WINTER COLUMN: Give sporting clays a shot
There are some questions you just don’t say “No” to.
“You want to shoot sporting clays at Brays Island?” is one of them.
The luxury, outdoorsy private community about an hour south of Charleston boasts a spectacular sporting clays range, among a host of other outdoors amenities.
I’ve finagled an invitation to shoot there only twice, the latest during a piping hot afternoon a few weeks ago when Charleston’s Fourth Thursday shooting club convened at Brays for a round of world-class shotgunning.
I don’t shoot skeet or sporting clays very often, and my performance that day proved it. But what a blast. We sweated our way through a round of 100 targets thrown from down low, up high, underneath, both sides ... and a few directions I could never quite figure out.
We drove golf carts along a path through the woods, stopping at stations to shoot at clay targets zipping out from electrically powered throwers strategically placed in the surrounding woods and fields. Some throwers, or trap machines, were perched atop tall towers. Others were hidden in the undergrowth. One thrower even dangled from a small crane hidden in the trees. Amazing stuff. You never knew where the “birds” were coming from, much less where they were headed.
On the way home, I kept thinking what a shame it was that more outdoors enthusiasts don’t give this a try. Access to such facilities is one obvious reason, but it turns out the Lowcountry is home to a few great public options for anyone hoping to give sporting clays a shot.
Two of the best are Partridge Creek Gun Club at 1487 S.C. Hwy. 78 in Ridgeville (843-458-1691, partridgecreekgunclub.com) and the Backwoods Quail Club (843-546-1466, backwoodsquailclub.com) on S.C. Hwy. 51 outside of Andrews. Both are about an hour from Charleston and offer rounds of sporting clays (100 targets) for less than 50 bucks.
Partridge Creek is open to the public Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., and offers trap and skeet, in which the shooter essentially stays in one location, along with a 10-station sporting clays range, in which shooters move from station to station.
Frank Mowrey, a club member who runs the sporting clays course on Wednesdays, said that although their set-up is challenging, “we don’t try to hide the bird (target) or anything like that.” But they might set the throwers so there’s a tree in a shooter’s sweet spot. And they’ll throw “grass burner” rabbits and follow up with slow, softly thrown targets.
“We have a lot of bird hunters who think they’re going to do well, and they’ll come off a course of 100 birds with 10 broke. And they’re very upset.”
Shooters can use a common 12-gauge pump-action or automatic on sporting clays courses, but quicker action, lighter recoil and classic style make over-under 20-gauge shotguns the favorite among serious shooters. Mowrey recommends a long-barrelled 20-gauge with improved cylinder or modified choke. He also recommends lots of practice for relatively unskilled shooters such as myself.
“Until you’ve mastered it, sporting clays is going to be much more frustrating than shooting skeet,” he said, verifying my experience at Brays.
At Backwoods Quail Club, the largest sporting clay operation in the state, a fleet of throwers launch as many as 1.5 million targets per year, according to general manager, exhibition shooter and hunting guide John Michael.
The vast majority of those “birds,” Michael said, fly on the sporting clay range.
“Sporting clays is the most fun, kind of like a round of golf,” he said. “Skeet and trap are like the putt-putt round of golf.”
Backwoods Quail Club draws hunters and shooters from not only Charleston, but also neighboring states and across the nation. Next May, the club will host the 2013 U.S. Open Sporting Clays Championship.
“We’ll throw between a million and 1.5 million targets in a week,” Michael said.
Backwoods Quail Club is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. nearly every day of the year, and shooters should simply call a few days ahead to reserve time on the course. Those of us who need help can even book shooting lessons, including from Michael.
The club is located on Old Morrisville Plantation, off S.C. Hwy. 51 near its intersection with S.C. Hwy. 41.