don’t know whether I’d shoot in the winter without The Spokesman-Review Trapshoot because it never crossed my mind,” Chuck Booth said.
After coming across a kind letter the veteran Cheney trapshooter had sent in last winter, I called recently to get a little more of his perspective on one of the longest-running sporting events in the Inland Northwest.
“In my lifetime, I’ve never known a winter without the winter trapshoot,” said the 75-year-old retired Eastern Washington University geography professor. “As a kid, I started going to the gun club when my dad did it. For me, it’s been the thing to do on winter Sundays for more than 60 years.”
The Spokesman-Review’s Inland Northwest Trapshoot will bring out shooters of all abilities starting the second Sunday in January. For the 87th year, the eight-week contest will blast through the winter regardless of weather conditions.
The event has been a tradition since 1916, lapsing only for three years during World War II.
In the beginning, shooters fired 25 shots at their home clubs and telegraphed the results to the newspaper for scoring and publication.
Nowadays, the results are sent to the newspaper by mail, fax and e-mail.
Little else about the event had changed for Booth until last year, when the Cheney Gun Club lost its lease to operate on farmland on the outskirts of town.
“The club had been there since the World War II,” he said.
Cheney shooters have splintered off to shoot at other clubs in the region, but about eight of them, including Booth, have landed at a homegrown shooting facility called the West Deep Creek Gun Club.
“Harry Grennay built the club in his own backyard off Highway 2,” Booth said. “He had one trap and we brought over one from the Cheney Club and it’s a very nice place to shoot.”
Grennay is another septuagenarian who stands at the 25-yard line and shoulders his 12-gauge with the ease cultivated by 60-some years of shooting experience. Serious trapshooters fire thousands of rounds a year. The winter shoot is just an excuse to avoid any downtime, he said.
“Harry has made it possible for the Cheney (Future Farmers of America) kids to keep their shooting program, and he welcomes other kids to come out,” Booth said.
“There’s nothing I enjoy more than having the kids come here to shoot,” said Grennay, who personally subsidizes youth shooting at his club. “I bring kids in and one of the things I try to teach is how to be ladies and gentlemen. I demand it. The other thing is safety.”
There can be no compromise on safe gun handling at a gun club, regardless of a person’s age, he said.
The West Deep Creek Gun Club was officially established in 1998. It’s simple but first-class, with wheelchair-accessible shooting lanes and voice-activated traps.
A dozen well-ventilated caps hang from the rafters of the former chicken coop that’s been restored into a cozy clubhouse.
“The first time you shoot 25 straight at this club, your hat gets tossed and we all get a shot at it, then we hang it for posterity,” Grennay said. “We always have a few substitute hats around here if yours is too precious.”
The older shooters at the club last Sunday clearly enjoyed the spice of teenagers — boys and girls —who showed up to shoot a few rounds.
“They’ll be in the winter shoot this year, too,” Booth said. Youth and women shooters have their own categories in The Spokesman- Review event.
Like a dozen other gun clubs in the region, the tiny West Deep Creek clubhouse has walls adorned with photos of shooters lined up on shoveled walkways with snow piled high on the sides.
“Snow is pretty easy to deal with,” Booth said. “It’s the wind and cold that work against you. Sometimes it’s a trick just to get your finger in the trigger guard.”
Shooters at clubs ranging from the sprawling grounds at the Spokane Gun Club to the humble range at Rockford have stories to tell about braving winter conditions to take a shot at flying 4 65/16 -inch clay discs.
“I’ve seen strong winds out of the north that can send the target flying back at you,” Booth said.
Trap ranges are still a social staple in the region’s smaller towns, where neighbors spend a few weekend hours shooting the breeze, as well as the targets.
In the history of The Spokesman-Review shoot, there’s never been a winter too bitter to silence the guns or the desire to see a shot string vaporize a target.
Veteran shooters like to recall the winter of 1968-69, when they had to shovel the lanes and shoot between six-foot high piles of snow.
Trapshooters from Coeur d’Alene reported to their stations that winter wearing snowshoes.
Serious shooters at any club might have signature clothing and exotic shotguns. At Malden-Pine City, Wash., one might see a few farmers shooting battered pump guns in the same coveralls they wore to grease the tractor.
The best shooters in the region can drop a few targets from their score when the winter wind numbs their fingers and stings their eyes. But everybody in The Spokesman- Review contest must shoot the same day and under the same rules.
Participants record the first 25 shots they fire each Sunday.
No exceptions are allowed for a chilling gust of wind or frozen eyelids — no sympathy for targets that are so cold, the pellets punch cleanly through the frozen clay without breaking the disk.
Each club sends in the top four scores of the day to compare with those shot at other clubs.
After eight Sundays, the individual and team champions earn pins, trophies and rights to brag that they took a shot at a winter sport, and won.
Tradition is the motivation, Booth said.
“I know shooters who tried changing their lifestyle and going to Arizona for the winter,” he said. “But they couldn’t stand it and they were back here shooting the next winter.”
“If there weren’t a Spokesman- Review shoot during the winter I don’t think any trapshooters that I know would be out trying to break targets in January,” Booth added. “I would be watching the NFL games on television just like the other folks.”