My Afternoon With Olympian George Quigley
Written by Rick Robinson
Author, part-time fisherman and lousy shot
The picture which the folks at Shotgun Life have used to introduce me to you ought to tell you something. All the people profiled in this fine publication are pictured holding their favorite shotguns. My profile picture has me holding up a beautiful lake trout which I caught on the Niagara River cutting the border between New York and Canada.
What that has to do with clay shooting is what my story is all about.
Fishing (or at the least brackish lake water associated with it) is in my family's blood. My dad had hunted when he was a young man, but by the time I was born he was afflicted with horrible arthritis. So, instead of hunting, he taught me how to shore fish at a young age. On my mom's side, I had an uncle for which fishing was his life. Just to be able to fish on a daily basis, he spent his twilight living with a Seminole Indian tribe in the Everglades.
So, fishing is one of my sports of preference. Although, the way I fish, calling it a sport is an insult to sportsmen everywhere. I spend more time choosing my cigar for the day than I do choosing my lures. Quite honestly, it's the quiet and solitude which I enjoy about fishing. Catching a fish is a side benefit.
One of my regular fishing companions, Lytle Thomas, mistook my love of fishing for being an all inclusive outdoor sportsman. Lytle spends his weekends hunting things with and without a pulse.
"I'm running a charity sporting clays shoot next week at Elk Creek," Lytle said excitedly to me one day. "I signed you up to shoot in my fivesome."
"I haven't shot since elementary school," I replied, hoping that would end the conversation.
"Yeah, I know," he persisted. "You told me about it. Remember? You won a shotgun for breaking clay pigeons. It's like riding a bike. You'll be fine."
Lytle was only half right. My bragging was catching up with me. My dad had taken me to a youth shooter's safety clinic when I was a kid. After a lecture from a local 4-H volunteer on safety (don't ever point a gun at anyone except your calculus teacher), everyone got a turn at the range. Clays were going to be thrown out for us to shoot. The prize for the most clays hit, winner take all, was the shotgun we were using. I missed the first one and then hit all that were served up. My dad was proud (although I do remember overhearing him explain to my mom that I had my eyes closed on each shot).
Dad had visions of some kid in my class with buckshot marks on his face from me trying to shoot rats along the river banks and convinced me to trade the shot gun to a neighbor for a baseball bat and glove or something. Dad was a smart man.
"Anyway, it's a celebrity shoot," Lytle snapped me back to reality. "Our celebrity is George Quigley."
I gulped. I knew just enough about clays to understand that George Quigley was an Olympic shooter. But the thought of spending an afternoon with any athlete who is the best in his sport intrigued me. I accepted the invitation.
"Great," Lytle exclaimed and told me the real reason for the invite. "My boss is also in our group and he sucks. I put you on my team so that he'll have someone to beat."
George Quigley is a legend around my community. He is one of the best known ambassadors of shooting in the world. He and his dad are both nationally ranked. George, Jr. was on the United States Olympic Skeet team which finished 6th in the 1996 Games in Atlanta. He won a gold medal at the 1994 World championships in Cairo.
On the day of the celebrity sporting clays event, I showed up at Elk Creek Hunt Club in Owen County, Kentucky - the home of this year's US Open. Lytle had loaned me a 12 gauge Beretta 682 Gold E to use for the day. In the parking lot he told me that it was bored and ported to reduce recoil and declared that I was going to use 1 ounce loads of number 8 shot rather than the standard 1 and 1/8th ounce loads.
I pursed my lips and nodded a knowledgeable nod. I had no earthly idea what he was talking about. I took the gun anyway.
After a quick refresher on gun safety in the pro shop where we watched a Dick Cheney speech, I headed to the course.
I looked for Quigley, but didn't have to really search the crowd. At 6'5" and around 250 lbs. he stood out. And, he was the only guy at the practice range who was actually shooting. Everyone else was just standing around watching him. "Pull," he'd shout and two clays would fly out. He'd shoot twice and both clays would explode. "Dead Pair," he'd say as the crowd applauded.
I decided to wait to introduce myself.
I showed up at our first station. All the men in my group (including Lytle's boss) were dressed in gear appropriate for a shooting event - ammo vest, shirts with padded shoulders, and orange hats. Suddenly my ensemble of a Bass Pro Shop baseball cap and "Fishermen do it With a Lure" tee-shirt didn't seem like such a good choice. These guys were serious.
I retreated to what I normally do when I'm intimidated - I became a smartass.
"This clay pigeon thing sounds like fun," I said approaching the Olympian Quigley with my hand extended. "I hear they are good eatin' when grilled."
Lytle shot me a WTF look.
Quigley just stared at me. "Oh God, he's pissed," I though to myself. "I've just insulted the king and his own sport. This is not a good start to the day."
Then, Quigley smiled a rather sly grin. "They're a lot more tender if you boil them first."
He was as nice of a guy as everyone had said.
I stepped onto the shooting platform, took my first two shots and missed both targets.
Quigley stood behind me shaking his head. He gave a quick beginners lesson on how to balance my feet and gave me a better way to position my shotgun on my shoulder.
"And your eyes," he said.
"Yeah?" I responded.
"Try opening them."
What the hell? It had worked the last time.
As I proceeded to each successive station, my shots inched closer and closer to a target. Although I have to admit, I didn't particularly care if I ever hit a clay. Learning to shoot was one thing. Learning to shoot under the tutelage of George Quigley was quite another. I was watching one of the best and from a very close range.
What was remarkable about George Quigley was the zen-like manner in which he zeroed in on his intended targets. I make jokes about me shooting with my eyes closed, but George's approach to shooting was just that. He didn't shoot with his eyes. He shot with feeling. He and the gun were one unit. He didn't need his eyes. He shot by pure instinct.
George Quigley hit 99 clays out of 100 on that hot summer day. His only miss was a clay that was thrown from behind him. I swear that the shot went past my head as a warning that I better start trying harder. George said it didn't come anywhere near me. Just to make sure, I started paying closer attention (and standing closer to Lytle).
I feared that George had visions that the president of the National Sporting Clays Association was waiting for him in the pro shop. Being an ambassador of the sport is one thing. But encouraging someone like me to enter the sport was enough for the Association to ban him from competition.
Whether a result of George's stellar lessons or pure dumb luck, with a few stations left, I suddenly got the hang of it. He was right; you don't shoot with your eyes. It's all feel. Each time I hit a clay, Quigley would boldly declare "Dead Pair."
Suddenly with one station left, I found myself tied with Lytle's boss. I had the distinct possibility of not being the worst shooter in the match. Lytle glared at me. His whole point of inviting me was to lose to his boss. Quigley, knowing why I had been invited, winked at me. I went 5 for 5.
Visit Amazon.com for Rick's novel, The Maximum Contribution.
Visit Amazon.com for Rick's novel, Sniper Bid.