Fire Away!

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I'm standing in a field in Eureka with my cheek pressed against the butt of a shotgun, right eye closed, left eye focusing in the distance. A man stands behind me, waiting for me to call out the word that will signal him to send a fluorescent orange clay disc soaring. That's when the question arises:

What the hell am I doing here?

Growing up in the comfortable suburb of St. Charles, I was never exposed to guns, neither for hunting nor for protection. But what the heck — it's summer, and my inner hoosier is itching to be unleashed. What better way to embrace the redneck inside me than going out and, well, shooting stuff?

On my first outing, I take my lifelong friend (and fellow gun newbie) Crystal to an outdoor shooting range called the St. Louis Skeet & Trap Club (18854 Franklin Road, Pacific; 636-271-4210 or www.skeetrap.com), which is located about five minutes away from Six Flags. After we explain that we have no idea what we're doing, the staff at the club is more than happy to acquaint us with the guns.

The gun we get to use is a break-open shotgun. With this type, you have to flip a switch that makes the gun break at the beginning of the barrel, where you load the shell and snap the barrel straight again. It makes you look super tough. And shotgun shells, I learn, are actually cylindrical canisters filled with hundreds of tiny pellets. With the shells we're using, the pellets are supposed to spread to a 30-inch radius. So if our shots are anywhere even remotely close to the target, the target will break.

Trap and skeet are two different sports, although both involve aiming for those soaring clay targets, which resemble small orange Frisbees. In trap shooting, the target is shot away from you, whereas in skeet shooting, the target is shot from side to side. Both conceptually seem easy enough. It's just like Duck Hunt, right? As I will learn in the next few hours, however, things get a bit more difficult when you have the eyesight and aim of a 90-year-old man.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, our instructor, Pat, shows us how to figure out if we are right-eye or left-eye dominant. It's pretty easy: Hold your thumb out at arm's length, and focus on an object in the distance. Now close your left eye. If your thumb shifts when you close your left eye, you are left-eye dominant. But if your thumb doesn't move when you close your left eye, you are right-eye dominant. I am left-eye dominant, while Crystal is right-eye dominant. Knowing that helps with aiming.

Pat then teaches us how to hold the gun. The end of the stock is supposed to be nestled into the little nook just under my collarbone, right above my armpit. Not only is the gun heavy, but between kickbacks from shooting (which aren't as bad as I expected) and removing the gun to reload after each shell, I guess the gun must have, you know, slipped. Either way, I'm not holding the gun right — and I'm left with the bruises to prove it.

After all the prerequisites, we get to start shooting traps. I load a shell into the barrel and snap the gun shut. I get situated with the gun and look out toward what resembles a submerged baseball dugout. Inside, the mechanism that releases the targets oscillates from side to side, so each time a new target is released, it comes out of a new area. I take my aim and yell, "Pull!" to Pat, who presses a button that releases the clay target. Closely following the disc as it flies into the field, I pull the trigger, and...

I miss.

This continues for the next fifteen shots — following the target and missing, and then missing again. I console myself by thinking no one hits targets the first time they go shooting. So I let Crystal take over and, much to my dismay, she hits almost every target. So I just suck.

When we finish off our box of 25 rounds, Pat takes us over to start skeet shooting. (In the neighboring trap-shooting area, five high school kids are taking turns calling out, "Pull!" and destroying every target in sight. These guys — and girls — are serious. Pat informs us that these shooters are with a collegiate Olympic league.)

Skeet shooting, fortunately, is a lot easier than trap shooting.

In this game, the targets come out of buildings on either side of the shooting area. Depending on where you stand, the targets are either shot toward you or past you. I have no idea what I do differently, but I probably hit two-thirds of the targets coming toward me. But still, Crystal, a regular Annie Oakley, beats me again.

No matter. A little success is enough, and the following weekend I go shooting again. This time, I go with two coworkers, Matt and Paul, who have also never shot before. Their friend Danny owns a few guns for hunting and has some property around O'Fallon.

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1 comments
Non-Hoosier
Non-Hoosier

::sigh:: another myopic "gun" article with the tired premise of the gun novice "discovering" that shooting sports can be fun. However, not everyone that engages in the shooting sports is a hoosier or a hoosier-wannabe.

I am also surprised that the gun safety instructions did not show up in the photo.You learn very early on to keep your finger OFF the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

 
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