environment as you move through the course.
Sporting Clays “…most closely resembling true hunting in that shooters move through a course and can expect to see clays from any angle just as if they were flushing game out of the brush.”
That being the formal description, I found the Wikipedia definition to be quite enjoyable:
“Sporting clays is a form of clay pigeon shooting, often described as “golf with a shotgun” because a typical course includes from 10 to 15 different shooting stations laid out over natural terrain. “
Tom and I looked at it as more, a predetermined hike, where we got to shoot things. But sure, “golf with a gun”, that works too.
According to the Wikipedia article, Bob Brister introduced Sporting Clays to American shooters in his feature article in the July 1980 Field & Stream magazine issue. At our facility, we walked a mile and a half course that encompassed 13 stations. At each station the clays were launched from varying positions, each simulating possible scenarios of wild game.
Clays were launched from the left, from the right, launched high, and low, and even over water, or rolling along the ground.
Trap is very enjoyable but you’re limited to shooting in one of five standing positions, shooting in a very regimented order. In sporting clays, you’re still shooting one at a time, each shooter getting their chance at the flight, but you feel more in tune with what a real hunt might be like given the diversity of each station.
Drake’s Landing is a beautiful facility, with a focus on not only hunting and the outdoors, but also a love of the land and the importance of passing it on. A fifth generation working farm, that through the years has cultivated food, fiber, tobacco, forestry products, and fun for the owning Andrews family and their neighbors.
We checked in easily at the office, were able to rent not only the time and shells and had we needed them, the shotguns as well. We were instructed to take the leisurely path to “Course #1” and we’d find an attendant at the first station, all of which went exactly as described.
Our attendant at station “1” was a rough, grizzled, but approachable older gentleman who took the time to explain how each station would work and how to use the automated controller we were given.
Within a few short minutes we were up and running, taking our first shots at station one. Overall it took about an hour and a half to walk the entire 13-station course, taking a leisurely approach at each. The groups are paced at the start so though we did run into a few other groups, we didn’t fee rushed. And everyone we encountered was happy to just be out in the woods. We all laughed and joked, and allowed each other to shoot at our own pace.
The course at Drake Lading was surprisingly diverse, with simple wooded stations, followed by up-hill ranges, over water shots or downhill targets. Each station presented a specific challenge and we found them all to be very enjoyable. For Tom and I, it was a perfect precursor to our hunting trip we had planned at the George Hi plantation. That will be our next post, coming in a week or so.
Since that first trip we’ve returned to Drake Landing and shot the other courses on site. Both are well thought out, easily managed and a great way to spend a Saturday morning.
Drake Landing also offers hunting packages on the facilities, which we’ll be looking into and can report on that as the Upland season begins this October.