Sports: On Target

With the echoing crack of a 12-gauge shotgun, the spinning orange disc disintegrated into a puff of clay shards that plinked upon the thousands already scattered among the grass at the Oklahoma City Gun Club grounds in Arcadia. Charles Roller may be relatively new to competitive shooting, but it’s rare that a clay pigeon escapes him these days.

The Edmond resident is one of thousands across the state who have fallen in love with the fast-growing world of competitive shooting.

The idea of shotgun sports may not immediately appeal to everyone, but the satisfaction of watching a clay target ripped apart in the air is addictive and near-universal. “It’s very fun and exciting to bust the clay targets,” said Will Massid of Heartland Outdoors Gun Range in Edmond. “It’s invigorating because you can say, ‘I did that!’”

“If you like bowling or golf, where it’s an individual sport, you’re going to love competitive shooting, whether it be trap, skeet, or sporting clays,” says Massid says. “You’re going to get to make some noise.”

Roller cautions it’s not a good sport for people who feel the need to win all the time. “You have to crawl before you can walk,” he says. “You can go out and practice all day and it doesn’t mean anything without someone teaching you what you’re doing wrong.”

Massid suggests first-timers start with trap. “Get to know the gun and learn how to break those targets going out in front of you before side-to-side,” he says. “Rent first; don’t buy, in case you don’t like it. But I’ve never seen people who didn’t like the sport — once they try it, they’re hooked.”

While skeet shooting, participants stand on stations situated in a half-circle. Clay pigeons are launched from low and high towers, and fly from side to side in front of the shooter. Trap shooting is similar, except the pigeons are launched from a trap in the center and move up and away from the shooter.

A yardage system is in place to ensure shooters are burdened with the proper handicaps. Everyone starts at 16 yards, and when a shooter breaks 97 of 100 targets, he gets to move back a yard; if he shoots 96 of 100 targets, he gets to move back half a yard. This can continue as far back as the 27 yard line.

With sporting clays, up to six shooters travel through 10-15 shooting stations and shoot 5-10 targets at each station. Targets can fly out in any direction or even roll along the ground. “It’s kind of like golf with a shotgun,” Massid says.

Silverleaf Shotgun Sports in Guthrie offers a sporting clays course, skeet, and trap shooting. Skeet and trap are also available at the Oklahoma Trap Association Shooting Park in El Reno and the Oklahoma City Gun Club. Heartland Outdoors and H&H Gun Range offer indoor gun and archery ranges.

Skeet-shooters typically use a double-barreled, over-and-under shotgun. Trap-shooters use a 12-gauge, single- or double-barreled shotgun. There is no standard gun for sporting clays, but they must shoot 12-gauge shot or smaller.

Sporting and trap guns have longer barrels, often between 28-34 inches. “It’s going to give you extra reach and a solid, fluid swing,” Massid says. He says longer barrels are slower on the target, but they almost swing themselves.

There is a psychological aspect to accuracy in competitive shooting. “If you miss one or two targets in a row, the chances of missing the next one are very, very good,” Massid says. Once, he was on track for a perfect score, but one missed shot psyched him out and ruined his record. “I don’t know what distracted me, but I missed the first one, and I missed the second one,” Massid says. He finished with a 48/50 score.

Roller hit 100 targets in a row in a trap shoot in Shawnee. “It was a totally amazing feeling because I haven’t been shooting for long,” he says. He also won the next venue that day, hitting 96/100. Although he’s been competitively shooting for only a few years, Roller first shot a .22 rifle at 6 years old. He is mostly self-taught, with some help from his dad.

He likes competitive shooting because of its socially diversity. “You meet people from a variety of backgrounds,” says Roller, who shoots with a former county judge, a deputy sheriff, an orthopedic surgeon, and a heart doctor. Careful to mention that many women participate in the sport as well, he says, “If you own a shotgun and you’re ready to shoot, you’re one of the guys.”

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