Shotgun Lives

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Ann Kercheville

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

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Ken Hartshorn

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.

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Lars Jacob

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

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Bang! Miss.

Bang! Miss.

Bang! Miss.

It actually went on much longer than that, but you get the idea: I was shooting badly. Very badly.

And to make things infinitely worse, I was shooting sporting clays with four of my new co-workers from the California Waterfowl Association at its annual Staff Day event. Yeah, it’s a duck hunting organization. OK, conservation too, but for the purposes of this discussion, I need to highlight that I was shooting badly — cringe! a girl shooting badly — among fellow hunters. Guy hunters.

So I went on this tour with a bunch of bird watchers the other day. I’m not becoming a bird watcher (at least not in the non-consumptive sense); I just had a chance to get a guided tour of an area I hunt a lot, and I was hoping to learn more about it and maybe even pick up some intelligence I could use this winter.

Isn’t it annoying when your “must-do’s” demand precedence over your “wanna-do’s”? Tax returns, end-of-school projects, business meetings, honey-do’s, and more keep you anchored indoors exactly when the call of the outdoors is beckoning with the lure of the spring season. After a long winter’s stay indoors, even daylight savings time doesn't necessarily extend enough daylight to capture adequate hours for resuming your favorite warm weather outdoor activity. Unless you’re a golf or tennis pro, a landscaper or construction worker, you often find yourself stuck indoors for that emotional tug-of-war. This is certainly the spot I find myself in during these glorious spring days.

There's something about the instinct to hunt that drives men to the hunting fields regardless of the weather. But when the hunting season is over, other priorities (like those honey-do lists) seem to win the battle for your time, even though paradise-like outdoor conditions exist. So here’s an idea you're gonna like: “Get your Honey to wanna do what you wanna do.” And the best example I can think of is…go shotgun shooting!

I wish I could claim the credit for this idea. But the truth is that several of our regular guests have already cracked this code. One, in fact, brought his wife to Joshua Creek Ranch for their first date, later proposed to her here, and then had their engagement party at the Ranch. She’s taken shotgun shooting instructions from our NSCA Level 2 instructor and become quite a shooting enthusiast herself…even after the wedding!

Another lever that works really well is for the kids to wanna do what you wanna do. Mom will most times go right along with what the kids wanna do for fun. And even if she doesn’t, it’s a great time for Dad to enjoy and bond with the kids. Just last weekend I was delighted to see a man and his son approaching our office who had been at the Ranch for Axis deer hunting late last summer. My delight grew when I saw his wife and daughter right behind them. All had come to claim some family time together and all wanted to shoot. The ladies chose to rent 20-gauge Beretta double guns, while the father chose to challenge himself with a 28 gauge and the son (determined to have the best score) chose a 12 gauge.

IMG 1100A family outing on the Joshua Creek Ranch sporting clays course.

Another approach that works for young ladies is to teach them a unique skill that makes them appealing to guys. We have a long-time member with two beautiful college-age daughters. Although he and his wife are recently divorced, Dad has remained actively involved with his girls. The time he once spent attending their high-school sports events he’s now using to introduce them to shotgun shooting at Joshua Creek Ranch. Thanks to our instructors they’ve taken to the sport like champs. Dad encourages them with the offer of all the targets they want to shoot. It’s a whole new world for these young ladies and is consequently making them quite popular with their young men friends as well as quite proficient with their shotguns.

At Joshua Creek Ranch we're doing our part to put lots of appeal into the idea of shotgun shooting together as a couple, a family, or a bunch of buddies. Unlike most shooting facilities, Joshua Creek Ranch has the bonus of accommodations and meals worthy of Beretta’s Two Trident rating for excellence. Add to that the convenience of a fully-automated sporting clays course set in the scenic Texas Hill Country; plus complimentary access to Joshua Creek for a dip in its clear, cool spring water after shooting and you’ve got an offer too good to refuse.

We call it the “Stay `N Shoot” package. Available all spring and summer, it offers guests 24 hours of unlimited clay target shooting at the wobble trap or the sporting clays course, both available from dawn till dark. The package also includes highly acclaimed meals and accommodations like our wing shooters so enjoy during the hunting season. Your Honey, sons, daughters, and your buddies are all gonna wanna put their must-do’s aside and take you up on the invitation to join in this kind of spring and summer fun in the outdoors.

Can’t stay with us overnight? Then we'll keep you inspired to come shotgunning often with the offer to buy an access card loaded with 500+ targets at a discounted price. Can’t get out here before our office closes at 6 PM? Just give us a call to tell us the time you'll be on the course and we'll make it available to you with that access card you bought. Can’t find someone to go shooting when you’re wanting to go? Our automatic trap controllers have a delay feature enabling you to pull targets for yourself and still be prepared to shoot.

