The weather called for sunshine, but at the Spokane Gun Club they were expecting flurries – a heavy sum of the orange variety.
Crowds of shotgun-toting competitors huddled around the 18 trap houses in Greenacres, waiting for their moment to burn powder and pelt clay.
Despite its stationary nature, trap shooting is one big chase – a pursuit of clay pigeons, a pursuit of the perfect score. The sport rouses a feeling of transcendence and marries it with instinct.
The command “pull” rises like a monsoon up the shooter’s throat. A snap of springs spits out the bird, sends it along its arc.
A fluorescent orange blip skims the horizon. Shotgun muzzle blurs with a mural of sky and mountains. Stock and shoulder embrace in the recoil.
Gunsmoke wafts from the barrel, a ceremonious smell, like blowing out birthday candles. The wish is the same with every squeeze of the trigger – to watch that saucer turn to dust in the sky.
A missed shot results in a brooding mystery, as a spread of pellets disappears against the blue abyss. A clear plastic wad, sailing toward the ground, serves as the only piece of evidence.
But when it happens, that busted clay pigeon means only one thing – vindication.
A small burst of orange, but in the shooter’s stomach, it’s like fireworks.
The Northwest Grand Trap Shoot in mid-April saw approximately 250 shooters from throughout the Pacific Northwest competing for a percentage of their class’s purse and $12,700 in added money.
The event was nothing out of the ordinary for the Spokane Gun Club, which puts on several shoots and tournaments every year – including the USA Youth Education in Shooting Sports (“USAYESS”) and American Trap Association Washington State championships. They also host The Spokesman-Review’s annual Inland Northwest Trapshoot, which recently concluded its 97th year.
“Trap shooting is a sport that most people play against themselves,” said Les Camp, president of the Spokane Gun Club. “They like to compete for that perfect score. It’s very self-motivated. People just like to practice and get all those birds.”
One round of trap shooting consists of 25 clay targets launched from a machine inside a trap house at 16 yards – anywhere within a 34- to 54-degree arc – from the shooter. Most modern trap ranges house automatic machines initiated by voice-activated “calls.”
Normally, participants shoot 100 targets. Any competitor who scores 96 or higher may earn additional yardage on his next shoot, increasing his distance from the house for an added challenge.
Spokane Gun Club lists all their rules and regulations on a posted sign in plain view along the path to their trap houses. They are open to the public every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday unless there is a scheduled shoot.
They are strong supporters of veteran organizations such as Wounded Warriors and will host a shoot in August. Further information is available online at spokanegunclub.com.
Spokane Rifle Club, just north of Bowl and Pitcher in Spokane, offers trap shooting every Thursday and Saturday starting at 11 a.m. for the cost of $3 to members, $4 to nonmembers.
“We’re not trying to make money at this thing,” said Bob Orth, president of Spokane Rifle Club. “We’re just trying to make it available to as many people as possible in a safe environment.”
In addition to two trap houses, Spokane Rifle club, part of Riverside State Park, boasts an indoor and outdoor pistol range, as well as a 100-yard, 200-yard and 600-yard rifle range. Its property borders the Spokane River and offers a serene setting.
Every June, SRC trap chairman Dave Valandra offers a novice night aimed toward youth and beginner trap shooters. For further details, visit spokanerifleclub.com/shotgun.asp.
“We can lend them a gun,” Orth said. “They just have to bring their ammunition and pay for the birds.”
“Our primary focus is to train people to operate firearms in a safe manner and to be successful in whatever endeavors they aspire to – whether it’s shooting tournaments with high-powered rifles, or black-powder cartridge rifles, or action pistols or shotguns,” said Larry Bassett, executive officer of the club.
As a result of the encouragement and instruction from SRC members, several youth members have competed on Olympic rifle teams, while others have received scholarships at various universities throughout the country to compete on one of 52 NCAA shooting teams.
Most shotgun sportsmen cut their teeth on trap. Some shooters choose to further test their abilities through more complex versions like doubles trap and skeet. Some have sought the greater challenge of sporting clays.
“The game was created in Europe to replicate flight of birds,” said Sally Scott, owner of Landt Farms in Nine Mile Falls. “It’s more sportsman-like for hunters. Every target is different. Every sporting clay course is different depending on topography.”
At Landt Farms, a group of shooters travels a picturesque path through ponds and pines with a horizon of white-capped mountains. While one shooter takes the stand, one participant manually operates the two houses that launch targets meant to resemble the behavior of anything from geese to rabbits to chandels.
Scott’s father, Ellwood Landt, grew up during the depression on the same prairie where Landt Farms is located now, having to hunt pheasant to feed his family. Many years later, when he retired, he went to Idaho’s game department and purchased a pheasant rooster and three hens.
Eventually his stock of pheasants grew and he opened a hunting preserve. His clients suggested manual throwing machines so they could practice.
Landt Farms opened in 1990 under the governing body of the National Sporting Clay Association, becoming the second sporting clay facility in the state. They are joined today by Double Barrel Ranch 15 miles south of Spokane.
In 2004, Scott’s father turned the business over to her. She kept the sporting clays course but resolved to cease raising pheasants. Since running Landt Farms, Scott has encountered all types of shooters.
“Trap shooters either love our game or they hate our game,” she said. “They don’t like the fact that they can’t hit high scores. The guys that love it are just ecstatic to have something unique to shoot at.”
Landt Farms hosts approximately 10 tournaments per year and plays hosts to fundraisers such as “Sunrise for Children.”
Bill Howland, 55, has held membership cards in NSSA, ATA and NSCA. He grew up in Maine down the road from a skeet range and while in the U.S. Marine Corps, he participated in the Mass-1 Skeet Team out of Cherry Point, North Carolina, in the early 1980s.
In 1999, he participated in the sporting clays U.S. Open held in Polson, Montana, and medaled in all events in his class.
With an engineering background, Howland looks at the finer points, such as his shot choice, from a more technical perspective.
“The larger payload is giving you more pellet dispersion because of more pellets being deformed during the shot,” Howland said.
Many shooters will choose 1 1/8 ounces for extra distance. Howland argues the forcing cone in front of the chamber mashes a small amount of the first pellets, creating a less-tight pattern as a result of that extra ounce.
He also recognizes the bad habits that can form when a shooter doesn’t follow through with their shot – a “dead gun habit” he calls it.
“I’ve seen trap guys, seemingly, time their call for the bird so the bird will be almost going straight away from them every time they call, ‘PULL!’ They know where they are going to break that bird when it appears. So they spot shoot, very little to no barrel movement toward the target.”
Howland uses what he calls “the catch up and swing-through” method at least 95 percent of the time.
“I never look at the barrel,” he said. “I see it in my peripheral vision.”
Howland no longer shoots competitively.
“But I still like the smell of gunpowder and seeing an ink blot of clay dust in the clear sky,” he said.
“To get out with a bunch of good folks that just like to have fun is what I like to do the most. The ribbing is also a lot of fun.”
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