Caught in the Trap

There's something very special about being able to step out front of your house and shoot clay pigeons with your kids.


Some of you may not know that the shotgun, an implement made famous for bringing people together at certain weddings, can also unite people for a different kind of party. We call our event The Meadow Lane Annual Family and Friends Trap Shoot.

I recently spent a week at our farm deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia. It was reunion time with family and friends from all over the place, including West Virginia, Washington D.C., New York City, Richmond VA, Miami, the Eastern Shore of Maryland and even four from Israel. We run an inn business on the farm and are normally dedicated to our patrons’ acoustic serenity. People want to hear the river babble, crickets chirp and the eagle’s call, not the steady boom, boom, boom of a trap shoot. We use the nearby county rifle range for 99.5% of our shooting, but this August was slow and midweek there was nary a guest to worry us. The shoot was on.

Our farm manager is a hell of a nice guy who has helped me out any number of times, and I wanted to show him some appreciation, so I asked him if he would like to shoot with us. He was interested in my double armed clay pigeon launcher that mostly just gathers grime in the machinery barn and told me about shooting clay birds with the local Boy Scouts. We planned and planned, but there was always some reason why we never set up the thrower, but this time the gun gods not only smiled on us with a lack of mid-week hospitality business, they even parted the rainy clouds for an hour of pure fun.

We had three semiautomatic shotguns with us, all 12 gauges: a Beretta 391, a Benelli Montefeltro and a  Weatherby model SA-08– an impulse buy I made the day before the trip to the farm. We had mixed lots of light shells from Dicks and Wal-Mart, but even with the bargain ammo, we experienced no malfunctions. I used the new Weatherby on the skeet range the day before, and I had fired perhaps fifty shells with it prior to the trap event.

My gun smith, Vince Capan of the Fayette Gun Shop, warned me not to buy anything semiautomatic made in Turkey. He also despises Russian and Mexican made guns sold under American labels. He says that, “The only thing that the Russians know how to make are colored eggs.” Normally, I heed his advise, but I was totally taken with how well the Weatherby fit me. I was pleasantly surprised to find that no break-in period was needed, and it functioned perfectly right out of the box. I didn’t even lubricate it. Its stock is just a tad shorter than the other guns and it is very light for a semi. The ladies used it to great effect. In fact, though they fired fewer shells than the men, the estrogen oriented hit to miss ratio was a touch higher than the testosterone crowd’s total score.

We had the manager’s family out with us. His son also works at Meadow Lane, and while his young eyes and quick reflexes were as good as any on the firing line, it was his wife, a young lady who had no experience with clay bird shooting, who really shined. It took all of three practice shots for her to figure it out, and after that, there was no stopping her. As it turns out, she is a determined hunter who prefers her husband’s heavy recoiling .30-06 for its superior power to her little .243.

This year’s shoot was documented with still pictures and some unique video. My brother-in-law flew his drone around and filmed the event beautifully. A shoot like this is actually a great sport to watch and there were many spectators. We had up to three people on the firing line at a time and with three launchers lofting, we could toss six birds once. We quickly became quite competitive with each other as in who could shoot the fastest or go three for three, an attempt made possible through the use of the semiautomatic shotgun’s tube magazine.

I must sing the praises of the semiautomatic shotgun as I vastly prefer it to the double barrel and other more traditional guns. Shotguns are like suits. They have to fit to make you look good, and most double barrels that I have encountered just don’t match my admittedly gorilla like dimensions. But, many semiautomatic shotguns can use a shim kit to adjust the gun’s stock to perfectly fit the individual shooter’s stance. It took a lot of trial and error problem solving, but I recently did these stock jobs all by myself. I confirmed the final adjustments on Shenandale Gun Club’s skeet fields. With the guns properly fit, I could feel my confidence growing with every shot. The Benelli’s comb stopped hitting me in the cheek and suddenly, I had a new Italian friend—a besty who never let a pigeon get away. It was a miracle.

I fired 150 shells over the course of about two hours at Shenandale with no lasting effect to the shoulder. This demonstrates another big plus for the self loader whose action ejects the empty hull and in so doing decreases recoil to nearly meaningless levels.  We had all sorts of people shooting. From tall to the small, and nobody complained about recoil.

The guns behaved perfectly at the trap shoot. My crew was chewing shells at a rapid clip, and the guns were getting hot. The boys were really showing off, and they needed to let others have a try. I yelled for my sister who was patiently telling her kids something that clearly ticked them off.

