Ann Kercheville is President of Joshua Creek Ranch. Located in the renowned Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio and 90 minutes southwest of Austin, Joshua Creek Ranch occupies a uniquely diverse terrain including miles of Joshua Creek and Guadalupe River bottomland planted in fields of grain crops for prime upland and deer hunting habitats. You can visit their web site at http://www.joshuacreek.com.
Ken is a technical writer and has spent the majority of his career documenting storage hardware and software products for start-up companies. Although start-ups demand long hours, he always finds time to get to the club and break some clays. Ken is not a shooting instructor and he is not a professional shooter. He’s part of the majority of people who love to shoot clays just for the sheer fun of it.
Unless Lars Jacob is running dogs, wetting a fly line or turkey hunting, everything he does revolves around shotgunning. Jacob has been teaching the finer art of wingshooting for over 30 years. He has run programs and gun rooms for the Dutch River Club, Covey & Nye and Orvis Company to name a few. Jacob is the founder and CEO of Lars Jacob Wingshooting, LLC and LJW Roving Syndicate. In addition to instruction, Jacob is recognized as one of the country’s finest gun fitters and recently worked with Perazzi’s Al Kondak to develop the Perazzi Ladies Sporter. He has a soft spot for side-by-sides and has introduced thousands of shooters to the nuances associated with shooting such shotguns. For more information visit www.larsjacobwingshooting.com.
The phone rang and I got my assignment: track down the elusive chaps at the Georgetown Trout & Gun Club for a daring exposé in Shotgun Life.
Only in certain circles did the name Georgetown Trout & Gun Club ever bubble to the surface. It was the equivalent of the Order of Skull & Bones at Yale that counted presidents, spies and billionaires among its ranks.
The Georgetown Trout & Gun Club was a name never spoken -- only whispered with great reverence.
Members valued their privacy above all else. If you were fortunate enough to ever find yourself in the company of a member, you could never ask about the club. His customary reply is that the organization was established to promote interpretive dance.
The national media was all abuzz when the Georgetown Trout & Gun Club turned down the Washington Post for an interview. And the group's reticence doesn't stop there.
Most queries about membership fall into a black hole of silence. Or if you did receive a reply, it's usually one word.
In our Information Age, you have to really dig deep for the smallest scraps of intelligence about this private men's society.
An Extraordinary League
They say it was founded 700 years ago and is now the oldest and most exclusive sporting club in the country -- if not the world.
It is "the extraordinary league of very ordinary gentlemen," yet when you dig into the annals of the organization the members seem far from ordinary.
A former FBI spy who is serving time on espionage charges was booted from the club for non-payment of dues since 2001.
The club's Director of Fishing left for Denver (at least that's what he said) as part of the Federal Witness Protection Program.
Then there's the Chairman...
He is only shown in photos as Sir David Niven. The Rules Committee stipulates that members must stand when the Chairman enters the room. The Chairman is always the last to enter and the first to leave. And he is never to be addressed by his Christian name, only as Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman is known for reciting The Iliad by heart in local taverns. His favorite diversion on road trips is staying in Howard Johnson motels.
A Powder Keg: The Smith Endowment
And the club's secret handshake? It's only known by two people: the Chairman and the Director of Ops.
Despite its secrecy, there was one powder keg that the group managed to quietly extinguish.
It was started by the club's Smith Endowment, after word leaked that some of them claimed to have fathered children with the notorious blonde bombshell, Anna Nicole Smith.
So now that I finished due diligence on the club, my next step was to make contact. How would I do it? Would I ever get through? Would they completely ignore me? Was bribery appropriate?
The Phone Number
As it turns out, I had an ace in the hole. After digging and digging and digging, I found a phone number. I did a quick Avé Maria before I called it. A man answered. It turned out apparently to be the Director of Ops, since he answered the phone "Ops."
I politely introduced myself. There was a long pause. I continued that I was with Shotgun Life and could I do a story on the club?
"Sure," he said. He explained that The Great Challenge was coming up in a few weeks and asked if I would be interested in a press pass.
"You bet," I said.
"Consider it done. And by the way..."
"There's one teeny-tiny stipulation."
"You cannot identify our members. You refer to them by their numbers. To shield our privacy, you understand."
I couldn't believe my good luck. I must've caught him in a good mood -- or on the tail end of a three martini lunch. Regardless, I shot him off my email address. Over the next several days, I received missives about the upcoming Great Challenge. Finally, as we neared the date, the actual invitation arrived.
Attention able-bodied men -- and The Chairman!
Remember that Saturday is our Great Society's annual Sporting Clay Tournament in Remington, VA. Due to the success of last years event, we have many more guns attending and it will be much fun as we shoot and eat while enjoying the companionship of our fellow lads in the field. Several non-resident members are traveling from California, Pennsylvania and The Democratic Republic of Congo to compete.
Schedule of lively events:
Arrival, coffee and registration
Identity and gender check
Practice shoot through the APC course
The 2008 Challenge begins
another knife fight
Be sure to see the Shooting League page on the club's website for details, directions, convoy and late breaking news of the event.
This event will define, defy or defile you as a man.
Knife fights? What was I getting myself into?
I laid awake nights leading up the Great Challenge. Knife fights was all I could think about. I obsessed over the knife fights. During the day, the distractions of daily life kept my fear at bay. But at night, when I turned off the lamp and lay my head on the pillow and the silence welled up around me...knife fights...glimmering steel in the darkness -- and blood!