Okay, you’re out of excuses. Now let’s shoot some sporting clays.

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

My doctor and I had been talking for a few minutes when I decided it was time to pop the question.

“Do you know anything about shotguns?”

He shook his head no. I evaluated him for a second when he said that. He was young and fresh-faced, and I saw no glimmer of recognition in his eyes – no clue why a patient would bring that up in a discussion about that unpleasant little blob on her MRI.

“Well, this is important. I brought a shotgun stock with me – just the plastic – nothing that shoots – no ammunition. It’s in my backpack. Can I take it out and show it to you so can see how I use it?”

“Sure,” he said. No fear showed on his face – and this just two days after the Boston Marathon bombings had put everyone on edge about what deranged people can do. Good. This was going well.

I pulled my black synthetic Beretta 3901 stock out of the backpack, gave him the spiel about how your dominant eye is the rear sight in shotgun shooting, then showed him how my face is supposed to rest on the comb – head forward and jutting to the left.

“Is this bad?”

It was one of the most important questions I would ask that day.

“Hmm,” he said, checking me out from a few angles. “It might be, if you stay in that position for a long time.”

“Well, you’re not supposed to. It’s more like this,” I said, walking him through the steps of see duck, wait for duck to get close, stand and shoulder gun, swing, bang, bang. OK, I said three bangs and omitted the swearing.

“Could this have caused the problem?”

He shrugged.

“This is an important part of my life. This is how we put meat on our table.”

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten on the question, and it’s only because it’s spring that I’m not panicking.

I’ve had a bad neck since I made the poor decision in 1986 to try to bike across a road with some really fast oncoming traffic and didn’t quite make it to the other side. The biggest impact (since my body slammed onto the asphalt) has been a lifetime of headaches rooted in the vertebrae at the top of my neck, but another problem has been brewing a little bit lower for the past couple years. And in the past few months, it started getting bad – especially when I spent prolonged periods looking to the left or looking down.

An MRI revealed the problem: a herniated disc in my neck, on the left side, between C6 and C7. Mercifully it’s nothing warranting surgery, but I’m now busily working with a physical therapist on things I can do to minimize pain, and can’t do if I want to avoid pain and further damage. And I don’t know yet where my bird hunting fits into that.

Have I mentioned bird hunting is my life?

I haven’t gone shooting since the end of duck season, and I’m a bit afraid to even think about it right now because we’re trying to promote some healing in the disc before I go putting it through normal paces. But I’m thinking about it a lot, and wondering what I’ll have to do to make sure I can keep doing what I love.

Maybe a super duper amazing custom stock so I don’t have to do all that scrunching?

All I know for now is this: Down and left hurt. Down and left are where my head has to go for me to shoot my shotgun.


Holly A. Heyser is a hunter, forager, writer, photographer and college journalism lecturer who lives in Sacramento, California. You can see more of her work at

Sometimes I can’t stop myself from picking fights I seem sure to lose.

Like arguing on Audubon California’s Facebook page about Assembly Bill 711, a bill to ban lead ammo for all hunting in California.

The GRITS (Girls Really Into Shooting) is the easiest group to find on the sporting clays course or the upland fields of bird hunting. That’s because their raucous exuberance of hooting, hollering and laughing has earned them a reputation as hardcore enthusiasts fearless in their solidarity of female empowerment through the shotgun sports.

A year ago this time, as we entered the final month of the upland bird hunting season at Joshua Creek Ranch, I wrote about the challenges of that season, having endured a drought of historically severe proportions.  Thankfully spring rains blessed us in 2012 and the resilience of the wildlife habitat was nothing less than miraculous.  We entered the 2012-13 upland bird hunting season last October in good condition in every way:  restored habitat, hard-flushing, strong-flying birds, well-trained pointing and flushing/retrieving dogs, enthusiastic hunting guides, seasoned cooks, and conscientious office staff.

So there I was, at water’s edge, ghillie jacket and hood breaking up my outline, balaclava hiding my face, weapon resting on my knees, fog just a bit too thick, ducks just a little bit too far away.

Since upland bird hunting is our primary activity, it’s a given that the six months of October through March are without a doubt the busiest ones of the year here at Joshua Creek Ranch. The season begins in October at a gentle pace and continuously accelerates to breakneck, full throttle, race pace in January, February and March. I think the closing of whitetail deer season in early January, followed by the closing of the bobwhite quail season in late February, contributes largely to the increase in the demand for preserve hunting of upland birds the first three months of each New Year. By March, it’s the only hunting that’s left for the avid shotgunning enthusiast.

I love getting a limit of ducks.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to cry if I go home with fewer than seven. Some days I just don’t get the chance to kill that many. Other days I couldn’t hit a decoy, much less a speeding teal. But seven feels like an affirmation of my skills, which still matters to me in my seventh season as a hunter.