Hidden among the trees near Silver Creek Resort and Shavers Lake is a small log cabin with a sign outside that reads “Clay Shooting.” It may not seem like much, but behind that cabin is a clay-shooting course where visitors can take aim and get an adrenaline rush “hunting” those elusive orange and black disks.
The course is part of the Outdoor Adventures offered at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. As someone who is always willing to try new things – even those that scare me – I scheduled a visit and headed out to try my hand at the popular gun sport.
It must be noted that prior to this I had never shot a gun in my life. Needless to say, I was nervous. But, I was paired with two skillful and knowledgeable guides who put my mind at ease. Billy McKinney, a Pocahontas County native, and Jack Moore, a Roanoke, Virginia, import gave me the rundown before we headed for the course.
The clay shooting facility opened in the summer of 1999 and welcomes shooters of all skill levels and most ages.
“There is an age range,” Moore said. “It’s twelve years old and older. We’ve had little kids show up before – maybe ten years old – that bring their own shotgun. We’ll definitely take them out to the course.”
The facility has a collection of Beretta shotguns in 28 gauge, 20 gauge and 12 gauge. The smaller the number, the bigger the shell and the heavier the shotgun.
“I actually prefer a twenty gauge over a twelve gauge,” Moore said. “Whenever you’re dealing with the twelve gauge, the barrel is going to be bigger. The two different shotguns – the semi-automatics are typically lighter than the over-unders. That’s just the way they’re built.”
The over-under – which I later decided was my preferred shotgun – is the style of gun which you “crack open” to load. A lever is pushed and the barrel comes away from the stock to allow for two shells to be loaded. The barrel is then lifted back into place and ready to shoot.
After showing me the types of shotguns, McKinney brought over a shell that was dissected down the middle to show me the inside and the process a shell goes through.
“Here’s your primer, right here, this is full of gunpowder,” he said, pointing to parts of the shell. “The fire pin hits it and ignites the powder, then there’s the wad and these are your BBs. They’ll go flying out of there. The BBs will outrun the wad. So you’ll see the wad drop, but your BBs are still going.”
I thought to myself, ‘I doubt I’ll see anything because my eyes will be closed,’ but I didn’t want to let my fear show. I was determined to give this a try.
As we sat in the cabin, I asked about the six clays mounted on the wall behind Moore’s head.
He explained that there are different shapes and sizes for the different levels of the course.
Like a golf course, the clay shooting course starts off rather easy with stationary clays and progressively gets harder, with the clays getting faster, or two being thrown in the air at the same time, or they get smaller and faster.
“The white one on the left is the rabbit,” Moore said. “It runs on the ground and is a little bit thicker. The black one is a battue. Typically a battue is thrown straight up in the air. The stander is the most regular clay that we throw. Then it just gets smaller from there. So we have a midi which is going to come out a little bit faster and then the mini – hard to see, comes out super, super quick.
“We’ll only usually throw the midi and the mini for somebody who’s a little more advanced,” he added.
The clays are literally made out of clay and are biodegradable which is a good thing because there is a lot of rubble in the woods after a run through the course.
Visitors to the course are allowed 25 shots at the course and are also allowed to bring their own shotguns and ammo if they so desire.
The facility has seen a lot of repeat customers, and newbies – like me – who were curious about this sports shooting thing.
Finally, before outfitting me with a shell bag that clipped around my waist, the guys gave me a final safety lesson.
First and foremost, the shotguns are not loaded until the shooter is in the window at the range on the course. When carrying an over-under, it is required to have the gun “cracked open,” and with the other shotguns, the barrel must point to the sky, perpendicular to the ground.
“If it’s an over-under, we like to see the gun broken down,” Moore said. “Reason being, whenever I’m looking at that gun and it’s broken open, that’s how I know it’s safe. We don’t ask people to load their guns until we’re inside the box, and that’s when they’re also allowed to take the safety off to shoot. The barrel always stays down range. We don’t want them swaying outside the box.”
It was time to head for the course. I carried the broken down over-under, and we headed for the first box. The boxes are wood frames with a “window” where the shooter stands and aims for the clays. I put in my earplugs and was ready to go.
McKinney helped me with my first shell, adjusted my stance and told me how to sight up the clay before I shot. I aimed, took a deep breath and shot. I hit a clay! Granted, it wasn’t the clay I was aiming at, but I got it nonetheless. It was a rush.
That was the first time I shot a gun and it wasn’t a disaster. I wasn’t nervous to have two pros watching me. In fact, it was comforting to have them there, knowing they weren’t going to let me get hurt.
McKinney held on to the ejected shell for me to keep as a souvenir, and we continued down the course.
It was exhilarating to go from box to box, and see how the course was set up. There are launching machines where Moore would load the clays, He said when I was ready to yell “Pull!” He would shoot a clay out to give me an idea of where to aim and then I would get to give it a try.
The clays are stored in boxes along the course.
There were boxes where he shot two clays at once – impossible for me to hit either one. And others where the clays came out fast and high in the air – again impossible for me to shoot. Overall though, I managed to hit six or seven clays that day.
Yes, my shoulder ached halfway through, but I didn’t want to stop. I was honestly surprised that I enjoyed shooting a gun. I’ve been around them in the past, but never had the inclination to shoot before, due to a fear of accidents.
After my experience at the clay shooting range, I realized that it’s natural to fear accidents, but it is also possible to have a fun and a safe day of shooting. All it takes is respect for the weapon and it’s capabilities.
There were even a few times where I uttered a few, rather loud “woo-hoos” as I saw the clays shatter from my not so expertly aimed shot.
As the three of us returned to the cabin, I knew I would return to shoot more clays. Maybe next time, I’ll bring a few friends.
Whether you’ve been shooting since you were a teen or have never touched a shotgun before, the clay shooting crew will be there to help you have the best time possible. All you need to do is listen to the safety tips, take a deep breath and don’t forget to yell “Pull!” when you’re ready.
The clay shooting facility is open Thursday through Sunday and requires reservations.
To make a reservation, call 877-441-4386 or visit http://www.snowshoemtn.com/todo/sum-activities/sporting-clays/index.htm