The final email before the Great Challenge revealed that this manly day of action would be staged at the Shady Grove Kennel and Hunting Preserve. Owned by the renowned trainer, Mr. R.N. Selby, Shady Grove was the venue for the prestigious 2007 Master National Retriever Trial hosted by the Rappahannock River Retriever Club.
Smelling the Pedigree
I could already smell the pedigree of the members.
On the appointed morning I donned my Harris Tweed shooting jacket, tattersall shirt, pheasant tie and Barbour hounds-tooth cap. My shotgun of choice was a 20-gauge Caesar Guerini Magnus -- a lovely gun ideal for the highly anticipated Great Challenge.
In addition to packing ammo, water and a clean towel in my waterproof shooting bag, I added a roll of sterile gauze, white adhesive tape, antiseptic ointment and a fresh change of boxer shorts.
Finally, I removed my razor-sharp buffalo knife from its crocodile sheath for a quick once-over: mirrored stainless steel, full tang, trailing point blade with a polished buffalo horn handle. It had been a gift from my beloved uncle, my namesake, Cletus Clapp. I slipped the knife into my bag. There, I was set.
I departed from home just north of Baltimore in the wee hours of the morning, and some two hours later I arrived at Shady Grove in rural Remington, Virginia.
The First to Arrive
The gravel parking lot was empty, but upon my arrival a rugged-looking man pulled up in a sporting-clays cart. With his long Southern drawl, he introduced himself as Mr. Selby. Yes, indeed, I was the first to arrive, he confirmed, and then suggested I take a stroll down the pasture to the safari canopy in the distance, which would serve as the nerve center for the Great Challenge.
The canopy stood under a tree ringed by the sporting- clays stations. There was an underbelly of ominous storm clouds, with the heady scents of imminent rain and fresh-cut grass. The club's coat of arms waved in the breeze from a low branch.
The hospitable and witty Mrs. Selby introduced herself as she applied the final touches on a beautiful spread of pastries, juice, fruit and coffee. Mr. Selby joined her to help attach the table skirt with Velcro.
Cup of coffee in hand, I mentioned that this was my first time shooting with the gents, and Mrs. Selby chuckled -- shooting her husband an all-knowing glance.
Prodding Mrs. Selby
I prodded Mrs. Selby with a few delicate questions about the knife fight, but all she said is that I would enjoy the company of the boys. Mr. Selby remained mum as he worked the Velcro around the table. At the first opportunity, he hopped in his cart and sped off.
With the conversation clearly closed, I decided to reconnoiter the property on foot. The club house was a converted drive-up ATM booth with a sagging wood porch. A few pick-up trucks were parked nearby, some with kennels in the beds. Two Porta Potties stood sentry against the looming storm.
A pair of retrievers frolicked with each other as their owners attended to the property.
The sporting-clays stations looked like short-range shots, but experience taught me that these types of presentations could be tricky with deceiving quartering angles, sudden drops and small windows of visibility. My analysis later proved correct, but I couldn't possibly foretell what our gonzo trapper had in store for us.
As I walked back to the canopy I noticed two men had arrived. They turned out be members 454 and 302. At the same time, a fetching member of staff in snug jeans named S. had taken to tending the food and beverages. Of course, the lads were preoccupied with S. -- a slender, raven-haired beauty with penetrating eyes and a really, really tight body.
What About the Knife Fight?
Introductions all around. One of the members was obviously English, and the other, a former college roommate of the Director of Ops, had flown in from California specifically for the Great Challenge. They gave the impression of being decent sorts. At the first discrete opportunity I asked about the knife fight and everyone seemed to laugh at my expense.
After some chit-chat, a convoy entered the parking lot. The two members took leave for the convoy and I quickly followed.
About 10 gentlemen piled out of the vehicles. The Director of Ops immediately identified me as the new face and extended a hail-hearty welcome. A dashing and hospitable fellow, we walked together back to the canopy in an affable manner. I thought it indelicate to broach the subject of the knife fight with him, not wanting to blow the opportunity for this exclusive exposé at the risk of being pegged a chicken.
So as we sauntered along, he introduced me to members we encountered by their three-digit numbers. Of course I was the picture of decorum, but I judged each handshake by its strength and firmness, assessing whether or not I could take that guy in a knife fight.
Finally, the Chairman
We bantered about under the canopy when, out of the corner of his eye the Director of Ops saw something that turned his countenance sober. "I want you to meet the Chairman," he whispered.
I glanced in the direction of the Chairman. All I could see was his back. It was a distinguished back, probably hairy based on the thickness of his mane. The Chairman was in the middle of a lesson with the resident pro.
As the Director of Ops accompanied me, he listed all the rules and protocols of greeting the Chairman. After each one, I had to say "Yes I understand" or "No, I do not understand."
We deferentially waited until the Chairman acknowledged us. Shaking hands I said "A pleasure to meet you Mr. Chairman," thinking that I could definitely take this guy.
"Welcome, Fielding-Clapp." And the Chairman returned to his lesson.
"Good form," the Director of Ops told me as we returned to the canopy.
The Practice Shoot
Soon, the Director of Ops had convened everyone for a pairing of the teams for the Practice Shoot of the Great Challenge. I was in a squad with the Director himself and member 327, a tall chap with an excessively long reach and big hands. Hmmm, I thought.
Ready with gun at hand, I observed the chaps as they prepared themselves. It was 09:00 and since the scheduled identity and gender check had not taken place yet I wondered if the men did it in the cars on the way up here to save time. As for me, well, they either didn't care about my identity and gender or they had much bigger plans to spring on me.
