Destinations

Let’s say it’s a crisp and bright Saturday morning and you slip on your favorite pair of old jeans and make that first cup of coffee, when a feeling of comfort and well-being washes over you. That’s the feeling of stepping into the Atkin Grant & Lang Shooting Ground.

When it comes to describing a state of bliss, the oft-used saying “I’ve died and gone to heaven” rises to the occasion when you pull into the parking lot of the Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds where, across the way, six Land Rovers with their chauffeurs mingling about, herald your arrival to England’s most luxurious shooting school.

It takes a special kind of genius to fit a guy with a ladies’ shotgun, teach him a new clays-shooting technique and then get him out on the course to start smashing targets all within the span of 90 minutes.

We climbed the narrow staircase from the bustling reception area of the West London Shooting School to the Stanbury Restaurant, where Kevin Phillips is at a table waiting for us.

It’s apparent that the waitress knows Mr. Phillips quite well. As Owner and Director of Sportarm, named the Best UK Gun Room for an unprecedented six times at the Shooting Industry Awards, he’s been working late into the night on the finishing touches of his third Sportarm in the adjacent old brick store. Christmas is 27 days away.

I’m standing in a waist-high grouse butt at the Royal Berkshire Shooting School in rural Pangbourne, England. Jonathan Irby, the school’s Managing Director, really wants me to make this shot: an incoming formation of four clay targets strafing the scrub at about 50 miles per hour. In a way, this shot is a test to see if I have the stuff for hunting the 20-ounce, acrobatic, mind-bending red grouse that can burst to speeds of nearly 80 miles per hour – exasperating wingshooters throughout the U.K. for the past 150 years.

Imagine if you will a place where children learn to blow a duck call before entering first grade. It is a place where the dress of the day from November through March is some brand of camo and a radio station’s call letters are KWAK. If you’re a duck hunter, you’ve most likely heard of this place. We’re talking about Stuttgart, Arkansas. It is a farm town of around 9,000 inhabitants. Most of those residents are in the farming business with rice being the primary crop.

The heaps of papers, folders and boxes in Dr. Rick Carlisle’s office conjure an Ivy-Tower academic in pursuit of a big cosmic revelation. But wait, what about his shirt? It’s a vented short-sleeve embroidered with a prominent Ames Plantation logo of two bobwhite quail on the wing.

Covering nearly 600 acres, Orvis Hill Country in Fairfield, Pennsylvania is the latest addition to the Orvis Shooting Grounds Collection – joining the flagship Orvis Sandanona in Millbrook, New York and Orvis Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Alabama as America’s luxury sporting clays, upland hunting and shooting school destinations.

We closed our bar tab, unplugged phone chargers, and grabbed our sporting hats when our flight was called to board. Menial, yet over-priced, airport champagne was the night-cap I craved for the 8pm flight out of Dallas. 

As we boarded the plane, we looked for our assigned seats with elation. Settling in, I reached for my notebook, Andrew opened his iPad, and we were ready for our adventure. 

The horn blasts, I look to the sky of burnished blue and pheasants appear over the hillside trees. The birds glide high and fast toward us, riding prevailing winds with gusts like pheasant afterburners.

The volley of shotgun blasts marks another driven hunt as dropped birds get taken up by our eager dogs. I discovered that here at 8,000 feet shotgun shells hold their patterns longer and tighter than at sea level, giving rise to extraordinary wingshooting – although our party includes serious talent.

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