I've been having a blast on Thursday evenings lately - quite literally. It's not that I'm not enjoying other nights as well, but as I get off of work each Thursday I meet up with some friends for competitive trap shooting at the Juneau Gun Club. Blasting away some clay pigeons with a trusty 12-gauge shotgun in league play is a great way to wind down the work week.
I'm not your average league shooter by any means. Before the New Year I'd only shot random-caliber guns intermittently over the last decade. But the American tradition of abiding by the Second Amendment of the Constitution has been a backbone of my family's heritage. Having let that tradition accumulate dust in my father's gun safe in Oregon, I decided to get back to my roots and learn anew to use a firearm safely and accurately. My self-directed mission: Learn to shoot trap to feel comfortable going duck hunting this season.
My grandfather was a giant of a duck hunter. A member of Ducks Unlimited and a California duck club for decades, hours of stories have been told over my lifetime of hunting dogs long dead and early mornings my grandfather spent in the pursuit of waterfowl. I was too young and too far away from him to learn the tricks of the trade before he passed away, but it has always been my intention to extend his hunting legacy by following in his footsteps. The problem is I'm not that good of a shot.
I was able to swindle a couple of friends into letting me join their trap team this year after letting the information from a hunter safety course lay dormant in the back of my mind for years. Several of us set out a few days before league play began in mid-January and I shot my first clay pigeon since I was about 12 years old. On a cold and wet afternoon off Montana Creek Road, I was immediately blown away by the trap facilities the Juneau Gun Club maintains. I'd been to the club before, but somehow I missed the four concrete bunkers containing machinery that looks like it could be on the front of a Coast Guard Cutter or some other type of Homeland Security vessel. A lot of time and dedication have obviously been put in to making a great shooting compound. It was a humbling experience as I realized that I have a long way to go if I'm going to be barbecuing any duck this year.
The opening night of the league was an eye-opening experience. With a borrowed gun and safety glasses I found myself as the amateur of amateurs. I began to realize what I was getting myself into as I mingled with men and women with guns more expensive than anything I own. But after paying the annual club dues and purchasing some shells, before I knew it our team was up on the line under flood lights ready to begin the season.
Juneau Gun Club
Winter Trap League*
Thursdays: 6-9 p.m.
Season: Jan. 19 to March 23
Teams: 7-10 shooters**
Team fee: $125
Individual fee: $8 per night or two JGC cards
Web site: www.juneaugunclub.com
Public trap shooting: Sundays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
* The club also hosts a summer league.
** Winter team roster changes permitted up to Feb. 16.
It's a nerve-wracking experience getting ready to shoot (or at least that's what I'm claiming to justify my score). Each member of the team takes a total of 50 shots, 25 at two different distances. At each distance you take five shots from five stations. I was thinking 50 shots would take quite a bit of time but before you know it the final clay pigeon is in flight. As I peered down the line at my teammates I had a surreal experience that felt like a scene out of a Coen Brothers film - kind of like the Alaskan version of the bowling alley in "The Big Lebowski." After the first night was completed I could see how and why people are so passionate about trap shooting. Even though I got one of lowest scores in the entire league that night (a measly eight out of 50), it was educational and a great deal of fun.
There is a true grace and style to trap shooting. Much like golf or darts, trap shooting is an art form that takes a tremendous amount of concentration and poise to perform well. It's pretty amazing to watch many of these seasoned veterans pluck away target after target.
There are still many months to go before duck season, so it looks like I've got my work cut out for me. I'm hoping my scores will increase when my grandfather's lucky gun arrives within the next couple of weeks. But even if I wallow at the bottom ranks of the league for the remainder of the season, Thursday nights will still be a blast.