And what about the knife fight? It too was behind schedule. Everyone seemed blissfully blasé about it as the team-up coalesced. One thing was absolutely certain: I had no intention of bringing it up.
We convened at station 3 for the kick-off of the Practice Session of the Great Challenge. The Chairman prepared to take the first shots. As skill and fortune would have it, the Chairman ran the station, followed by a genteel applause. The 50-round Practice Session of the Great Challenge commenced.
Our Wily Trapper
Our trapper proved to be a husky fellow with a booming laugh named B. We discovered that he worked full time for a military contractor in Virginia. His expertise was submarine logistics. He enjoyed trapping to spend quality time outdoors. He obviously took his profession quite seriously because B.'s trapping skills were every bit as wily and stealthy as a submarine.
He would give us the lookers then change their order when we called for them. He threw targets upside down, the centers punched out, midis, minis, battues -- concocting any combination of simos on a whim that would take a contortionist to hit. He especially liked to tilt forward the portable platforms that held the manual throwing machines so the targets angled straight into the dirt. Nothing was too devious for that big lug of a chap and each round would be punctuated with his great booming laugh.
Now that we had the defilement out of the way, I look forward to a hearty lunch.
She Squeezes Between the Lads
We took to our vehicles and drove the few miles to the lodge. The house had a sprawling country kitchen and wide verandah where we ate our build-your-own sandwiches, wraps and savory side dishes. S. would squeeze between the lads ready to fill a glass or take an empty plate. It was a picture-book spring afternoon in this part of Virginia, and everyone was of lively disposition.
I was just about to ask about the knife fight when the Chairman stood and announced that it was back to Shady Grove for the Great Challenge.
With backslapping and fanfare we repaired to our vehicles. I wondered, which I would encounter next: define or defy? Or perhaps I would be defile all over again. Either way, with a full stomach and a perky attitude I was ready for whatever lay ahead in the Great Challenge.
The three-man teams were different this time around. My squad consisted of members 351 and 409, and we were accompanied by trapper, J. -- a short wan fellow who was an excellent instructor.
The Chairman Chokes
Once again, the Chairman led with the opening shots followed by a polite applause after choking big time and missing all the targets.
The character of this squad and the Great Challenge itself was markedly more serious. Fifty rounds, and may the best man win.
The pressure of the competition compressed time. Before we knew it, the Great Challenge was over. I fared second in my squad -- behind the architect and ahead of the movie producer.
No doubt, we were more than ready for the alcoholic beverages, cheese and crackers and more desserts. It was back to the lodge.
The Dreaded Ballerina Cup
Unbeknownst to me there was a palpable trepidation among some of the members. What I was about to discover is that the man with the lowest score of the Great Challenge wins the dreaded Ballerina Cup.
On the verandah we quenched our thirst with beer, wine and just about anything within reach that contained alcohol. The Director of Operations called the meeting to order with a slam of the gavel. Past, present and future business was covered in true parliamentary procedure, yet the well-lubed lads broke out into rollicking laughter as we moved to the prizes.
The Great Challenge of 2008 would prove to be the biggest upset in the 700-year history of the club. The Chairman took the floor and announced the results. The ace shooters didn't place at all. The winner's cup went to member 428. The second-place ribbon was awarded to member 305. And much to my own surprise, yours truly placed third.
Member 413 accepted the Ballerina Cup with fortitude and magnanimity.
Another Heaping of Defilement
The Chairman returned the floor to the Director of Ops. It was time to announce new members. He read off six names followed by their numbers, each garnering a round of applause.
The Director of Ops then called for silence. I felt certain that the knife fight would begin, with yet another heaping of defilement coming my way. This was going to hurt bad.
"We have one more new member to announce," the Director said. "This is a big surprise, but the decision is unanimous. Let us welcome to the Georgetown Trout & Gun Club, Cletus Fielding-Clapp."
It certainly generated the biggest applause of the day and I beamed with pride. A few words were called for. The Chairman stood beside me and I thanked everyone for acknowledging me as a member. It was a heady moment, indeed, to be standing right within spitting distance of the Chairman.
The group began to disperse. What an incredible feat, I thought, to become a member of the Georgetown Trout & Gun Club.
As we filed into the parking lot, I managed to find a moment to buttonhole the Director of Ops.
"What about the knife fight?" I whispered.
He looked at me in amazement, then broke out laughing.
It's at great peril that we publish the link to the web site of the Georgetown Trout & Gun Club: http://www.georgetownleague.info/. Please be advised that the photos of gentlemen depicted on the group’s web site are professional models paid to shield the real members from the prying eyes of the public.
In her sexy black dress and four-inch stiletto heels, no one could have guessed her secret passion.
But finally, she revealed it to a handful of men at a private party -- changing the course of her life forever. This story begins in January 2003 in a trendy section of Dallas. Anginette and her girlfriend hosted their annual soirée. The cocktails were chilled, the hors d'oeuvres extravagant and the guests straight from central casting of a smart Hepburn classic. The warm glow of the house against the evening bespoke of hospitality and elegance.
Anginette mingled in the swirl and buzz, making introductions, spreading her hallmark gaiety, relying on the same wit and charm that propelled her through a career as a successful mortgage broker…when the doorbell rang.
She crossed the room to answer the door, and there stood Mark Jorrey. She graciously invited him in and mixed him a cocktail, then led him through the party in a round of introductions. It was the first time they had met, and Anginette lived up to her reputation that new acquaintances should always feel right at home.
Later in the evening, as she carried an armful of coats to the upstairs bedroom, she passed a small group of guests -- Mark being among them. Bits of conversation caught her attention. She paused, calculating her options…Should she interrupt? Bring it up later? Or just forget about the whole thing?
