Although the clays-shooting facility here has only been open since June 2009, the $12-and-under food selections clearly show that the folks who operate the place are hard core shooters with a great sense of humor. That in itself is a winning recipe for one of the most outstanding sporting clays destinations on the East Coast for shooters of all levels and their families.
You can literally spend a full weekend here shooting several flats of shells – and best of all you can do it without a pang of guilt. There are so many activities for young children and teens at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort you can have all that wonderful shooting time entirely to yourself as the kids immerse themselves in one pursuit after another. And if your kids like to shoot clays, that’s no problem either since youth-size and sub-gauge shotguns are available for guests.
No detail has been left unattended. The clays-shooting spread at the Seven Springs resort is the culmination of more than two years work led by Mike Mohr, an NSCA Level III instructor and Senior Director of Resort Activities.
The new, state-of-the-art facility provided Mike with a clean slate after his eight-year affiliation with Nemacolin Woodlands Resort where he managed the shooting club for most of his tenure there.
With the full backing of Seven Springs’ management, Mike was able to build the clays-shooting playground of his dreams.
There are three sporting clays courses, two five-stand fields that are covered and heated, the terrible teal, the two-man flush, and the progressive (eight machines with 10 attempts to get through traps A-H as each target gets progressively more difficult).
But the real meat and potatoes for clays shooters are the three sporting clays courses.
More than 100 trap machines are spread across the two standard courses (the Beretta Course and the Lincoln Course) and one designed primarily for sub-gauge shooters. The machines can be moved around to create just about any target presentation. All three courses are seamlessly integrated into the surrounding woods of the Laurel Highlands adjacent to the Forbes State Forrest.
I’m here to report that we shot the entire facility, top to bottom, non-stop, in a marathon that started first thing in the morning and continued until dinner time.
Our only break was a quick trip to the pro shop in the lodge where our trapper, J.T., provided us with a .410 and 28-gauge rental guns to shoot the sub-gauge course. It was another example of J.T.’s efforts to go above and beyond the call of duty. As one of the best trappers we’ve ever worked with, J.T. proved to be competent, courteous and informative throughout the long day. But then again we would expect no less from a trapper who worked for Mike Mohr.
Under Mike’s leadership Springs Sporting Clays made its prodigious debut with the 2009 Irlene Mandrell Celebrity Shoot on June 24-28. We experienced it for the first time with a media day held by sporting clays instructors Gil & Vicki Ash of the Optimum Shotgun Performance (OSP) Shooting School in the middle of August. Afterwards, we spent an entire day shooting all the sporting clays courses and the other games on the facility’s 167 acres populated with maple, poplar and pine trees.
The sporting clays courses reflect the experience of Seven Springs in land management for family recreation across the resort’s 5,000 acres. There’s an 18-hole golf course, downhill bike park, fly fishing, a fleet of Polaris RZR UTVs for backwoods exploration, overnight adventure camps, and a host of winter sports including skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing.
Mike was also able to leverage the resort’s environmental stewardship. For example, the new lodge is heated geothermally. The roads and paths are graded to prevent runoff so that water is naturally distributed into the ground. And while plastic water bottles are permitted, the sporting clays staff encourages guests to use the paper cups and coolers around the course.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not tree-hugger territory. Instead, the green initiative around the sporting clays course makes itself known in a quiet way, having the cumulative effect of creating an extremely pleasant and natural shooting environment.
A gentle hand is a virtue when it comes to shooting sporting clays at a family resort.
For many shooters on the course, this is their first try at sporting clays. The seven NSCA- certified instructors are trained to emphasize safety while encouraging the guests to break targets for that big thrill of watching them pulverize with the pull of a trigger. J.T. explained that he always starts out with a safety presentation and then drives guests to Station 1, which throws a gentle crosser and an incomer.
This tactic definitely works. I saw a mother and her two teenage sons who were obviously new shooters smash a few targets and they were ecstatic.
That said, as we spent the day with J.T., we did not find the three sporting clays courses to be for beginners only. And the other games of the terrible teals, the progressive, the five-stands and the two-man flush were genuinely challenging.
In fact, what Mike and his team have done was downright ingenious when it came to satisfying both new and experienced sporting clays shooters. While some of the individual targets may have been lollipops for the newbies, when those presentations came in following pairs or true pairs the level of difficulty could rise exponentially.
Personally, we found the 13-station Beretta Course somewhat easier because of fewer trees and targets that seemed slower. The 15-station Lincoln Course was more difficult. Higher up the mountain, it offered spectacular views, fickle winds and started with the terrible teals – a pair of high, long birds. Maybe it was my imagination or the fact that we shot the Lincoln Course later in the day, but the birds seemed faster and certainly made excellent use of the trees to ratchet up the level of difficulty.
The sub-gauge course was designed to throw tamer clays for both smaller shotguns and beginners. Currently, there are seven stations on this course with the ability to add two more. The sub-gauge stands were equipped with two sets of controls, one for 28 gauge and the other for .410.
However, we found the sub-gauge course to be more demanding than advertised. This is not a complaint, but rather an observation. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time on it and if you don’t own a 28-gauge or .410 shotgun I recommend you rent one at a pro shop to give this excellent course a try.
Admittedly, shooting every single shotgun sport in an entire day may have been sort of a nutty thing to do. Certainly, the best way to tackle the shooting here is to combine the clays with the other goings-on at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort: golf in the morning and the Beretta course in the afternoon; the Lincoln Course in the morning and then lunch and a relaxing session at the Trillium Spa; or spend part of the day strictly on the two-man flush, the progressive and the five stand and rest of your time with the kids on a Polaris RZR UTV or fly fishing.
By the end of our day with J.T. we were famished and thirsty. We opted for a first-class meal at Helen’s. The rustic and romantic log building was the original home of the Seven Springs founders. All timbers, stone and warm lighting, the staff uniforms were straight out of a Paris bistro, although their approach was far friendlier.
Reservations are requested at Helen’s, nevertheless the maître d’ was accommodating to us as walk-ins and promptly showed us to a romantic table in the intimate loft. Before long our appetizers arrived: a caprese salad of crisp greens, mozzarella, tomato and basil and the other starter was a sushi spider roll dipped in tempura batter and flash fried. Both were excellent, but not a great match for our 2006 Carr Cabernet Sauvignon.
It’s just that we have a soft spot for wines from Santa Barbara, California, and decided, what the heck? The wine did very well with our entrees, though, of a filet and duckling.
The hearty food and wine went down well after a full day of clays shooting. By the time we finished our desserts of a warm zabaglione and seven-layer carrot cake we realized that we simply could not have asked for a better day.