I caught the fever when I was five years old, walking behind my dad as he hunted quail on some of the prettiest land in Van Zandt County, Texas. I wanted to shoot too, and he said no, I was too little. So, I promised myself, ďOne dayÖ.Ē
Forty-five years passed working as a professional musician and teacher. I became a wife and mom, and I forgot about that promise. I raised my son. My dad grew old and died. I wore out two knees, tore a rotator cuff, broke my back in a major auto collision, and I accepted that it was time to redefine my capabilities. No more playing oboe with a damaged diaphragm. Nix on 25-mile horseback rides with these knees. What next? I needed a new challenge that was accessible in this aging body.
I thought back to that day spent walking behind my dad, watching him shoot at the birds, dodging bull nettles and kicking dried cow patties with the pointed toes of my tiny, size-4 Tony Lamas. I still have one of those boots, by the way. It sits in the palm of my hand.
Recovering from spine surgery, I read a lot, and one of those books was Mastering Skeet: Fundamental Shooting Techniques for Hitting the Target in Championship Form by King Heiple. I immediately recognized many of the same goal-setting and skill-building concepts with which I had built my career in music. Music is all about developing consistency by patiently building a fundamental skill set according to a meticulous methodology. So is skeet. I could do this, if I could just figure out how to get ďin.Ē
I created a Facebook page and poof! Like magic my long-lost BFF from junior high appeared. I told her I was searching for a way to make my first appearance at a shotgun range without making a total nuisance of myself. I asked her if by chance her husband was a hunter/shooter and might he be willing to show me how to shoot a shotgun. It took a few moments for me to figure out why she busted out laughing. Her husband was Dan ďBuckĒ Foley, past president of the Dallas Gun Club and a retired AA skeet shooter. Well, for the love of Mike.
I have to admit it was intimidating to enter a manís world of guns and ammo, but having a couple of lessons from a friend on NSSA safety rules and how to set up on station correctly was a real confidence booster. That was five years ago, and Iím still running lead out the barrel at a rural shotgun club where women are scarce as henís teeth.
I used to be reluctant to confess my hobby to other ladies until I realized the typical wide-eyed response was, ďWow! You go girl! That would be so much fun, but I just donít have the courage to go it alone.Ē I am certain, if they ever met champion lady shooters like Rae Shaffer, they would change their minds about that. Still, no lady wants to make a fool out of herself with a bunch of men standing around watching. Thatís precisely why I was slow at first to join the NSSA and shoot registered targets. I was also thinking about the music business, where competition decides who plays music for a living and who goes home and sells DVD players at Walmart. Not so in the shotgun sports.
The only difference between a registered and an unregistered target is what paperwork you fill out before you walk out onto the field that day. They look exactly the same, and most clubs throw targets according to the rulebook anyway whether they are registered or not. You can choose never to shoot a registered target, or you can shoot competition targets at one of the small clubs within a couple of hours drive, or go ďwhole hogĒ as we say in Texas and travel the country shooting and even make a lifestyle of it when you retire. But winning is not always why we register to shoot. We register to shoot to support the sport that supports us.
The best-kept secret of the clay sports is we shooters are one anotherís greatest fans. We encourage each other throughout competition. We barbecue under the trees in the evening and huddle over balky guns with shared tool kits. And, Iíve seen the day when shooters huddled in a trap bunker as a tornado flung $20,000 shotguns into the great beyond, rolled travel trailers like dice, tossed pickup trucks like Tonka toys and destroyed an entire facility more quickly than they could have shot a rotation on the trap field. And then they cried together.
The shotgun sports reach out to our youth. Across the nation, local chapters of 4H, waterfowl societies, NRA programs, and Scouting troops offer shooting instruction and recognition, assistance with competitions, college scholarship preparations and merit awards. As well, they help open the doors for Olympic aspirations to become realities.