She continued up the stairs, rolling around in her head exactly what she heard. It was something that she’d been dying to try.
Coming down the stairs, she politely interrupted their conversation. She would confess to them that she overheard her conversation. If they were accommodating, great. And if not, well at least she tried.
She Confessed Everything
She approached the group and confessed everything. She had overheard them talking about duck hunting, and that was something she really wanted to do. She’d been an avid dove and quail hunter, but never quite got the chance to shoot ducks. Could she come along with them? She could really hold her own in a duck blind. She wouldn’t be a bit of trouble. Just consider her one of the guys. Well, what do you say?
The men checked out the dress, the heels, the makeup -- and for a moment they were speechless.
Finally, Mark explained that in fact he was the one going duck hunting the next morning, and that he would have to speak with his friends and get back to her.
She thanked him and returned to being the perfect hostess -- everything the same except for one tiny thing: now her secret was out.
No Girls Allowed
Sure enough, when the phone rang the next day, Mark gave Anginette the bad news. Guys only -- no girls allowed on this duck-hunting trip. They had already told their wives, no girls. Then he surprised her by asking Anginette to dinner. She said yes.
Nine months later, they were married.
“Having something in common really adds to our relationship,” Anginette said. “We are best friends and we do not have to look far when we want to go shoot some clays. We just say, ‘want to go’”?
So she packs up her Beretta 390, and Mark takes his Remington 11-87, and they take a five-minute drive to the Family Shooting Center at Cherry Creek State Park.
Now that the word is out about Anginette’s secret passion, they’ve been making the most of it. As Mark explains, “We have a turkey hunt planned for later in the year and I said my wife is going and my friends said no problem.”
The Colorado DIVAS
Anginette’s world of bird hunting has really opened up since relocating from Dallas to Denver in mid-2006. By virtue of bringing her organizational experience from Dallas, she’s introducing a new group of Denver women to the shotgun sports.
The way it happened is that in Texas she was a board member of the Texas Women’s Shooting Sports/DIVAS. The charter of the group is to teach women and help women learn about shooting sports and outdoor skills -- shooting, fishing, archery…you name it.
Since moving to Denver, she started the Colorado chapter of the Divas and today it has members who actively shoot and bird hunt. Last year, the Colorado Divas took four women on a pheasant hunt with a guide “who loves new shooters,” Anginette noted. Since then, there has been a second pheasant hunt.
This year there are plans for a turkey hunt, duck hunt, dove hunt and shooting clinic for new shooters. They also have a monthly shooting day where women can come and practice shooting with other women.
Even though she’d been around guns all her life (she grew up on a ranch in Texas), when she turned 40 she started looking around for something different to do. She tried softball along with other sports, but nothing really satisfied her.
How Anginette Got Hooked
Then one day a girl friend who was a shooter gave Anginette the name of a woman instructor. That was in 2000. Anginette wanted to learn the etiquette and rules in the shooting sports. Soon, she was hooked. After that first lesson her instructor suggested Anginette join the DIVAS. Today Anginette is working with women in Nebraska and Pennsylvania in helping new DIVA chapters get started.
And as the group’s International Liaison, they have their eyes on launching chapters in every state as well as outside the U.S. (Divas already has 17 international members).
Even though Anginette takes the lead in Divas, she appreciates Mark’s full support of her shotgun endeavors. “As I implement outings, hunts and shooting days for local women under the Diva umbrella...he is right there with me helping,” she said. “He knows he doesn't have to, no expectations from me, he just does. And I greatly appreciate him and his help with all our events. I enjoy catching him in a conversation with other men about Divas and how important it is to get women out shooting. More importantly, I appreciate his support of my shooting and hunting.”
In fact, Anginette believes there are plenty of women around like her who like enjoy shooting, but tend to keep it to themselves -- especially those women who aren’t fortunate enough to have a supportive husband like Mark.
Shooting Isn’t Lady-Like
“Women have been raised to be lady-like, and not participate in such things,” Anginette observed. “And let’s face it, in this politically correct world, shooting is perceived to not be lady-like.”
But the times are changing -- for the better -- when it comes to women and the shotgun sports. “Now women realize they like to shoot and they can shoot. They love the camaraderie. Just watch a woman’s face when she shoots for the first time with other women shooters, and you know they’re thinking it’s just great to break that old taboo. And they’re still ladies.”
She talked about a professional networking event that she attended recently, where everyone had to reveal something about themselves. She stood up in a roomful of people and confessed that she likes the shotgun sports. Sure enough, she received plenty of emails afterwards from women wanting to find out more.
Good for Their Relationship
As far as Anginette and Mark are concerned, shooting is a great way to keep a relationship going.
“He encourages my shooting and hunting,” Anginette added. “He wants to shoot and hunt with me. Not because he thinks he has to, because he wants to. Some husbands don't encourage their wives and daughters. They don't mind if the women do, they simply do not encourage it and usually this type of man would rather go off on his own or with the boys and let the little ladies go do their own thing. I am blessed we do it together. He's the hunter and I am the shooter.”
When the Jorreys do go their own separate ways, Anginette goes off to shoot clays or birds, and Mark will hunt big game. Mark’s pursuit of big game got him actively involved in several wildlife organizations.
For Mark, “clays is about getting ready for hunting season.” In particular, he enjoys shooting pheasants in Texas. Recently he was shooting pheasants in South Dakota. Anginette and Mark spent a couple of days with friends pheasant huntin . Mark said that when he got back the other men said “We didn’t know women could hunt like that.”
