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Shooting for Fun

The Exotic World of Sporting Clays Offers Outdoor Settings to Test Your Shooting Skills
Ross Seyfried
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

(continued from page 1)

The next level of over/under guns are tailored for the sophisticated tournament niche. They are without ornamentation but possess the finest mechanisms and workmanship and almost unlimited lifespans. They are like race cars with the very finest steering and brakes that can be made. These are the famous Italian Perazzi, Beretta ASE-90 and Krieghoff from Germany, along with several other serious tournament-grade guns by lesser known names. These occupy the $7,000 to $10,000 price range.

There is an even more expensive level of guns. These guns qualify as collectible art, although they are very functional and are made by the top manufacturers of both the over/under and side-by-side double-barreled guns. Each maker uses a foundation of the highest mechanical standards with varying degrees of ornamentation. This list now spans many nations of the world and dozens of makers. The English firms of Purdey, Holland & Holland and Asprey are almost household names and for centuries have turned out exquisite firearms. The Italian Fabri firearms are viewed by many as the finest of their kind, and Beretta, the oldest industrial firm in the world, turns out handmade guns in their SO series that are without peer. The finest steel and wood are fabricated into a shotgun, then an artist carves the hard steel with finesse that rivals the master painters. These guns start at $20,000, and many cost more than $100,000. At this price range, one not only owns a functional tool but a piece of art that appreciates in value.

An expensive piece of art or even a double-barreled gun are not essential to the enjoyment of sporting clays. A Remington Model 11-87 Sporting Clays, with a softer recoil, may be one of the best sporting clays guns for beginners. In fact, one of the charms of the sporting clays course is its compatibility with almost any kind of shotgun. The classic, early double-barreled game guns, made before the turn of the century, are perfectly compatible with sporting clays courses. As an antithesis to these old thoroughbreds, I have seen shooters with inexpensive, newly made pump-action guns shoot very credible scores. Because sporting clays simulates hunting, shotguns made for hunting, as a vast majority of them are, excel at the sport.

Part of this universal adaptability is due to the fact that most good shotguns will break the targets. They deliver a "pattern" or elongated cloud of small shot pellets, and it is the shooter/athlete who is responsible for success or failure. While some of the mechanics of a shotgun can be likened to a race car with varying degrees of sophistication, every shooter has access to the same engine: the cartridges. If the shot pattern finds its way to the clay target, it will break the target without caring who or what released it.

The actual target-breaking performance of most shotguns is controlled by the cartridges used and the choke. The choke is a constriction at the muzzle of the gun barrel that controls the spread of the shot pellets in flight, much as a nozzle controls the spray of water from a garden hose. A "full" choke will hold the pellets as closely together as possible, while a "cylinder" choke will allow the maximum reasonable spread. In terms of your hitting a clay target, this means that with the full choke you have a shot spread of about 20 inches at 25 yards, while the cylinder will offer you a 40-inch pattern. It is easier to hit targets with the larger spread. And most modern guns come equipped with threaded sections inside their muzzles that accept "choke tubes." These tubes allow the shooter to alter the degree of choke present in their barrels. While it becomes tempting, especially for the novice, to change these chokes regularly to suit the shooting situation, almost every shooter will be best served by a minimal degree of choke for almost all sporting clays shots.

Along with the variety of kinds of guns themselves, there are different sizes or gauges of shotguns. The most common is the 12-gauge. The gauge refers to the diameter of the bore, or inside of the barrel. This designation relates to the number of lead round balls of that diameter that it takes to weigh one pound. The larger numbers have smaller bores, hence 16-, 20- and 28-gauge, with the smallest common shotgun being a .410-bore (referring to its diameter in inches). From a shooter's perspective, the basic difference is the weight of the gun and the amount of shot it uses. The standard 12-gauge will weigh between seven and eight pounds, while the 20- or 28-gauges may be as light as five to six pounds. A standard 12-gauge "target" cartridge uses one-and-one-eighth ounces of shot, the .410 a mere half ounce. While most beginning shooters are best served by a 12- or 20-gauge, there is a gun and cartridge to suit almost any situation and whim.

Sporting clays competition is geared to include this wide variety of tools and shooter skill. Instead of handicaps, shooters compete within a class system based on their scores for their most recent 200 or 300 targets. The classes range from AA, representing an average of 77 percent, down to D class with 56 percent or less. Additionally, there are usually women's classes and youth awards as well as separate awards for small gauges and side-by-side guns. There is an opportunity for almost every skill level or kind of gun to share in the winning.

In addition to a firearm, two pieces of safety equipment are essential. Eye and hearing protection are as mandatory and logical as a helmet in a football game. The noise from gunfire can damage hearing. Protection can be as simple and inexpensive as foam-rubber industrial earplugs or as sophisticated as the electronic earplugs made by ESP. These are individually molded to the shooter and fitted with electronic circuits that amplify normal speech and sounds, while eliminating the high decibels of a gun's report. Safety eyewear is also essential. While there is almost no danger from the firearm or shot, broken pieces of clay targets can represent a very real hazard to unprotected eyes.

Beyond safety, the choice of lenses can also be beneficial to a shooter's success. A light-yellow lens helps brighten dull light, much as it does on a cloudy day on the ski slopes. Light-rose glasses dampen dark-green backgrounds such as trees and make black or orange targets more visible. Some of the most popular shooting glasses feature interchangeable lenses, offering the shooter an immediate choice of lens color to match the conditions.

Like other sports, shotgunning has its array of almost-necessary and luxury accessories. Shooting vests can be had in great variety, ranging from utilitarian to designer fashion. Cartridge and accessory bags come in ordinary canvas or very fine leather. There are gun cases designed for show and others that are made more or less crash-proof for airline travel. The shotguns can also receive special treatment. The inside of gun barrels are often bored and honed with meticulous care and science that nudges witchcraft. Choke tubes come in an extreme variety and are offered in sets that increase the constriction in increments of five one-thousandths of an inch.

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