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Weekend Instruction for Sportspeople

Preparing to take aim with guidance from instructor Lou Cabassa (Credit: Edwin Fancher)

My father and I have long shot trap together at our club in Carmel, New York. Every Sunday morning for nine months of the year we drive upstate to shoot two or three rounds. Although we both have enjoyed the sport for many years, we have never had any formal instruction, and we were both interested in learning new techniques to improve our skills. So on a Friday evening we drove to Millbrook, New York to take classes at Orvis’s Sporting Clays School.

Early Saturday morning after introductions and handshakes, James Ross, senior instructor, showed a video about gun safety and an overview of the sport. A brief orientation followed. We were then measured for guns. Twelve-gauges are more powerful, but we were given 20-guage ones. This has no effect on technique but it ensures that no one will leave with bruised shoulders from the kick of their shotguns. Next students went into the woods in small groups of three or four to walk from station to station with an instructor.

Although it is men who chiefly engage in sporting clays, women are starting to get interested in it, too. The game was imported from Great Britain and evolved from field shooting of water fowl, as did skeet and trap. It is, however, more like wingshooting.

In sporting clays the participant goes to a series of predetermined positions in a forest and at a certain moment is confronted with one or several small orange clay discs at which he aims. Unlike trap and skeet, in which participants stand with their guns held ready when the target appears, in sporting clays shooters stand with their guns held lower and only raise them when the target is sent flying. This better approximates the position a hunter would generally start from when he spots a bird, since he would be unlikely to walk through the woods for hours at a time with a gun mounted and ready. In two days of instruction (you can sign up for one day, also) we fired about 500 times at clay birds coming from every conceivable position. Sometimes two would come from different directions and we would aim at both. At other times birds would come from behind and fly over our heads. Our main instructor, Lou Cabassa, painstakingly continued to demonstrate proper procedures and correct our fledgling efforts to hit each bird.

Orvis was the first shooting school in the United States to offer instruction in the English Churchill method of wingshooting and the highly skilled and experienced instructors are among the best teachers of this method on this side of the Atlantic. The style is designed for hunting birds, which, needless to say, tend to be a good deal more unpredictable in their timing and direction than clay targets.

While shotguns and sporting clays may seem daunting to a newcomer, the staff's attitude, approach and personal attention to each student insures that even novices will become comfortable with their guns and will be hitting targets in no time. Everyone we spoke with enjoyed their time in the class and found it worthwhile, regardless of prior experience. Lester Lamando from Rockland County, New York had never before handled a firearm, but was an eager student who quickly became comfortable firing a shotgun. Another member of our group was an experienced fowl hunter who had driven from North Carolina to improve his technique with the seasoned professionals who teach at the school. Benjamin Wright, a bank executive from New Jersey, had used rifles and pistols all his life and had been an artillery officer in the marines for several years during which time he used a wide assortment of weapons, including heavy artillery.

Originally built over 200 years ago, Sandanona is the oldest shooting club in the country. Although the club was purchased by Orvis seven years ago in order to use the facility for their school, it still maintains a private club, which you can join for a fee and which includes the right to use its uplands preserve from September 1 to March 31.

Sandanona facilities have beautiful grounds and buildings, with a well-stocked Orvis store, a bright and airy dining room and a cozy lounge complete with a fireplace and an excellent selection of cigars. While attendees must make their own arrangements for breakfast, dinner and lodging, there are several excellent accommodations and restaurants in the area. Lunch is catered by a local company and we found the meals they served to be consistently delicious.

Among the services included during the weekend is a custom gun measurement and fitting by a professional gunsmith. As is the case in any other activity which requires custom equipment, finding a shotgun that fits the individual is the key to top performance and enjoyment. Once made, these measurements can be used to purchase a shotgun of the appropriate dimensions. Orvis also conveniently keeps these measurements on file in case students misplace their copies.

Finally at the end of the weekend you are presented with a Certificate of Achievement, which certifies that you have completed the course of instruction offered at the school.

Orvis Sandanona, P.O. Box 450, Millbrook, NY 12545, Tel. 845-677-9701. Open year-round, except for Christmas and Thanksgiving. In addition to sporting clays, Sandanona offers courses in fly-fishing and wingshooting. The other shooting schools are located in Manchester, Vermont and Mays Pond, Florida. Tuition at the Sandanona School is $450 for one-day or $900 for two-days. www.orvis.com/intro.asp?subject=296

Orvis recently added the following classes to the Clay Target School:

September 7-8, Harpoles Heartland Lodge, Nebo, IL; tel. 800-777-hunt, fax 217-734-2559, email info@heartlandlodge.com

September 14-15, Harris Springs, Augusta, GA; tel. 864-677-3448, fax 864-677-3918, email hunt@harrissprings.com

October 19-20, 26-27, Barnsley Gardens, Adairsville, GA ; tel. 877-773-2447 or 770-773-7480, email barnsley@mindspring.com

Bruce Fancher

Spring 2002