Mark grew up a hunter in tiny Heath, Texas, just east of Dallas. As a boy “We could always go to different places to hunt on people’s places. We’d hunt lots of small game.”
Mark would be out all day and get home just before dark. As far as the Jorrey’s are concerned, children today do not have that luxury any more. They believe kids need to spend more time outside and out of the city -- where shooting and hunting can be an excellent way to encourage discipline, self-confidence, and caring for things other than one’s self.
When it comes to duck-hunting, though, this time girls are most definitely invited. Maybe it should be called Anginette’s revenge.
It turns out that one of the guys who put the nix on Anginette’s duck-hunting invitation doesn’t stand a chance any more of doing that ever again. Anginette taught his wife and son how to shoot on a trip out to their family farm. They loved it. Mom’s a good shot and has even built her own collection of firearms. The son, as it turns out, is a born hunter. Now the entire family shoots together…just like Anginette and Mark.
“Shooting is an excellent outlet for getting out and being together,” Anginette said. “And being together is something we really like to do.”
Story and photos by Lisa Metheny
Typically, when a gun manufacturer is ready to launch a new gun model they often take the predictable advertising road and take out magazine ads, do television commercials, and maybe even hire a celebrity to endorse the new model and then sit back and hope for the best. Benelli, makers of world class firearms, is not your typical gun company and neither are the folks that make up their promotions and advertising departments. This group of creative individuals tends to think outside the box and they have a knack for generating more buzz and hype over new products than most companies could only hope to come up with. So unless you have been living under a rock for the last year, chances are you have probably heard about the now famous Vinci shotgun “Torture Test” that took place in Argentina.
When I first heard about the Vinci I was excited, like many shotgun enthusiasts, I thought perhaps the excitement generated was due to the media blitz created by Benelli rather than excitement over the gun itself. Benelli must have anticipated this type of skepticism and figured a torture test trip to South America would likely silence most critics. Not only did it silence many of the skeptics, the torture test may have raised the bar for future shotgun testing.
Some called it the torture test. Others referred to it as the ultimate shooting test because for three days nearly 88,000 rounds of ammo were fired from twelve Vinci shotguns. The stories generated from this media blitz dominated the press as story after story of the blazing hot Benelli Vinci began appearing in countless magazines, blogs, photos and newswires.
Perhaps some of the excitement was caused by the millions, yes I said millions, of doves that filled the sky hour after hour and which may have influenced some of these writers. Or perhaps it was the romantic lure of Argentina, although I doubt if a dozen manly, outdoorsy type men found standing shoulder to shoulder in a dove field under the blazing hot Argentina sun romantic. According to legendary outdoor writer J.Wayne Fears, the new Vinci shotgun was a homerun for Benelli. Todd Smith of Outdoor Life added that “the Vinci is an absolute ten.” So maybe it was the actual gun and not the media circus that generated the excitement over the Vinci. But whatever it was, I knew that I was anxious to give this shotgun a try.
My first opportunity to see the Vinci was all too brief as the editor for Shooting Times, Joseph VonBendict toted the gun to a Gil and Vicki Ash OSP shooting clinic that I was attending. In a sick sort of way it was like a mini torture test because of the fact that I only had the chance to shoot the Vinci a few times. It seems like anytime there is a new gun around gun enthusiasts, politeness is thrown out the window and we all become gun hogs. Thankfully, Joseph did let me shoot his Vinci and despite shooting a mixed bag of loads, from light Winchester AA to a few heavy Federal goose loads, I didn’t feel much recoil. Unfortunately, a few trigger pulls is not much of a torture test for me or the gun. Instead, it was just a brief introduction, more like a teaser, rather than an all-out test drive.
Fast forward nearly a year and I found myself embarking on a turkey hunt in Oklahoma with Benelli, Hunter Specialties and SHE Outdoor Apparel. Anytime you hunt with Hunter Specialties you know you're going to get some great products to use and the same can be said about SHE Outdoor Apparel. And from my experience, any gun from Benelli would work just fine to shoot a turkey with. Thankfully, Cristi Gates of Benelli sent the Vinci 12 gauge for us ladies to use and I would get my own Vinci for three days. I could hardly wait.
Although the small cowboy town of Sayre, Oklahoma is several thousands of miles north of the dove filled skies of Argentina, there was still plenty of game for the Vinci to take aim at on nearly 24,000 acres of Rut and Strut Outfitters. Despite mile after mile of gently rolling hills, brushy draws and creek bottoms dotted with century old Cottonwood trees the land offered its own version of torture for the hunters and for the guns. Country duo Brooks and Dunn may have sung about it, but I was getting a taste of the famous Oklahoma Red Dirt. Like sand on the beach, the red dirt finds its way into every imaginable place, including inside zipped interior pockets, ears, nose, turkey calls, boots and guns, especially the guns. Add in the constant hurricane-like winds of western Oklahoma and the red dirt literally becomes part of your DNA.
Six women turkey hunters, a bumper crop of Rio Grande turkeys, an ample supply of ammo, and a Vinci for everyone gives you the makings of a great hunt. Despite the fact that we would not be shooting thousands of rounds of ammo, this hunt still would put the Vinci through the paces.
We had a wide range of shooters, from the beginning shotgun shooter to the intermediate level to the advanced level of shooter. As every shooter knows, if it don’t fit, you can’t hit, so the mix of body types, some with long arms, others with short arms and even a leftie shooter thrown in would create a challenge for the Vinci as it would need to fit a variety of body types.
