Ron Olmstead has created a little piece of heaven for clay target shooters with their sights on a challenge.
The Double Barrel Ranch Sporting Clays course blends into the landscape of a creek flanked by farm fields off Harvard Road on the south side of Mica Peak.
The natural setting can lull a shotgun shooter into thinking the course will be a walk in a park.
Instead, the targets will come at nearly every angle, darting through brush, behind trees and sometimes showing up out of nowhere.
“It’s the variety that keeps me interested,” said Dean Soelberg, one of the top master-class shooters in the area. “Every time you come out, the course is a little different, the target angles change – it’s a new challenge.”
Soelberg competes in as many registered shoots as possible to accumulate points for his goal of being among the top sporting clays shooters in the state.
Registered shoots also allow noncompetitive participants to join the group while participating in the more relaxed “hunter class.”
Many people take a more leisurely attitude, approaching the sport as they would a social round of golf.
On a recent weekday, a mixed group of couples from the Tri-Cities had come to enjoy the course for a day.
“We’re open seven days a week for people making reservations for bachelor parties, birthday parties, reunions, business groups and things like that,” Olmstead said.
Cost per shooter is $20 for 50 targets or $35 for 100 targets with a two-shooter minimum.
Soelberg was running the course that day with Bob Dunn and Jack Tibesar as they practiced for an upcoming competitive shoot.
“We practice the skill of shooting, but on the day of the shoot, the targets will fly differently,” Dunn said. “This sport can never become mechanical.”
Double Barrel’s course is the newest of the three sporting clays courses in the Spokane area and about a dozen statewide. Olmstead built the course over six months from a carefully drawn plan that changed somewhat as he worked on the ground at every station.
“You’re working with the trees and the terrain,” he said. “A lot of thinking went into this, and a lot of chain sawing.”
First and foremost, he said, any sporting clays course must be designed so squads can be firing at all 14 stations without endangering other shooters.
Generally, the targets simulate various types of bird-hunting situations, such as mallards dropping into decoys, quail launching out of brush, doves coming in from your blind side, teal springing from creeks, or pheasants rocketing toward a distant stubble field.
The setup changes for every day of shooting, as Olmstead has made it easy to pick up the trap shacks with a fork lift and move them up or down little paths for different presentations.
The course starts with a double rabbit – not one, but two ground-bouncing disks crossing in front of the shooter. Strategically placed trees and foliage force you to pick up the targets quickly or maintain patient concentration to hit the “rabbits” as they hop out the other side.
Shortstops and third basemen can sympathize with shooters at this station.
“Bad hop,” said Tibesar, missing thoroughly on his first two shots.
Sporting clays guns have evolved to have long, 32-inch barrels and tall ribs that look like a fence line built on the top of the barrel.
“With the high rib, you never blot out the target with your barrel,” said Dunn, who is also one of the area’s top shooters.
Asked how he begins any sporting clays teaching session, Dunn was quick to respond: “See the bird. That’s the key. Pick up the target quickly and give it all of your attention.”
Technique refinements include looking to where the target will appear while pointing the shotgun roughly to the point of impact before calling for the target to be launched.
“You want to minimize gun movement and the distance you swing the barrel,” Dunn said.
Top shooters look for every possible edge. They’re opting for light 7/8-ounce loads to reduce recoil that can cause flinching through hundreds of rounds.
They may change chokes between stations and vary from size 7 1/2 to 8 shot to create the most effective pattern for each situation, much as a golfer chooses various clubs.
Indeed, golfing is a favorite comparison for the shooting game of sporting clays as participants move from station to station. In recent years, more shooters are using carts to move their guns, ammo, water bottles and other gear.
However, major differences between golf and sporting clays include:
• Alcohol is not allowed on shooting ranges until the shooting is over and guns are put away.
• “You don’t throw your gun to the ground if you make a bad shot,” Soelberg said.
• “And you can do a round in 2 1/2 hours without kissing away the entire day,” Dunn added.
Olmstead seemed to relish seeing how the shooters would handle each station.
The wafer-thin battue targets put some chance into the game as any puff of wind would make each target flit, veer or soar differently than the previous target.
Targets came in singles and pairs, high from behind, over a hill from ahead, quartering in and angling out, high and low.
“I wasn’t kidding about the variety,” Soelberg said.
Sporting clays is the antithesis of the regimented sport of trapshooting. Even the walks between the stations add another dimension to the game – trash talk.
“Dean, I don’t want to upset you or anything, but you’ve missed only four targets,” Dunn said, goading his squad mate going into the last station.
“Don’t let us get into your head or anything,” Tibesar said.
Dunn turned to nobody in particular and pointed out, “If you have a thin skin, this may not be your game.”