There is nothing better for our youth than to be taught the good things in life donít come quickly. Clay shooting teaches kids to work hard, practice correctly, focus, be teachable, humble and gracious, and wait for success until itís earned. It takes years to shoot 100 targets without a miss, even longer to shoot 4x4ís, 400 without a miss. Heck, you have to be able to imagine you can do that first. Nothing long-lasting comes fast and easy, except debt and regret. The shotgun sports are a model of real life.
If you are a lady without a shooting husband or boyfriend, and youíre thinking about going to the range or perhaps your child is spending far too much time in front of an electronic screen trying to be the coolest kid in the blog or maybe there isnít a father figure in the house, try putting him/her on the shotgun team, and you go to the range with him. Either way, as a parent or an unescorted lady shooter, just go. There are unimagined rewards waiting for you.
Call ahead. Most clubs have an officer or a professional who will accommodate a beginner. In a lesson setting, they will show you the all-important safety procedures and teach you how to succeed and have fun. Most of these shotgun ambassadors do so without much, if any, financial remuneration. They do it for the love of it, and you will find them more than happy to start a new shooter.
Donít go out and buy a shotgun without having fired one. Since a shotgun does not have a back sight, like a rifle, it has to fit your body for your eye to properly align with the barrelís front sight. Many gunsmiths who specialize in making gun stocks are good at fitting the wood to your physique. This is especially tricky for growing kids and petite ladies, so get help from a gun fitter or an experienced instructor.
Keep in mind that all good shotguns are not expensive. Also, some clubs will rent you a gun for the lesson for a nominal fee. Some members will even let you shoot their gun, so you can get an idea of what is available and what fits you and how sensitive you are to vibration and recoil, as some guns handle felt recoil better than others. You will find other shooters at the clubs are an excellent source of good, used shotguns adapted to shooting clays.
Google the National Skeet Shooting Association (NSSA), Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA), National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) and visit websites like www.claytargetsonline.com for locations close to you. Expect to meet some of the most well-grounded, safety-minded people you have ever known. Gun clubs donít let problem personalities wander the premises with a gun. Youíll be safer at the gun club than at the local cinema, I guarantee.
Braving the unknown can sometimes discourage an unaccompanied lady from striking out on her own. Yes, it is intimidating at first when you get out of the car the first day at the club and a dozen men turn around and look at you like you must be lost and need directions. Just show them your gun case and smile. Theyíll warm up quickly.
Because of shooting clay targets, Iíve bought some beautiful guns, vests, coats, gear bags and the perfect SUV for hauling my gear and guns around. Iíve made a forever friend on the trap field who, like me, rides horses and loves music. And I have walked with her through the dark valley of cancer as she has battled it and won. She will be back on station very soon, and Iíll be there with her to celebrate.
Is my name in a national magazine? Only once, in Skeet Shooting Review, in spite of the fact that a 10-year-old beat me in a skeet doubles shoot-off. So, Iíve developed a level of proficiency that satisfies my inner perfectionist. I can shoot the first milestone of achievement, 25 straight without a miss on the skeet and trap field, on a good day. Not quite there yet in sporting clays. But the beauty of clay target sports is you can shoot registered or unregistered targets as you like, mix and match them as you please or just do your own thing at your local club. Just being there is the true reward.
Is it worth it, feeling awkward for a while, maybe being the only woman on the field? Maybe the better question is? Are you worth it? Yeah baby, weíre worth it. Ladies, let me tell you what kind of shells to bring to the party, so you donít get beat up with recoil. And if by chance you find a hat that wonít make your hair look like something out of the ďThree Stooges,Ē I want to hear about it! SS
Holly Heard Bauschka began shooting clay targets at 50 years of age as a way to cope with the stress of caregiving. She and her husband retired from professional performance and teaching music at East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas, a small town northeast of Dallas. Her husband, Conrad, has battled many years with Primary Lateral Sclerosis. She lives in Commerce with him and a menagerie of animals, large and small. In her spare time she writes, plays classical guitar, rides horses and shoots clay targets at several small clubs in northeast Texas. Her long-term goal is to become certified as an NSSA instructor and to work with youth and new shooters to introduce them to the joy of breaking clays.