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Guns of winter

Sun., Jan. 11, 2009

Snow berms, frozen trigger fingers a blast for trapshooters

Comparisons will be made today between this season and the winter of 1968-69 as shotgunners gather to begin The Spokesman-Review Trapshoot. The shoot has been a winter tradition since 1916, when club scores were sent in to the newspaper from around the region by telegraph. The only break was during the three years around World War II, when ammunition wasn’t readily available.

But there’s never been a winter too bitter to silence the guns or the desire to see a shot string vaporize a clay target.

Not this year, or in the fabled winter at the end of the ’60s.

“No comparison,” said Dick Bergman, 71, at the Spokane Gun Club last weekend. “Sixty-eight-sixty-nine was worse. I remember shooting out of deep trenches in the snow. It got down to 25 below, plus the wind.

“The grease in the old throwers got so sluggish, targets just flopped out a few feet and plopped in the snow.

“I froze the tip of my finger when it froze to the trigger.”

It’s one thing to go out on a spring-like day and blast at 4 5/16-inch targets that speed away at 60 feet per second at any one of 72 different angles.

But a bit more mettle is required to compete during winter.

Newspaper reports from 1969 tell of shooters having difficulty swinging shotguns with the targets at some stations without brushing into a pile of snow with their elbows.

Shooters from Coeur d’Alene reported to their stations wearing snowshoes.

In more recent years, shooters have been known to take the line on the worst days wearing snowmobile boots and ski goggles.

Even the best shots can drop targets in high winds and freezing weather, but not necessarily because they miss.

In bitter cold, shotgun pellets can punch cleanly through the frozen clay without breaking the target.

Bergman started shooting trap 50 years ago, soon after he was graduated from West Valley High School.

“This winter, I’ll have two sons and two grandsons competing,” he said.

Despite knee-high snow, The Spokesman-Review’s 91st annual winter contest will bring out shooters in a wide range of age and ability for the next eight Sundays. They’ll shoot in Wenatchee and Thompson Falls, Dusty and Sandpoint and about 40 other clubs, larger and smaller, in Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Then they’ll send in their scores for publication the following week to see how they competed with other clubs in their divisions.

Save for a few modern conveniences, such as snow blowers, voice-activated traps and throwers with nylon bushings that don’t seize in cold weather, not a lot has changed about the sport since the Spokane Gun Club was founded as the Spokane Rod and Gun Club in 1892.

“It’s still about getting together with people for friendly competition,” Bergman said. “We still hire teenagers to help us out,” he added, nodding to the teens getting minimum wage last weekend to shovel snow and chip ice from the concrete firing lines.

Since 1949, when the club purchased 100 acres of farmland in the Spokane Valley on Sprague Avenue just east of Barker Road, the clubhouse has been as busy as a church on winter Sundays.

A record snowfall to start the winter of 2008-09 isn’t going to change that.

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