Bill said the fall event was added by demand from shooters and exhibitors. He explained it was moved to the Back Woods Quail Club to provide "greater bandwidth" in the years to come.
The Southern Side by Side Fall Classic was broken down into 12-gauge and sub-gauge competitions as well as hammer and hammerless groups. Sponsors included Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing for the two American events, FAMARS for a 10-gauge and small-gauge shoot, Griffin & Howe's Compak Sporting Event on the 5-stand field, Charles Boswell for the 12-gauge preliminary and Atkin Grant & Lang's championship main event.
A World-Class Tower Shoot
Although the Southern Side by Side Fall Classic ran Friday October 17-19, Back Woods proprietor Rick Hemingway arranged for local shooters and early arrivals to participate in a world-class tower shoot on Thursday, October 16th.
The weather that day was expected to hit the mid-80s with relatively low humidity, giving us a perfect morning when the tower shoot started at 9:00. We convened at the Back Woods club house and then formed a caravan that traveled about five miles west to some of the 15,000 acres operated by Back Woods.
In the middle of a large clearing stood a tower 80-feet tall encircled with 11 hay-bale blinds about 60 yards apart and 80 yards from the tower. The air was aromatic of sweet low-country musk, loblolly pines and hay.
Twenty-two shooters took their positions, and would rotate clockwise after a 40-bird toss. Rick arranged for 500 birds to be thrown so everyone would get their fair chance at a pheasant as the sun and wind changed during the course of the morning.
Since I arrived alone, I had the opportunity to share a blind with master stock maker, Gary Hackney of Rome, Georgia. Gary was accompanied by his long-time friend and former champion shooter, Bill Smith of Atlanta. This time, Bill traded his shotgun for a camera, giving us both a future scrapbook and an extra set of experienced eyes.
Gary Shoots an L.C. Smith
In terms of our side-by-sides, Gary shot his 12-gauge L.C. Smith Ideal Grade with double triggers. I'd brought my Beretta Silver Hawk built in the mid-1960s. Choked IC and Mod, it had a single trigger, 28-inch barrels and extractors.
The Silver Hawk was relatively new to me, and the tower shoot was my first time using it on birds. With the help of Bill's expert advice, I was able to finally start hitting some pheasants by our fourth rotation -- my first bird taken with a single shot at about 40 yards. Ultimately, I would bring down six and hit several more to the extent that I slowed them down enough for other shooters.
The great troop of dogs was a pleasure to watch as they sprinted across the field for their quarry. Rick had arranged for a truck to bring us drinks and ammo between rounds.
17 Pheasants per Shooter
Of the 500 birds thrown, Rick estimated the group downed 380-390. That amounted to about 17 sets of breasts for each shooter to bring home and work their culinary magic.
Which brings me to the sit-down lunch that day, a delicious spread of low-country fare prepared by Back Woods chef, Carol Graham. Imagine a home-cooked meal of fried pork chops with gravy, baked mac-and-cheese (the real thing), rice, black-eye peas, collard greens, biscuits, corn bread, sweet tea and banana pudding with ‘Nilla wafers for dessert...after a great morning of pheasant shooting. Carol's kitchen skills would set the tone for the coming two days of exceptional local cooking apropos of a Southern Side by Side.
That evening, I drove into Georgetown proper for a burger and beer. If you're in the area, Georgetown is a must-see destination. Referred to as "Little Charleston," it's the third-oldest city in the U.S. It's located on Winyah Bay at the confluence of the Great Pee Dee River, Waccamaw River, and Sampit River. The restored downtown is filled with restaurants and bars, many of them open to the harbor promenade.
We Go for the 12-Gauge Preliminary
The next morning I was ready to shoot. On my slate was the American Classics Team Challenge on the 5-stand field, and the Charles Boswell 12-gauge preliminary. As I geared up in the parking lot, I got to talking with Jim Finkel, a dentist from Blythewood, South Carolina, who was a regular competitor at Back Woods.
