Too many of us wing-shooters put the old blunderbuss away after Christmas and don't bring it back out until the first day of bird hunting season. This is fact and not just conjecture. Several of my hunting buddies have done this over a lifetime of bird hunting and often we also fell into a shooting rut when the fishing season came.
But about 15 years ago we talked a friend and wonderful gunsmith, Bud Barrett of Rye, into letting us join him for his weekly Wednesday nights of skeet shooting at the Farmington Fish and Game Club in Farmington. At this time the Wednesday night crew were shooting a game called modern skeet, that features a course that is much more like actual field shooting than the regular skeet. It is also more challenging and difficult but prepares you for angles and shots that you are apt to find when out in the field hunting.
Not that we became and instant world-class shooter but we did see a big improvement in our ability to often make shots that my son Ted used to say were "spectacular." These shots had actually become more or less commonplace for me as many of them were a duplicate of the shots we'd been practicing at the skeet range.
Since then we've been dabbling with a much more difficult game of clay birds called "five stand sporting" at the Hampton Rod and Gun Club, where we've become a member for several years. To say that this is a difficult shooting game is an understatement. To my knowledge, nobody has "run the course" there by having a perfect score. To make it a bit more interesting, there are different sized clay targets that range from smaller to larger than the regulation clay target.
There are several target-throwing machines set in a semi-circle that five gunners are standing in a row in small cage type structures, facing the target throwers. There are two clay birds launched from different locations for each shooter, with five shots being allowed at each stand. Then you move to the next stand. This is done to replicate just about all the different angles and live targets you are apt to be facing when out in the field hunting.
One of the most difficult but fun targets is the rabbit. This target is made out of tougher material so it can be launched perpendicular to the ground and moves across in front of you bounding up and down like a real critter. Timing your shots to the bounding target is fun but key. Some days we have the bunny targets down pat and other times they seem to spit in our face.
Even though this is a humbling experience for this writer, it also has sharpened my eye for certain targets as well as helping me accept a missed target as being normal.
We actually got so mixed up for a while when shooting the five-stand course that we decided to add a morning of regular skeet shooting to our weekly adventures. Skeet is a game where the targets come from consistent places in a consistent pattern and scores are often perfect, although we've never achieved one of those. But it does give you confidence in your shooting and also is a fast game, so you don't have to spend hours on the range if you have a busy schedule.
Even though regular skeet provides the same target paths each round, many of them duplicate shots that you will encounter while out in the field hunting. It has made me deadly on incoming birds but we still have trouble on those long crossing shots.
It's not too late to get out there and get some of the rust off. Besides being a great sport in itself, shotgun target shooting is a blast, doesn't have to be all that expensive and will get your hunting partners whistling at that near impossible shot you just pulled off. The one that you closed both eyes and hoped for the best.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.