The next time you drive up to Carlisle, Pa., to enjoy some of the nation's most famous trout streams, throw your shotgun in the trunk along with a couple boxes of shells and drop by the Carlisle Fish & Game Association's sporting clays course.
Sporting clays is shot-gunning's answer to golf and one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. The game, which has been popular in Europe for about 100 years, simulates hunting situations. No two courses are the same.
The only problem with the game in our area is one of limited course sites. The only full course within an hour's drive is the Prince George's County Trap & Skeet Center in Glendale.
Some area shooting clubs put together a make-do arrangement, like the one at the Loch Raven Skeet & Trap Club near Towson or the Stoney Creek Fishing & Hunting Club's course in Pasadena the first Sunday of every month.
I put together a group of shotgunning fans, and we set out last Saturday to try the Carlisle course. Joining me were Pat Bennett and Dick Broden, both of Annapolis, and Carroll County's Wayne Albaugh and Mike Bell.
The club is easy to find. From Anne Arundel you probably will want to get on the Baltimore Beltway to I-83 north. Near Harrisburg take U.S. Route 15 west for about 10 miles then Route 74 north. Make a left onto Route 641 and the club's entrance, about midway between Carlisle and Mechanicsburg, is marked on the left. From Annapolis, it is about an 90-minute drive.
The course is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and a round of 50 targets costs $7. That's cheap, considering that most courses set you back $20 or more.
We got there at 9 and had to wait about an hour for our squad to be called. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to go through the course, which is laid out to provide a variety of shots -- open field, open woods, brush and towers. A skeet or improved cylinder shotgun choke and No. 8 shot is the right choice for this course.
The first station featured a double coming from rear to front and then a following pair from the same direction. You shoot into a large open area here and the idea is to break the trailing target, then continue the swing and break the lead disc.
You get nothing but doubles at each station, so an over-under, side-by-side or autoloader is a big help. Most pump gun shooters will have a difficult time on the second target.
Next up, we were thrown two sets of springing teal targets, followed at the third station by two pairs of rabbits.
At Station 4 we were thrown two fast right-to-left pairs, then moved to a tower for a difficult (and fast) right-to-left rabbit, followed by the report of the gun by a "pheasant" from the same angle.
At Station 6 we got two pairs coming left to right from waist-high brush. This is a difficult shot because the targets are thrown very fast and through a small opening in the brush.
My Ruger 12-gauge dusted only one of these and then I put the No. 8s on the next four, which consisted of a lazy flying pair and following pair from left to right in an open field. In the same location, Station 8 puts you in a high tower and challenges you with another pair and split pair.
I dusted the two split pairs tossed from waist-high brush into an open field at No. 9 and then we moved into an open woods area that was exactly what you would expect when grouse hunting. Here, at Stations 10 and 11 we got typical grouse shots -- left-to-right screamers and quartering split pairs.
Stations 12 and 13 featured high incoming shots through a tiny opening in the forest canopy.
The course is quite large, we shot only two-thirds of the stations.