The majority of firearms are made to fit one body type and that is the body type of a six foot lean man with long arms and a flat chest who is right handed, of which I am none of. The first noticeable difference about the Vinci compared to other brands is the quick change recoil pad system. Because I am a left handed, shorter arm shooter, I have had my fair share of traditional gun stocks that do not fit. The stocks are too long and usually come with a recoil pad with a pitch for the right handed shooter. More often than not the recoil pad requires a screwdriver or some other special piece of equipment to change the pad. Not the case with the Vinci. One twist and the pad was easily changed to accommodate a recoil pad for a leftie or to give a shorter length of pull.
Besides the ease of changing the recoil pad, there are several things that set the Vinci apart from other semi-auto shotguns. First, compared to the majority of semi-auto shotguns on the market today, the Vinci is lighter than others, weighing only 6.9 pounds. Because of its advanced ergonomics, the Vinci offers flawless gun movement. And with fewer moving parts, this equals less hassle, less cleaning and more shooting. An added bonus is the Quadra Fit buttstock module, making this gun easy to shoulder and with the uber-comfortable Comfort-Tech recoil system combined with the in-line inertia driven action, this gun is not only lightning fast but a blast to shoot. You simply forget you are shooting a 12 gauge. Also the gun breaks down and easily packs into its own cool James Bond-like distinctive carrying case.
Forget the futuristic carrying case or the catchy marketing campaign, what really matters is how the gun performs in the field. Six women hunters with a total of twelve Rio Grande turkey tags among us would ultimately be judge and jury for the Vinci. First time turkey hunter, Shannon Coggins, Public Relations Specialist for NWTF admits to concerns surrounding shooting a 12 gauge shotgun “The Oklahoma turkey hunt was not only my first turkey hunt, it was my first time to shoot anything besides a youth model shotgun. I was very nervous about shooting a 12-gauge because I thought it would kick so hard that my shoulder would be bruised and sore— or that it would knock me to the ground. The recoil from the gun wasn’t bad at all so my neck and shoulders didn’t hurt afterward. I also give full credit to the Vinci because it was accurate enough that this novice made two shots at about 35 yards and killed two birds
Don’t let the fact that we are women fool you into thinking that we are delicate flowers when it comes to shooting or that we worry about breaking a nail or getting dirty, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact just the opposite could be said. In fact, when Gina Schmitz of the NRA accidently stepped into an armadillo hole in the dark, both her and the Vinci crashed to the ground. Although she spent a number of weeks in a cast she was a trooper and proved to be just as tough as her Vinci.
As for me, I tend to be rough on equipment, a princess I am not; still there are often things out of your control such as the endless battle with the red dirt. Rick White, pro staffer for Hunter Specialties chose to guide me as we chased bird number two. When you hunt with Rick, a 10-time Iowa State Calling Champion it is just a matter of time before you’re given a shot opportunity, so you and your equipment better be ready.
After Rick, Cristi and I arrived at our evening hunting spot I prepared to load my gun. As I jacked a shell into the chamber I noticed the large amount of red dirt in the barrel, despite the fact that my gun had been in a case while driving. With no time to clean the gun before our hunt began, I could only hope that the excessive amount of dirt would not cause a malfunction. Thanks to Rick’s champion calling skills, I soon tagged my second gobbler, I emptied my remaining shells along with another a handful of dirt, obviously the excessive dirt in the Vinci barrel did not cause any problems, although I could swear that I saw of puff of red dust fly when I shot the bird. Perhaps the dirt added an extra wallop to the Federal load I was using, but I doubt it. Ideally you should always have a clean gun, but with real, in-the-field hunting situations it is not always possible to do so.
Perhaps Leonardo Da Vinci, master artist, innovative thinker and the namesake of the gun said it best, “Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.” Benelli has created a shotgun that is simple, hassle-free and fun to shoot. Guns and Ammo magazine’s Peyton Miller said, “the only thing wrong with the Vinci is that you can’t keep it loaded.” I tend to agree with Peyton.
From the fertile farm fields of South America to the target rich rolling hills covered in red dirt, the Benelli Vinci really doesn’t need any slick marketing campaign to convince serious shooters that this gun is worth its weight in gold and is well on its way to the front of the gun safe.
Georgia Pellegrini stands at the crossroads of the Upper East Side in Manhattan and the Lazy Triple Creek Ranch in the Big Hole Mountains of Idaho.
A Harvard and Wellesley alum, she takes to the fields with a 20-gauge shotgun ready to bag any game bird, as part of her quest to fuse hunting with haute cuisine.
One prong of her culinary mission is to upend the metropolitan revulsion of fresh-killed ingredients taken by thine own hand. Grass-fed buffalo from New York’s Ottomanelli’s Butcher Shoppe is splendid, but if you really want to sit down to some real, honest meat Georgia suggests you start with buying a shotgun and a box of shells.
Of the 13 million American women with the ability to show off a freezer full of elk and venison that they personally harvested, it’s Georgia’s contradictions that make her unique in the tribe of female hunters.
A former cubicle dweller with Lehman Brothers, which was vilified for sparking the mortgage meltdown, Georgia now devotes her life to the little guy – the mavericks who live off the grid hand-crafting artisanal foods.
While strangers expect to find her strutting the runway in Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo, you’re more likely to find her shooting over dogs in Filson and Le Chameau.
And her role of chef-as-hunter forges a new media spectrum currently neglected by the likes of The Food Network, the Outdoor Channel and the Today Show.
