Shooting for Cold-Weather Sport
Rising early, I looked out the window to check the tree line. Stiff winds had kept us in for days, and I was eager to get back on the water and after the big ocean-run stripers arriving of late. I lit up as I saw that the skyline was not just still but dead-still.
We even had an overcast. What could be more perfect? Then I glanced at the outside temperature. Thirty-eight degrees was a showstopper. There are places to visit in near-freezing weather, but the Chesapeake in a small open boat is not one of them.
I called a friend who also had the itching to go. “Too cold to fish,” I said. “At least in my boat.”
“Not too cold to shoot,” he countered. “There’s a trap competition today.”
An hour later we were heading to the Three Rivers Sportsmen’s Club in Harwood with our 12-gauge trap guns and a half-dozen boxes of shells.
Three Rivers was formed by like-minded trap shooters 66 years ago and named in honor of the Severn, South and Magothy rivers. Trap shooting, the oldest of all competitive shooting sports, originated in England in 1750 and migrated to the United States in 1831. Since then it has remained the most popular gun sport in America with a half million regular shooters.
Trap is shot from five stations arranged along an arc formed 16 yards behind the small trap house. In it, an oscillating mechanism (the trap) launches a clay pigeon, upon voice command (pull), at about 60 mph in a random, unpredictable direction up and away from the shooters. A squad of five shooters fires five shots from each station.
Competitions generally entail at least one series of 25 targets shot from a distance of 16 yards, then a similar series of handicap targets from distances of up to 27 yards. Each shooter’s distance from the trap is determined by skill. The handicap evens out the chances of any one shooter, regardless of experience, winning the competition.
Of course by the time we arrived at the club, the tree line was no longer still. The nasty breezes that had plagued us on the Bay returned to greet us in Harwood. However, such conditions simply make trap shooting more interesting.
As I hadn’t pulled a trigger in months, I had few illusions of ending up in the winner’s circle. Some of our shooting friends, however, had been competing for some time.
One friend in particular was more prepared. Lou Witkowski dropped only two birds on his first series from 16 yards but recovered and burned through his 25 handicap targets without a miss to win the overall competition. That was good shooting indeed for a cold and windy day.
The rest of us had to content ourselves with the joy of the experience and reflecting on the wing shooter’s dictum, The next best thing to shooting and hitting ’em is shooting and missing ’em.
Three Rivers is worth a visit. With a recently renovated clubhouse and kitchen and inexpensive fees (round of trap $5, 12 gauge shells $6.50 per box), it is open to the public. Practice shooting is open Thursday evenings 6-9pm, and competitions are regular on Saturdays or Sundays.
Delicious home-cooked food is prepared, and members are quite amenable to helping new shooters — men, women and youngsters alike — get started. Just about any 12-gauge shotgun with a barrel length of at least 26 inches is suitable. Eye and hearing protection are required.