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Sporting Clays: An Offshoot Of Skeet Takes Off


Personal Business: Leisure

SPORTING CLAYS: AN OFFSHOOT OF SKEET TAKES OFF

Our golf cart careens down a steep, rocky path and jolts to a halt. I step onto a wooden platform. My instructor nudges my arms and feet into the correct stance and pushes a remote-control button. As I scan the ravine, a dot soars out of nowhere. I point the 20-gauge Beretta just ahead of it, squeeze the trigger, and watch a small clay disk shatter. Just as I start to congratulate myself, another disk streaks across the sky. I fire too hastily, and it disappears unscathed into the woods.

Not bad for a first go at sporting clays. The shotgun game was intended to simulate hunting--originally for practice, although now it's often a substitute. It's a sport that shares some of the clubby and outdoorsy attributes of skeet, although with more natural settings and more of an air of adventure. And the targets, instead of followinga few predictable patterns, take a variety of flight paths.

For such reasons, sporting clays is catching on fast for business socializing and family recreation alike. Some 250 clubs have set up facilities since the sport was formally introduced in 1985 from England, where it has been flourishing since the 1920s. Courses often are adjuncts of skeet establishments and are popping up at fashionable resorts as well.

The clays themselves are simply low-tech saucers, flung into the air by spring-loaded devices called traps. Various models are operated manually, electrically, or by a computer.

While sporting clays is an offshoot of skeet (from the Norse for shoot), enthusiasts say it isn't as intensely competitive. In skeet, you can be "humiliated by not breaking 100% of the targets," says Johnny Cloherty, head of the National Rifle Assn.'s new Sporting Clays Development Dept. But in sporting clays, as I learned from Jim Cauley, my instructor at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., "50% is what you expect."

RABBIT HOP. Anyway, the emphasis isn't on scoring, it's on having fun. Indeed, one of sporting clays' top guns, General Norman Schwarzkopf of Desert Storm fame, is intent on keeping the game from becoming serious and exclusive, as he found skeet to be in his younger Army days. It shouldn't become so competitive, he told Sporting Clays magazine, that "we drive out everybody except the elitists."

Certainly, you don't have to be among the elite to get started. "Most good clubs provide loaner guns" to newcomers, says John Higgins, chief instructor for the San Antonio-based National Sporting Clays Assn. (NSCA). A box of 25 shells runs around $7, dues may be $10 a year, and a serviceable shotgun may set you back a few hundred dollars.

At the upper end, thereare courses as elaborate as the Homestead's. There, you walk or ride a mile-long complex of 12 stations that send out clays in patterns simulating, say, a high-flying mallard or a rabbit darting along the ground. Guests pay $80 for 100 rounds to shoot at 100 clays plus a gun, safety glasses, and earplugs. Instruction is $50 an hour.

Public courses, such as Mid Hudson Trap & Skeet in New Paltz, N.Y., are an easy means to get into the sport. There, for $30, owners Ginny and Hugh Davis provide 100 targets at a 10-station course.

If you get serious about sporting clays, the spending opportunities practically explode. Manufacturers such as Beretta, Browning, Krieghoff, and Perazzi turn out a variety of shotguns especially for the sporting-clays market; many cost $2,000 to $5,000, while a few run to $25,000.

For those who want competition and camaraderie, the NSCA's Sporting Clays ($26 a year for six issues, 803 681-2219) lists clubs as well as tournaments. Among the big events this year will be the NSCA U.S. Open at the Homestead on May 22-24. With the right connections, you might get in on invitational tournaments, too, where corporate sponsors bring movie stars and other luminaries into the action. Who knows? That could be your one chance to outshoot Stormin' Norman.Dick Janssen EDITED BY AMY DUNKIN


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