From her unique cultural junction, we can expect Georgia to rally the next wave in the locavore movement here in the U.S. Started in Europe, the strict interpretation of locavore cuisine demands food culled within earshot of the village church bell. In countries such as Italy and France, the audible perimeter virtually ensures food untouched by the maws of industrial farming and slaughterhouse assembly lines.
You can savor locavore dining today in white-table-cloth restaurants devoted to the daily, backdoor delivery of regional ingredients. Georgia, meanwhile, is adding pride of the pursuit into the locavore movement by hunting the meat herself – and advocating the same sense of duty by fellow carnivores. For hunters who spend half the year in camo, there are no surprises here. But the sudden revelation of this Ivy League stunner slitting the throat of a fresh Tom can render a Jean-Paul Gaultier fashionista wickedly speechless.
Armed with her trusty CZ 20-gauge, Georgia has taken her fair share of quail, dove and turkey in a quest for the freshest fare. Give her a rifle and she’ll track down a hog for a savory repast reminiscent of Sunday suppers at grandma’s.
“So many chefs are focused on food pyrotechnics and the food often suffers as a result,” she said. “Keep it simple and let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
Georgia’s affirmation of simple, flavorful cooking complements the barbequed pheasant hunters proudly serve with a sly grin that dares you identify their secret ingredient. In her own twist on the preparation, Georgia substitutes the slathering of Oscar Mayer bacon strips bought at the supermarket with her recipe for homemade bacon from dry-cured pork belly, sugar and kosher salt.
The bacon recipe was inspired by a boar roast she attended. As she wrote on her blog on ESPNOutdoors.com:
The first time I saw a wild boar smoking slowly under the soot-blackened eaves of a dome-shaped grill I was mesmerized. I was standing 100 yards from the banks of the Mississippi, deep in the beating heart of the Arkansas Delta.
The body of the pig was cloaked in thick slabs of bacon which were coated in thick layers of molasses and the whole thing oozed and dripped onto a tray of cut green apples.
The mere sight of the animal left a permanent imprint on my brain, and the taste set into motion my quest to relive that culinary experience as many more times as I could in one lifetime.
“The reason I started hunting was to use every part of the animal” including the offal such as liver, heart and brains, which she described as “delicious,” during an online radio interview on ESPNOutdoors.com.
When we caught up with Georgia via phone she was in the very non-offal city of Berkeley, California – home to Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse – the birthplace of the American locavore sensibility. Berkeley is the third point in her constellation of residences that includes Manhattan and the family farm where she was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley.
From Berkeley it’s a quick drive across the Carquinez Bridge to the finest wine terroirs in the country: Napa, Sonoma and Cry Creek. And America’s most highly acclaimed restaurant is also there, The French Laundry – along with other not-too-shabby eateries including Bistro Jeanty, Dry Creek Kitchen, Tra Vigne and Mustards Grill.
Berkeley was Georgia’s West Coast base of operations for the research on her second project called The Girl Hunter. The agent-brokered package of book and TV show teams Georgia with seasoned hunters in locales where she cooks their quarry hauled back to the lodge kitchen. The Girl Hunter follows on the heels of her first book titled Food Heroes: Tales of 16 Artisans Preserving Tradition slated for publication in the fall of 2010 by H.N. Abrams.
If you haven’t heard of Georgia Pellegrini yet, the trajectory of her rising star seems destined to make her a household name in the kitchens of every American hunter and (hopefully) subway rider.
The gig at ESPNOutdoors, her own award-winning blog, the books and possible TV show, an appearance on Fox TV, all serve as outlets for her message.
“The success of any food culture lies in preserving its artisan foods. These artisan foods are the foundation of a food culture, and upholding them are the small-scale culinary artisans who choose to make their products the traditional way, the slower way, and perhaps the less economical way, because they are passionate about their craft.”
Call it artisanal or simply homemade, her gastronomical journey started as a kid. In a local creek, she caught fresh trout for breakfast. Her great-aunt was an expert gardener. Her father raised honeybees and quince trees. There were always chickens running about. Her mother instilled the importance of healthy food on young growing bodies. And when it comes to her grandmother, Georgia’s blog pays homage with an entry…
She took care of me when I was young. She would pick me up from nursery school and bring me to her house and sit me at the end of her long wooden table so I could watch her cook. She cooked every day. She still does. And every day after nursery school she made me one of two things: pastina with butter, or broccoli with cheese. I can still taste them. The memory still nourishes my soul.
Georgia’s call to food ultimately proved as inescapable as her own DNA. After Lehman Brothers, she enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City – graduating at the top of her class. She worked in two highly acclaimed restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as well as in one of the premier destination restaurants in Provence, France, La Chassagnette. In fact, it was in the back of La Chassagnette that she slit the throat of her first live kill – a turkey – and then butchered it.
“I realized this is what it’s about to be a meat eater,” she told us.
Georgia is the first to admit that she came to hunting late in life. But at the end of the day, does it really matter?
As she writes on her ESPNOutdoors.com blog:
In life, you need few things. Everyone has their list. Mine includes a shotgun, good whiskey or a smooth Cabernet, a butcher and an open flame.
Here is Georgia’s recipe for Braised Pheasant…
|2 cups, diced|
|1/2 cup, chopped|
|1/2 cup, chopped|
|1/4 cup, chopped|
Bacon, cut into 1” cubes
1. Heat the white wine and sauternes and cool.
2. Marinate the pheasant parts in wine and vegetables overnight.
3. In a hot pan, brown the pheasant. Then remove the meat from the pan and add vegetables and bacon.
4. Separately, heat marinade to a boil with chicken stock.
5. Deglaze the pan of vegetables with verjus, return the meat to the pan and cover with the heated braising liquid. Bring to a simmer.
