Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wingshooting is the real deal for shotgun enthusiasts.
Clays sports such as skeet, trap and sporting clays were originally invented with a single goal in mind: improve your ability to shoot real birds with real feathers.
While a hefty kill for the day will certainly bring on a healthy smile, wingshooting is more than shooting your own dinner.
Wingshooting tradition runs deep in the American psyche. For many, wingshooting and the Second Amendment’s the right to bear arms, are virtually synonymous.
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.
Common wisdom says one thing, Bobby Fowler Jr.’s trophy case says another.
Since he first started shooting competitively in 1993, Fowler has won about 150 titles in sporting clays and FITASC. He’s dominated the sports so thoroughly, that his middle initials should be HOA. Every gauge, on both sides of the Atlantic, in his home state of Texas – no tournament is safe from Fowler’s monumental skills in achieving the highest overall average.
Wouldn’t it be great if four-time Olympic shooting champ Kim Rhode finally appeared on a box of Wheaties?
As legend has it, if it had been up to Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, Kim would’ve been beaming her warm smile on the Breakfast of Champions back in 1996, when at age 16, as the youngest member of the U.S. Summer Olympic Team, she won her first Gold Medal for double trap.
It started in a pizza and sandwich shop in South Philadelphia, and eventually led to one of the great finds in the world of big-bore collectors.
Today, Bernie Liberati can legitimately claim he is the only man to own two consecutively numbered L.C. Smith 8-gauge shotguns -- a highly coveted find given that only 35 total were ever made.
The achievement is a far cry from the kid who delivered pizzas and sandwiches in South Philly. Delivering food in that neighborhood may not sound glamorous, but it opened the door into the world of big-bore shotguns for Bernie...
After working there for a while, the shop owner had taken Bernie out hunting one night.
"We didn't get anything, but I had fun," he said.
The Boy's First Shotgun
Afterwards, his boss suggested that Bernie may want to buy a shotgun. Bernie didn't own a shotgun (or any other kind of gun for that matter). The man offered to get one for Bernie, and soon the delivery boy entrusted his boss with the cash to buy his first shotgun.
It turned out to be a 12-gauge Daiwa, made by Singer Nikko in Japan.
"It was beautiful," Bernie recalled.
So beautiful, in fact, the man offered Bernie $175 -- a full $25 more than what the boy paid for it. Did Bernie bite? No way. But it was his first introduction into the value of shotguns -- planting a seed that would grow into a fascination with the thunderous big bores.
Telling Dad About the Shotgun
In the meantime, though, Bernie had to contend with his father. You see, when he came home that night with a shiny new shotgun in a cardboard box, he father reprimanded: "You can't bring that in the house."
I said "I have no place to put it."
Dad: "That's your problem."
As the sun went down, young Bernie was relegated to the porch. Wearing only a t-shirt, it was like sitting in a refrigerator out there -- until his mother intervened.
"My mother was inside, complaining, ‘How could you let my son sit out in the cold?'" Finally, his father let the boy in...along with his brand new shotgun.
Bernie and his friends loved to take his new Daiwa out to a field near the Philadelphia airport. "We'd set up a skeet machine and no one would bother us. The police would come by to make sure we weren't doing anything wrong, that we weren't drinking."
Yes, those were the good old days.
Fast forward to 1992...
Bernie's father, now 78, wanted to retire from the customs house broker company he owned since 1963, Morris Friedman and Co. So rather than sell the business to a stranger, he gave it to Bernie.
A Fateful Meeting With Jim Stahl
One day, Bernie was hard at work in the office, when one of his regular contacts from U.S. Customs stopped by -- a guy named Jim Stahl. He suggested to Bernie they go trap shooting one night. (As fate would have it, Jim would become active in the L.C. Smith Collectors Association.)
They had such a good time they thought it would be a good idea to make it a regular Wednesday night ritual.
After a few times out trap shooting, Jim invited Bernie to go hunting... and they had a great time doing that too.
As their friendship grew, Jim introduced Bernie to side-by-side shotguns. Bernie was bowled over when he discovered that Jim's collection actually reached 25 side-by-sides.
"That's unbelievable," Bernie told Jim, laughing about it today and given the size of his own collection.
Bernie's Shotgun Education
In conjunction with the side-by-side collection, Jim was an avid collector of books related to vintage and big-bore shotguns.
Thanks to Jim, Bernie embarked on his shotgun education.
But Bernie was about to get hooked.
One Saturday afternoon, Jim took Bernie to visit Hollowell's Gun Shop in Connecticut.
"We're walking around and Jim says what kind of gun do you want?"
Bernie's wasn't exactly sure what he wanted, but he knew what he didn't want: a 12-gauge.
"Everybody has a 12 gauge," Bernie remembers telling Jim.
As they wandered the around the store, Bernie thought he would go for a .410.
"But there was this 10-gauge Remington. It was cheap and unique," Bernie said.
Out of the Corner His Eye...
Then lightning struck...
Out of the corner of his eye, Bernie spotted an 8-gauge J.P. Clabrough "in the middle of the table. It was the first 8-gauge I'd ever seen." After negotiating about 90 minutes, Bernie brought home the first two big bores of what would become an extensive collection.
"And that's how I started. I was fortunate in that people were not that enthusiastic about buying them, and the prices were pretty affordable," he said.
After years of collecting 4-, 8- and 10-gauge vintage beauties, Bernie was finally able to put it together: his prized consecutively numbered 8-gauge L.C. Smith Grade 2 shotguns.
