I’ll be the first to admit that I may have been suffering from a mid-life crisis, but ultimately I really wanted to prove that a mainstream semi-auto like the Browning Silver Lightning still had what it takes in our digital era of composite gladiators such as the Maxus and Vinci.
There are two challenges to finding a great shotgun -- fit and suitability.
The shotguns section of Shotgun Life is dedicated to helping you recognize the perfect shotgun (that you’ll want to keep for the rest of your life, and then hand down to your family for generations to come.)
For some people, finding a great shotgun is simply love at first sight. For others, a great shotgun grows on them -- and they find themselves down in the basement cleaning it for absolutely no other reason than just to be in its company.
But for every shotgun owner who falls in love with their pride-and-joy, there are teams of engineers and craftsmen toiling away behind the scenes to bring your gun to fruition.
As you’ll see, shotguns are generally designed for a particular sport. Some shotguns have composite stocks and fore-ends to withstand the travails of duck hunting. Then there are single-shot trap guns with high ribs that help you intercept rising targets. And skeet shooters find that their beavertail fore-end is particularly adept at bringing about a smooth, quick swing.
So let the search begin. Here is what you’ll find in our shotgun section…
Shotguns for Clays and Wingshooting Shotgun Actions Break Actions Over/Under Side-by-Side Single-Barrel Shotgun Semiautomatics Pumps Skeet Shotguns Trap Shotguns WaterFowl Shotguns Upland Shotguns
Unless you’re in a squad with highly ranked shooters who consider 24 out of 25 a miserable failure, skeet is a great sport for mixing, mingling and shooting.
Cheerful support, gratuitous advice and a few off-color jokes are the earmarks of a happy day of casual shooting on the skeet field…made all the better by a perfect 25.
Make a loud noise and break something.
There is something instinctive, even primal, about the satisfaction of seeing a clay target smash after a perfect shot. The smaller the pieces, the bigger the rush. That squirt of dopamine that tells your brain you just experienced a perfect moment.
The standard skeet gun is an over/under break action that has screw-in chokes. This configuration is available in just about any gauge from the smallest .410 to the largest 12-gauge.
Some shooters prefer to use a semi-automatic for skeet, also with screw-in chokes.
Either configuration works fine. The most important aspect of a good skeet gun is not the number of barrels it has or its action: it’s the balance and feel of the gun that allows you make smooth swings to hit the crossing targets of most skeet stations.
She's a teacher, an artist, and a ballet aficionado originally from Brooklyn, New York--and an avid clay shooter!
If this doesn't entirely add up, don't be surprised. Sometimes, even Bonnie Berniger herself wonders how she ended up becoming passionate about clays shooting.
"My friends can't understand how I can go from the arts to shooting," she says. "People from Brooklyn don't understand that shooting could be a sport. They associate a gun with crime. When I come into work happy after a weekend of shooting, they looked at me very strangely."
Like many women shot gunners, Bonnie was introduced to the sport by her husband Joe, a financial planner. At that time, in 1992, she was on a one-year sabbatical from the New York City school system. Joe had always been into handguns and rifles, but started shooting trap with a good friend, and an NRA instructor. He suggested to Joe that he take Bonnie out for a trap lesson.
Joe asked her, and why she accepted his invitation is still a mystery. She had always felt wary about the guns Joe owned.
"I guess I was curious. Joe introduced me to the NRA instructor. He worked with me one day and after a few hours of watching, learning, and then shooting, I was hooked. Since I had that year off from teaching school, I pursued learning and improving my technique on my own. I started to show some success, and then I really I got into it. I became a convert. Joe saw my devotion to the sport and bought me a Browning BT-00 trap gun."
How could that possibly happen to someone like Bonnie?
"It was the first time I ever felt successful in a sport," she says.
Not being a natural athlete, she easily mastered the hand-eye coordination that helped her become a successful trap shooter. Best of all, with trap "you don't have to run or hit a ball," she says, laughing.
Like many women shooters, Bonnie had to get a shotgun that fit her. To make it more interesting, she was a lefty. So she had to cut the stock for a shorter length-of-pull and then have the cast changed so that her eyes lined up with the beads.
With trap gun in hand, she became a regular at Joe's trap club. "I was the only woman in this club. Some of the members weren't happy about it, but I held my own and after a while I was accepted as ‘one of the boys.'"
Over time, Bonnie gained enough confidence in trap to try her hand at skeet. She subsequently signed on with the skeet league at Thunder Mountain, in Ringwood, New Jersey. That called for another shotgun and she purchased a used 12-gauge Beretta 686 White Onyx from a friend of Joe's.
Just about this time, Bonnie's sabbatical had come to an end and she returned to work teaching gifted third graders. Despite the demands of her job, Bonnie stuck with skeet.
Her colleagues at work also began to grasp that one of their own had turned into a dedicated clays shooter. "They could not understand how I could possibly get into a shotgun sport," she recalls.
Bonnie persevered. She decided to improve her skeet game mostly on her own. Although she attend a few shooting clinics, most of her success came from constant practice and the support from the guys she shot with. Then she took the leap...
When she started to shoot competitive skeet, "I met a wonderful group of men who groomed me to try to make me successful in skeet. One of my problems was that I was teaching full time. I couldn't devote that time to being the best I could. I was teaching in Brooklyn, and living in New Jersey. But I did my best."
That's when Joe struck again. He introduced Bonnie to sporting clays, and of course another shotgun was called for. She opted for 12-gauge Beretta Sporting Clays gun. She found sporting clays so much fun that she backed off on her skeet and trap shooting. As she tells it, "Sporting clays is now my primary clay sport," she says.
She also discovered that her skeet game suffered. "If you really want to be successful with one sport, and compete, you can't go back and forth. I had a different gun for each sport and each gun fit and felt different. It took a few rounds to adjust."
At that point, Bonnie had left her teaching job in Brooklyn. She landed a job closer to home at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, where she's an Educational Supervisor. In her current capacity, she is a liaison between the University and the placement site where she monitors and evaluates the progress of student teachers. She now has more time to shoot.
For Bonnie, the beauty of sporting clays is that it lets her and Joe spend more time together, traveling to different venues with their sporting guns.
"We travel to shoot and make a little vacation out of it. Wherever we go, we find places to shoot," she says. In fact, they recently returned from Maui, where they shot sporting clays on a course inside an extinct volcano. "Now I shoot for pleasure, not for competition."
What's her advice for other women who want to lead the Shotgun Life?
"Conquer your fear of the gun," she advises. "By taking lessons, I got to learn the correct way to hold a gun, how to ‘read' the flight of a bird and respect the handling and firing of a gun." She also notes that this is a sport both she and her husband enjoy together, which makes for an even happier marriage!
Deborah McKown is Editor of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Irwin Greenstein, Publisher
Montana’s newest sporting clays facility is up and running in less than a year. Jim Bailey, owner and general manager is in the construction business and had planned to use the land for an upscale home development, and had started to do that when the housing market went south. He then gave a lot of thought to how else to utilize the land for a profitable return since he already had done some work in developing roads, etc. After some discussion with some friends he decided to develop a sport shooting complex.