6. Let simmer for 60 - 90 minutes, until meat is tender. Reduce some of the braising liquid by half and serve as a sauce.
This is the third installment of our occasional series on DIVA, Women Outdoors Worldwide.
While there are certainly plenty of women in the great state of
DIVA is thoroughly dedicated to encouraging and mentoring women of all ages in the shooting sports. For more than 10 years through successful clinics for women and youth across the USA, this unique organization has introduced more than 3,000 women to the shooting sports.
And so it only makes sense that a devoted gun enthusiast like Cheryl takes the helm of DIVA. It also makes sense that the group was formerly known as Texas Women’s Shooting Sports, since Cheryl and her husband, Denny, love to hunt quail, dove, duck and mule deer on their leased 12,000 acre spread in west Texas.
Cheryl came into the world of shotguns and hunting from a fairly unusual start.
“I sang with a band called Maya for 20 years in
She subsequently became acquainted with shooting when she moved from
“I had fallen in love with this gentleman who was very big into hunting and who was just an overall shooting enthusiast,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t know a thing about guns, and really, I was afraid of them.”
Still, she was swept off her feet and onto the alter.
As proof that love conquers all, despite her fear of guns, she stuck by her man even though there were loaded guns stashed all over their house. “They [guns] were there for home protection and the occasional coyote and skunk.”
Eventually, Cheryl was talked into her first shooting experience by her husband. He handed her a Smith & Wesson .357 pistol and told her to hit the target. Without having any ear protection, the boom of that first shot only served to frighten her all over again. But she didn’t give up.
The turning point for Cheryl was a Dallas Safari Club convention where she found an instructor who offered an intensive two-day course in shooting. Shortly afterward, she purchased her very own first gun, a Glock 17 9mm. This Glock took her on a journey from someone who was frightened of guns to where she reached the point that she could speed shoot from the holster and sometimes “beat the men,” she said.
It was during this time as a crackerjack pistol shot that Cheryl was introduced to shotguns.
There was a one-year anniversary soiree in 1998 of the Beretta Gallery in
“I shot horribly,” she recalled. “I tried to get better, but couldn’t.”
It turned out that the main problems were eye dominance and gun fit. Her first instructor, Gaylen Capps, recognized that she was a right-handed shooter, but left-eye dominant. He had mentioned the eye dominance issue and suggested using Chapstick on the left lens...but that was way too messy for Cheryl and she really didn’t understand the importance of seeing the targets with the right eye...the SHOOTING eye.
After learning this important piece of information, she got that Beretta 390 fitted to her and started using a patch on her left eye to shift the dominance to her right one. As usual, there was no stopping Cheryl after that.
She started taking lessons from the greats such as Andy Duffy and Dan Carlisle, and made it into B Class for sporting clays.
As Cheryl’s sporting clays career began its ascent, she had a terrible and unfortunate turn of events. Her beloved husband passed away in 2003. Now a woman shooting on her own, she decided to join the Dallas Gun Club to find other people to shoot with.
Fate would intervene…
In 2005, a mutual friend introduced her to Denny Long. Their friend told Cheryl, “You have to meet this guy. He’s single, he’s fun and he’s a great shot and I think you’ll be wonderful together.”
They went on their first date that Memorial Day weekend. “I thought he was OK,” Cheryl confided. “He didn’t have much to say and he didn’t call me, and I didn’t think much about it because he didn’t make much of an impression.” That was about to change.
It was about three weeks later that Cheryl went with one of her girlfriends to Backwoods Gun Range (sadly now closed) north of Dallas to practice skeet for an upcoming league at Dallas Gun Club.
“There was Denny,” she said. “When my girlfriend and I were finished with practice and about to leave, he convinced us to get to get into his 1949 Willys Jeep named Nellybelle and join him for some sporting clays. We had the best time, we laughed, had a lot of fun. We’ve been inseparable since then. We’ve been married three years now.”
For their honeymoon, they went to
“We hunt a lot and love it,” Cheryl said.
Cheryl has graduated up from her 20-gauge Beretta 390, which she still uses for birds, to a 12-gauge Beretta Urika 391 for all other shotgun sports.
By her own admission, the Urika 391 is chock full of aftermarket bling including a Briley action closer button and forend cap (both in red), Briley titanium chokes and a dropped and a canted stock by Ken Rucker of Speedbump Stockworks. Her initials are engraved on the receiver by a renown Italian engraver. And DIVA TEAM is proudly displayed on the barrel.
Now most of her life is tied up hunting with Denny and staying involved with the DIVA WOW.
“DIVA has done so much for me,” she explained. “I receive great satisfaction from what I’ve learned by sharing and passing that knowledge on to other women. It’s extremely empowering to women. I know, because shooting and hunting has empowered me…and I feel a sense of purpose. To see it take shape in front of you, and see someone else run with it is extremely rewarding.”
To read Shotgun Life’s previous stories about the DIVAS, please visit:
I was recently invited to go to South Dakota pheasant hunting, and what a trip it was. Kirstie Pike the President of Prois Hunting Apparel, Keli Van Cleave, and I went as Prois Hunting Apparel Pro Staff members and were treated to outstanding hospitality by the owners and staff of Pheasant Phun at the Olsen Ranch in Hitchcock, South Dakota.
Dave Olsen is the proprietor and the head wrangler of the operation. Dave's mom, Annie, and his father, Art are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. The film crew of SSOutdoor Adventures was also there filming for an upcoming show.
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."