Lindsley’s two young sons, both under ten years of age, were observing the shooting with her from the mule. They begged incessantly in two languages for a chance to shoot, but they are simply too young. They’re Israelis, and so they have absolutely no experience with guns. They only knew that they looked like serious fun and their mother was being unreasonable– again. Lindsley kept trying to explain recoil or the “kick-back” as she put it.

“Look at P.R. up there shooting. Watch how the gun pushes on his shoulder when he fires it. See that kick back? P.R. is a big guy, and you can see how hard the shotgun hits him. Look-at-that! Pow! That has to hurt.”

“I don’t care. We still want to shoot. Please. Please, we want to do it.” My nephews begged.

“OK, P.R. says it’s my turn. You watch me do it, and then tell me if you still want to shoot after that. Put the headphones on and stand right here and watch me. I’m doing this for you. I’m the littlest shooter here I think. Wow, P.R. This is a large gun for me.”

“You’ll be fine. The safety catch is on.”

My nephews were completely OK with their mother’s potential pain, and they studied her carefully as she prepared herself to fire.

Lindsley stepped up to the line. She hadn’t handled a gun for many years, but she managed it like a pro.  I dropped in a shell, hit the bolt release button. She put her cheek down on the stock and looked down the barrel confidently. I heard her click off the safety as she called for the bird. She was quick and went “to-it-and-through-it” with a perfect pop. She left nothing but black dust.

“Damn girl! You crushed that one.” I dropped in another shell as the crowd cheered and clapped. We were all a little surprised. Happy, but surprised. Perhaps it was a fluke. My sister, the girl from the Eastern Shore of Maryland where shotguns are king, went five for five before she said that her shoulder had enough for this decade and put down the gun.

Her boys were very impressed, and they ceased asking to shoot. My Israeli bro-in-law even put his normal guns-aren’t-my-thing-attitude in check and shot a few birds himself before it was all over. If mommy did it, than I guess Daddy, or in this case “Abba” which means “dad” or “father” in Hebrew, had to give it a try.

He picked up the gun and held it awkwardly at first. “OK, tell me how this thing works.”

“What? They don’t teach shot gunning in the Israeli Army?”

“Not exactly. I had an M203 grenade launcher M-16. The rule is, the smaller your gun, the cooler you are.”

“The M203 is huge. You must have been a nerd!”

“I grew out of it. I was an officer and an investigator. I was so cool, I didn’t even have a gun.”

It took him a few shots, but even Abba, the least interested of us, hit a few clays.

After everyone was sated and the smoke had cleared, I said to the nephews, “Five bucks says I don’t have to bend over to pick up an empty shell.” The boys flew into action. My sister pulled me aside later and told me that I had to dial the payola way back with her kids. She said, “A shell pick up like that is a dollar job at best.” At first I thought that she was just doing her part to keep stereotyping alive, but I chose instead to fasten on another point. I told her that the kids were learning a valuable lesson about shooting. It’s expensive.

We used bio-degradable birds, and our steel shot fell like a gentle rain on the woods, not the field where animals graze. The hillside, ridgeline and trees also helped to envelop the sound. There was no echo. Our dog had never heard a shotgun until that day, and once we convinced him not to chase the birds, even he was fine was the noise level. The nephews policed the area so well that they even found the little plastic shot wads lying in the field. With no lead involved, the environmental impact of this shooting is negligible. The shotgun shells themselves have been recycled.

I marveled at how much fun some very unlikely duos had together in that loud hour. The young and old shot together. I can report that as expected, the old still have it, but the young are coming on strong. They are eager, have good equipment, and above all, they have the space to practice trap shooting. The old need to stay on their toes.

The next unlikely grouping was the employers and employed who were shooting together for the first time. We all hunt on the farm, but never together. This shot gunning was a friendly competition that ended in a clear draw. Still, the shared love of the shooting sports was a nice way to bond with people we think of as family.

Last, and this is the big one, men and women shot together on equal terms. The girls shot fewer shells, but they were keen on the ones they went after. If I had lighter guns, they would have participated more. The kids were all very impressed with the shoot and next year I will bring a youth gun for them to use.

I hope to have everyone up to the line again as we build tradition, shell by shell and bird by bird.

Note to self: buy more shotgun shells.

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