The shotgun-target game of sporting clays comes as close to duplicating actual bird-hunting situations as any shooting activity can get.
Most courses require shooting from locations designed to simulate certain hunting shots at quail, grouse, pheasants, doves and waterfowl, as well as runners like rabbits and squirrels.
I recently joined Westminster-area shooters Lyle Walters, Jimmy Hill and Mike Crown for a Sunday afternoon at the Starview Sportsmen's Association's course near York, Pa.
Carroll County has no sporting clay course, but Starview plus ones near Carlisle, Pa., and Charles Town, W.Va., draw lots of area gunners. All three are within easy driving distance of Carroll County.
I've enjoyed the Starview course since its completion in 1991. Club official Tim Barefoot told me that the course is open each Thursday from 2 p.m. until dark and every Sunday "from 9 in the morning until there's no one left who wants to shoot."
Another club member, Keith Wilkins, said that the 1,000-member club uses the course as its top money maker. He said, "We average about 100 shooters on Thursdays and nearly twice that number on Sundays."
The course is just about equally divided between woods and open-field shooting positions and covers around 100 acres. There are 16 stations, but only a dozen are used at any one time so that the course can be kept fresh and challenging.
Our first four shooting positions were located in an open field. As I walked along a marked path, four single clay birds were thrown randomly as single targets traveling a right-to-left angle.
At the next station I was thrown two singles right to left, followed by a pair (two targets thrown at the same time). Birds thrown from the first walkway resembled flushing pheasants, while the last spot mirrored pass shooting doves.
Sitting in a "duck blind," I was next thrown a tower/ground-level combo. The first target was a bouncing "rabbit," followed on the report of my Ruger over/under 12-gauge, by a whistling target thrown from an elevated position. This combo was thrown twice.
From here we moved into woods cover accurately simulating grouse and woodcock habitat. I shot a little better than 50 percent on these crossing, quartering and straight-away targets. Also included here was a "springing teal" double that I managed to score on.
In a low brushy area, shooters were challenged by a covey flush that included a "poison bird." This was a white target representing an illegal hen bird. Hit the hen by mistake and you are penalized by losing a point off your score.
We finished the 50-shot course over open-field targets. Combinations of flying birds from all angles plus those bouncing rabbits that give me such a fit are what you get here.
We shot the course twice. The first time around I recorded a score of 41, leading Crown by a single bird and Walters by three. Hill was top gun with an impressive 47 score.
In between our sporting clay rounds we practiced by shooting two rounds of skeet with low gun positions rather than calling for the target with the gun mounted traditionally.
All of the shots you can expect to encounter will be best served by a skeet or improved cylinder choke.
I began with skeet and improved cylinder choke tubes installed in my Ruger's 30-inch barrels, but switched to a skeet and skeet combo about midway through the course. I believe I may have picked up two and maybe three extra birds by doing so.
An over/under, side-by-side or autoloader is preferred for this game because of the speed needed for second shots on doubles. I have shot pumps when enjoying this game, but always lose some targets that I would have broken with a faster second shot.
Most participants use the standard 12-gauge trap load to shoot sporting clays. This sports 1 1/8 ounces of #8 or #7 1/2 shot. For some time now I have opted to use an ounce of #8 in my 12-gauge sporting clays guns and can't see any measurable drop in my scores, but do get a noticeable break in felt recoil. Try a 1-ounce load. I think you will like it.