Feeling the pull

With double guns in hand, my buddy, Tim, and I walk a winding trail through rows of pines, though we aren’t hunting. Up ahead, there’s a wooden enclosure shaped like a phone booth — the first of a dozen — where we’ll attempt to shoot clay targets that simulate game birds.
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Blendon Pines Gun Club
Blendon Pines Gun Club - Courtesy Blendon Pines

With double guns in hand, my buddy, Tim, and I walk a winding trail through rows of pines, though we aren’t hunting. Up ahead, there’s a wooden enclosure shaped like a phone booth — the first of a dozen — where we’ll attempt to shoot clay targets that simulate game birds.

The neon-orange discs look like small, ceramic frisbees and are designed to break apart when they’re struck by shotgun pellets. While Blendon Pines Gun Club features several clay target games, including five stand and wobble trap, today we’re here to shoot sporting clays.  

Russ and Amy Grasmid have owned Blendon Pines Gun Club since 2011.  

“Sporting clays is like golf with a shotgun,” Amy explains. “More than anything else, it’s a relaxing walk in the woods. We’ve hosted bachelor and bachelorette parties as well as corporate team-building and charity functions.”

“We’re not your typical gun club,” Russ chimes in. “Our business caters to casual shooters who enjoy a laid-back atmosphere.”  

Although relatively new to America, sporting clays was created in Great Britain
over a century ago. In the beginning, however, the targets weren’t made of clay. Instead,
live pigeons were staged throughout a field, concealed beneath top hats. 

Although relatively new to America, sporting clays was created in Great Britain over a century ago. In the beginning, however, the targets weren’t made of clay. Instead, live pigeons were staged throughout a field, concealed beneath top hats. With a shooter at the ready, a designated “puller” would tug a string tied to each hat, releasing the birds. As the pigeon winged away, the gunner would attempt to shoot them. This practice gave rise to the command, “pull,” a term still used today to signify that a shooter is ready for his target. Glass balls filled with feathers, and finally clay targets, eventually replaced live birds.  

clay pigeon courtesy thinkstock

Before attempting Station No. 1, Tim and I watch a couple “try birds,” clay pigeons that we observe, but don’t shoot. We notice that these targets mimic a pair of ruffed grouse, skimming low to the ground and angling sharply away. Whether in the field or on the range, it’s a shot I’m famous for missing. 

“After you,” Tim invites good-naturedly, knowing my struggles with this setup.  

As I step into the booth, my heart drums inside my chest. No matter how often I do this, there’s always an element of adrenaline involved. Dropping a pair of shells into the breach with a musical plunk, I turn my attention to the void between me and the tree line where the targets will appear. Though a flock of blackbirds had been chattering away, silence prevails now. Actually, the birds are still singing; I’ve simply tuned out the auditory clutter as I focus on the impending shots. 

be heard through Tim’s ear muffs. 

Behind me, he pushes the top button on a remote wired to a launcher, which sends a neon blur out and away. Simultaneously, I thumb the safety switch to “fire,” mount the stock to my cheek, and track the speeding target as it rapidly fades into the distance.

Bang! 

A clean miss, but there’s no time to wallow in regret. At the sound of the shot, Tim pushes another button, triggering what’s known as a “report pair.” The second target is a mirror-image of the first, only flying left instead of right.

Bang!

This time the clay vanishes in a cloud of dust as the pellets strike home.

Next comes a “double,” and a pair of targets fly out at the same time. After scoring a solid hit on one clay and a magnificent miss on the other, I open the gun’s action and remove the spent hulls quizzically. I thought I’d been holding true, but a former instructor’s words resound in my head:

A hit is history; a miss is a mystery.  

So true.

Tim, who’s been practicing a lot lately, hands over the remote, grabs his gun off the rack and casually breaks all four targets before we move to the next station.

As we wrap up the course, my shooting average hasn’t improved much. But there’s no doubt we’ll return soon. There’s a universal draw to the outdoors that runs strong in sportsmen. Fishermen feel its tug. Archers heed its allure. 

Wingshooters welcome its pull.   

Blendon Pines Shooting Range
Blendon Pines Gun Club – Courtesy Blendon Pines
Starting Out

A 50-shot round of sporting clays at Blendon Pines Gun Club is $23 for non-members. The club is open Wednesday-Saturday and Tuesdays by appointment.  

Shooters should dress for the weather (bug repellent is a good idea during summer months) and will need shotgun shells, ear and eye protection and a shotgun.  

Guns-N-Gear, a high-end retail store located within the clubhouse, stocks new and used shotguns, as well as sport-specific clothing from Browning, Beretta and others. Participants are required to observe all the rules of firearms safety, and shotgun actions must be open unless a shooter is actively engaging targets from inside the designated booth. 

Learn more at blendonpinesgunclub.com. 

Author and freelance writer Jon Osborn resides in Holland., Michigan BLUE Magazine

Photography courtesy Thinkstock

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