The Shooting Sports are Getting Fired Up

"Golf" gets a Western makeover.
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"Golf" gets a Western makeover.
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Let’s face it. Gripping a nine-iron and slicing a Titleist down a long fairway where horses should be grazing isn’t how most cowboys and cowgirls want to spend a Saturday morning.

So for the blue-jeaned, cowboy-hatted masses, there are the shooting sports. Just think of target shooting sports (sporting clays, trap shooting, and skeet shooting) as golf with a shotgun.

In sporting clays, participants move through a course made of up 12–15 stations that each present different shooting challenges. At one station, a shooter might be asked to hit multiple clay pigeons. At others, shooters will be tested with pigeons launched at varying heights, distances and speeds. Just as in golf, there are professional and amateur competitors, and even handicaps. And while shooting sports may not be as popular as golf, more than 23 million Americans are involved in some type of shogun target-shooting sport.

R. Travis Mears, a professional target shooter and trick shooter for Beretta from Roanoke, Texas, says the sport’s growing popularity can be attributed to the sport’s easy accessibility, appeal to shooters of all ages, and sense of family.

“It’s a sport you can do for your entire life,” Mears says. “I started at nine and I’ll promise you I’ll be shooting when I’m 99 if I make that long. You can do it for as long as you can hold the gun. It’s great when a father can shoot alongside his son or daughter and they can enjoy the same thing. Me and my dad are best friends because of it. It’s a family and friends kind of sport.”

It’s easy to get started. Novice shooters will need a shotgun. A semi-automatic or over-and-under shotgun are recommended. Many shooters opt for a .12-gauge, but participants can shoot .20-, .28- and .410-gauge shotguns on most courses. Many pros have guns that cost thousands of dollars, but beginners can get a decent firearm for around $500.

“You don’t have to have the most expensive gun,” says Steve Middleditch, club shooting pro at the Pine Creek Sporting Club in Okeechobee, Fla. “You see someone shooting a pump shotgun all the way up to guys who have a $200,000 gun. At the end of the day, the shot still comes out the end of the barrel.”

Competitions and courses both emphasize gun safety at all times, which helps the sport maintain a very collegial atmosphere where shooters police each other. Accidents are very rare.

There are no lack of places to shoot, either. Shooting clubs are scattered throughout the United States often within a short drive of most major cities, and courses are often included as part of resort and lodge vacation packages. Some new facilities dedicated to target shooting with amenities similar to golf clubs are beginning dot the landscape as well. Mike Fitzgerald Jr., president of Frontiers International Travel in Wexford, Penn., books many trips for clients looking for fishing, shooting and outdoors experiences. A shooter himself, Fitzgerald encourages people to get out on a course and pull the trigger.

“For people that have never shot before it’s a great intro to the sport,” Fitzgerald says. “I think people are pleasantly surprised by how easy it is. They can hit more targets than they think they can when they first start out.”

Give these places a shot

There are shooting clubs all over the United States. Here are a few recommended by Mike Fitzgerald Jr., who’s pulled the trigger a time or two.

Three Forks Ranch

(40 miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colo.)

www.threeforksranch.com

Savery, WY. 82332

970-583-7396

The Ranch at Rock Creek

www.theranchatrockcreek.com

Philipsburg, MT. 59858

877-786-1545

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

www.nemacolin.com

Farmington, PA 15437

866-344-6957

Here’s an option for shooters looking for a ranch or residence with access to a club:

Pine Creek Sporting Club

www.pinecreeksportingclub.com

Okeechobee, FL. 34972

561-346-9365