Shooting Skeet

Right side profile, medium shot of William H. ...

William H. Keever at the 2000 Summer Olympics

Don put the gun – a 16 gauge shotgun – in my hands and its heft surprised me. My shoulders gave a little yelp. I almost asked for the lighter version they’d originally suggested, but then the boxer in my head said “oh you’ll get used to it, buck up.” Don was explaining the difference between skeet and trap because I’d told him the only other time I’ve held a gun (a real one) was more than a decade ago in Sun Valley, Idaho when my father, husband and I decided to shoot trap. Not that the keen distinctions Don pointed out were going to make much of a difference to me. I barely remembered the whole thing other than it had felt powerful and I’d done better than anyone expected.

Unlike trap, for skeet shooting there are seven positions the shooter takes up around the course, with two mini towers from which the clay pigeons (4 inch diameter disks of limestone, shellacked hard with tarmac and spray painted neon orange on one side) whiz at quite a zip in a broad arc across the sky. As Don described moving from one position to the other, I imagined it being more fun than standing in one place, like we’d done shooting trap. But Don informed me that we’d take up position seven and stay put using just one tower, that being easier for beginners. My boxer heart sank a bit, but then I thought if I showed him my prowess, maybe he’d let me move.

So I stood my ground as he sent a couple of sample pigeons loose. I watched their traverse while Don’s steady voice directed me to stay out in front of the orange disk about a foot or so. This distance turned magically into a mere inch in my sights. He also made it clear that keeping my eye on the disk was key – looking at my gun would only mess me up. It made intuitive sense – after all, you don’t look at the bat or the racket while hitting – you keep your eye on the ball!

After watching two or three disks flit through the sky, I felt ready. I belted, too loudly since Don was standing at my right arm, “Pull!” But I couldn’t help it. There’s something about that part of it that gets me right in my gut. It’s as if that word sets me free. All thought gone except the one trained on the orange flash tracing over head – and my gun nose arcing out in front. BANG.

First shot yielded nothing. Don’s steady tone corrected me, focused me, reminded me that I wasn’t shooting with my body, but with my eye. Train all thought through the eye and the body follows. The body, the gun, the trigger, all just the result of the eye. My gun should arc the sky just like the pigeon, tracing out in front so that when the trigger goes and gun explodes the shot, the disc rides right into it.

Ok. I lined up as he told me. I felt my arms aching but the boxer told me to focus on the window. “Pull!” Less volume but more depth of tone this time. I tracked the bird, staying out in front, feeling my body relax and become the follower. BANG. Nothing. I looked over at Don. He was smiling. “You winged it. Nice one.” I wanted the thing to explode into a million pieces, but with that look on Don’s face, my pride welled at the miniscule shard I’d shaved off it.

Five or more rounds later I felt like I’d been hauling bricks. Don suggested a breather. I let the nose of my gun slip to the ground, thinking only about my arms. Don grabbed it up as his breath pulled back sharply through his teeth. “Jeez, I’m so sorry. I guess I need a gun awareness refresher.” I felt horrid. But then I realized, I’m not a natural. I come from a family that abhors guns. The only guns I’ve known are toys…The boxer in my head said “no excuses – get back in the game.” Don’s deep drawl intoned the gun rules of safety – keep the nose pointed away from anyone or any place where people might be; never position the gun with your finger on the trigger; keep your fingers out of the way when loading…

I slid in a shell. Pushed the button and SLAM, the round locked in position. Hoisted the gun and jammed it into my shoulder pit, cozying my cheek onto the stock. Eyes cast out over the barrel just to the right of the pigeon window. “PULL.” Arc. Track. Flow. BANG.

The thing blew apart, shattering my nerves into an adrenalin party. My body kept on going as I swung around to see Don’s face. Beaming back at me. And Bill, my videographer, cheering. I might as well have taken out the fifth Panzer division or a MiG or a Bull Elk with a 20 point rack. Amazing how good it felt, especially for a pacifist.

I had maybe a dozen rounds left. I’d shoot three or four then rest, and my best shots were always after the break. I guess that says I should’ve used the lower gauge. And maybe I will next time – should be ready again in 2021.

By the way, Don never moved me off position seven. But no matter, the real reason to shoot skeet is the focus. That star-eyed, singled minded, body-guiding, life-aligning, silent prayer of focus that shooting requires. Such a doggone good reminder of what anything worth a damn in this world demands. Focus. Let your sharp eye lead everything else. And then, hopefully, when you say PULL, the bird will glide and your gun will go BANG, and your target will explode into a million glorious pieces, spraying all over the world. Sweet.

Thanks to The Homestead and the fine staff at the Gun Club for making this experience possible.

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About Rebecca Reynolds

Leadership Guru; Systems Thinker; Complex Problem Solver; Facilitative Leader...also LOVE life, dog Wiley, good food, Malbec, forests, oceans, yoga stillness, the boxing bag, ballroom dance, and movies.
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