The first one he purchased was number 46291. As fate would have it, Bernie bought it on Valentine's Day 2006.
Only three weeks later, another 8-gauge L.C. Smith Grade 2 became available.
As Bernie tells it, "There was a fellow who was member of the L.C. Smith Collector's Association. Unfortunately, he was going through some rough times." The man needed to liquidate his collection, and the dealer who got it immediately gave Bernie a call.
When Bernie got it, he realized it was numbered 46290.
Well, from the kid sitting out on the porch that one chilly night with his first shotgun, Bernie now owns about 50 big bores.
"I like the fact that they're unique, and have a history behind them," Bernie said.
But these stunning shotguns aren't mere museum pieces for him.
"I shoot them at least twice a year."
Bernie Liberati today with his son, Bernie.
Chris Corkell leads the way into the gazebo of station six at Pintail Point. She's followed by her husband Charlie, instructor Wes Russum and their trapper, Kelly. The presentation is a report of outgoing crossers -- in a breeze coming off the Chesapeake Bay -- and Chris is up.
After Kelly pulls the lookers, Chris pauses to take in the shot. The landscape is flat with a trap house about 40 yards out, and beyond that a large dairy barn in the distance.
What she doesn't realize is the conspiracy that's developing behind her back. Charlie discretely took the three-button control from Kelly, and then he gets a sly, contagious grin.
Chris raises her Beretta 391 Teknys. It's a serious gun. Stock cut down to fit her small frame, hydraulic recoil pad, impressive wood, and an extended ported choke that looks like the muzzle on a Howitzer. She's in the moment -- focused.
Chris is suddenly baffled by the simo pair criss-crossing away from her. She whips around...and there's Charlie laughing -- along with everyone else. Chris gives Charlie that look (Oh that's so typical of you) and joins in the laughter.
Passionate About Sporting Clays
In a way, you begin to think its Charlie's way of getting even with her. After 27 years together, they took up sporting clays about 18 months ago. Now, all Chris wants to talk about is shooting....
Charlie is watching NASCAR and Chris wants to talk sporting clays. Charlie is watching football and Chris wants to talk sporting clays. And when Charlie is watching baseball, Chris wants to talk sporting clays.
You can tell who's taking the sporting clays lessons and who isn't. Not because Chris outshoots Charlie (they both shoot about 60 out of 100). It's simply that Chris has found a calling. She's on a mission. She wants to shoot competitively. And she'll do whatever it takes to become a championship shooter. She's willing to pay her dues.
"I've never been competitive at anything, until I got into shooting," she says. "But I fell in love with the sport, and I would like some day to be the Maryland State Champion."
Dig a little deeper and she's hard-pressed to explain precisely why she loves sporting clays so much. Maybe it is a means of relieving stress and being able to get outdoors as she has an office job at Talbot County Planning & Zoning/Board of Appeals. Maybe it's because sporting clays gives her and Charlie more time together. Or maybe it's because sporting clays is a heck of a lot of fun.
The Sporting Clays Habit
Whatever the reason, she's going with it. The couple is up to a monthly habit of numerous boxes of ammo per month. And Charlie is 100% supportive (despite the antics)
He proudly says that Chris is doing "real good" with her sporting clays. But for him, sporting clays is a different story.
Ever since he was old enough to pick up a shotgun, Charlie's been hunting in Caroline County, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He still hunts birds and deer there. For Charlie, shooting has always been a way of life.
It All Started with a Remington 870 Pump
Ironically, Chris has never even owned a gun until that fateful day Charlie gave her a Remington 870 pump (in camo). The way it happened is that Charlie manages a 130-acre estate called Essex Farm, located in Royal Oak. Chris and Charlie grew up in Caroline County. One day, the owner purchased a manual trap machine to use on the property. To get Chris involved, Charlie gave her the Remington.
"The guys were hitting all the targets, and I wasn't," Chris recalled. "Right after that, I started taking lessons."
Her initial instructor was Bruce Ney -- a member of the National Sporting Clays Association U.S. team, former World Champion and in 2007 inducted into the NSCA Hall of Fame . As Chris tells it, when she showed up the first time with that Remington, Bruce took it away and let her use his Beretta shotgun.
Chris Crushes the Targets
Right after that, he fixed her and Charlie up with a pair of custom-fitted Beretta391
Teknys -- drawing on his experience as an authorized Beretta dealer, instructor and stock fitter.
Now, when she hits a target, she absolutely crushes it -- far exceeding anything she could've done on the sporting clays field with that Remington 870 pump.
Charlie, meanwhile, is more sanguine about the sport. While he really likes it, he found that sporting clays improved his hunting (there's plenty of excellent duck and geese shooting on the Eastern Shore.)
Sporting Clays Comes Full Circle
In the brief 18 months that Charlie and Chris have been shooting, sporting clays has come full circle in their lives...
They've become active members in the local chapter of Ducks Unlimited, and Chris is organizing her first sporting clays shoot at Schrader's Bridgetown Manor.
They've encouraged their daughter, Chastity and her husband, David to take up the sport, so that "We can shoot as a family," Chris said.
And after Bruce Ney hit the sporting clays circuit, Chris started taking lessons from Wes, the resident pro at Pintail Point. As it turns out, Charlie and Wes grew up together playing softball.
Today, you can see all three of them laughing and enjoying themselves as they move on to the next station.