Close enough to perfect
The running joke every Sunday, when the more than 200 students on our six area Clay Target League teams get together, is that it’s easy to tell it is our shooting day. This spring, conditions have been, without fail, the worst of the week on our designated afternoon at the gun club. Winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour (or stronger) have been the norm. High temperatures that can’t break out of the 40s and those in the first four weeks of the season stuck in the 30s with spitting rain and the occasional sweep of white across the shooters’ field of vision has made things challenging to say the least. Two weeks ago, we had to cancel due to a sideways-falling rain-snow mix that battered my windshield as I made my way back to town from a fishing trip. Having called in with the other coaches that morning on the outset of my journey to make the decision of “go” or “no-go,” I knew we had made the right choice as the accumulations caused my antenna to ice over.
So, as we arrived at the gun club this Sunday, the conditions left many of us — coaches and shooters — delightedly dazed and confused. The yellow light of spring filtered down between puffy white clouds as a light westerly breeze faded into the kind of stillness that allowed the warming temperatures to chase the jackets from participants, mentors and spectators alike into heaps along the sidewalk picnic tables up and down the facility; an odd sort of reverse from the piles of snow that held their place when we began at the end of March. It was as close to perfect as this year’s shooting season has been.
From the treeline behind us, robins cheered the kids on as they made their way to the houses. Mourning doves zipped and bobbed across the field as if to tempt fate as the shooters took their aim. The occasional gopher pressed his luck as he popped out from his hole along the cinderblock walls around the trap thrower. All the natural world seemed to join the young shooters in shedding the last of winter’s trappings as T-shirts and shorts replaced the shooters’ heavy jackets and coveralls from previous weeks, and four layers of clothing quickly melted down to one for most taking part in our second-to-last shoot of the regular season. With the great conditions, came great scores.
Up and down the line, scores of 23 and 24 became common as guns mounted snugly to shoulders and the kids smashed the tiny orange domes as if they were slow-floating garbage can lids hanging in the air, unmoved by the gusts which had disappeared into the near-nightmarish memories from previous weeks before. Soon, the veteran shooters found their mark and two perfect rounds of 25 went up. In the following flight, another one and then another in the third flight and the fourth.
Confidence beamed from nearly every participant as they rolled off the line, sharing their success with family members watching from the hillside vantage points on blankets and folding chairs. Fist bumps that made actual knuckle contact, instead of the soft thud through winter gloves, were the celebration of choice as scores soared into the 20s for many and most participants were able to shoot what remained of the light spring breeze with their teammates and coaches, instead of hustling into the clubhouse or back to their parent’s car to get warm.
In this season formerly known as spring, I’ve fished open water in wind, rain and snow; I’ve stood on icy banks to chase lazy pike with the fly rod in the first melt with red-white knuckles and I’ve borne the wrath of northeast winds on the same green traphouses waiting for the day when a jacket and stocking cap wasn’t a requirement along with my ear plugs and safety glasses. For a handful of the shooters it was as perfect as their scores, and for dozens more it was near perfect. For me though, it was as good as it has been all season and an ideal reminder of the good things that can come on a warm spring day…in our outdoors.