Soon, we were heading toward the sporting clays course in his unstoppable Polaris Ranger tricked out in full camo. The Charles Boswell preliminary consisted of 50 targets. Once again I had my Beretta while Jim shot a Grulla.
Dave's Trampoline Target
With targets set by Dave Lemmen, the presentations were quite challenging. Just to give you an idea of how Dave's mind works, one station had a target that went from the trap machine, onto a big trampoline, where it bounced off to morph into a low-flying looper. Hmmm...
Jim, who was a far better shot than me, had taken on Dave's targets many times before and psyched himself up to meet the challenge. By comparison, I was new to the whole set-up and found it pretty darn daunting at first; but you soon begin to decipher the crafty DNA of Dave's targets.
Shooting a Connecticut Shotgun RBL-28
The next event for me was the American Classics Team Challenge, a 25-target shoot on the 5-stand. To qualify, the shotgun had to be manufactured in the U.S.A. Since I didn't own an American side-by-side that met the requirements, my friend Lou Frutuoso of Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing loaned me a highly effective 28-gauge RBL.
Connecticut Shotgun makes its side-by-sides from scratch at their factory in New Britain, Connecticut. The company's mission is to provide a quality U.S.-made side-by-side at affordable prices in a style of the old English gun makers. The shotguns are configured to the customer's specifications, including fit, barrel length, single or double trigger, pistol or straight grip, beavertail or splinter forend and wood options. For the RBL-28, the base price is $3,450.
I selected an RBL-28 with 30-inch barrels, splinter forend, single selective trigger, straight hand English stock, case-hardened receiver, assisted opening, 14¼-inch length-of-pull and exhibition-grade wood. It came from the factory choked modified and full. It retailed for $3,650.
Out on the 5-stand the shotgun provided an excellent fit. The 30-inch barrels prevented it from being "whippy" -- a problem with many sub-gauges with short barrels. Also, with the triggers set at 4½ pounds, it had a crisp, controlled feel. The gun was very well balanced and shot where you pointed it with no drama at all. I really enjoyed it.
The Wine Cellar in the Old Bank Vault
That night, Jim Finkel's friend Bugsy hit town, and along with Dennis Browning of SYC Sporting (an outfitter for wingshooting in Argentina) we went to the Rice Paddy for dinner. Housed in an old bank, the wine cellar is in the vault. The turn-of-the-century bastion of commerce had been tastefully updated with softer colors and textures while retaining a genuine masculine feel.
The food could be best described as haute cuisine low country that seemed to satisfy the palate of the Georgetown fashionable set. The restaurant and bar were jammed when we arrived, but after our leisurely dinner of delicious food the crowd had thinned out. On the street, we started to see the wood boats coming into town for 18th Annual Wooden Boat Show.
As the weather man predicted, the clouds were rolling in and we could only cross our fingers for the next morning. Not much help, unfortunately, since I woke up to a steady rain.
Shotgun Finds on a Rainy Morning
When I arrived at a soggy Back Woods, it was dead quiet. The shotguns remained cased against the elements. I took the opportunity to check out the exhibitors and made some interesting finds.
Mid South Guns of Wagram, North Carolina displayed a very fine L.C. Smith grade A2. It was a 12-bore with 30-inch barrels. Mid South owner Phil Futrell figured it was made in 1905. In mint shape, it featured a full scroll. He told me that only some 200 A2s were ever produced. The shotgun had a price tag of $21,000.
Kirby Hoyt of VintageDoubles.com was on hand with his full regalia of hammer guns. Among his inventory was a Stephen Grant nitro-proofed in 1876 sitting in its original oak and leather case. It was priced at $10,500.
A Purdy featuring unique island locks and top lever built around 1880 listed for $11,600, while a Boss with original barrels sold for $6,800. Kirby also displayed two Woodwards (not a matched pair) in nice condition. They were priced at $6,500 and $6,800. Bargain hunters could get their hands on an attractive C.G. Bonehill for $2,000.
Classic Collectibles of Jasper, Georgia featured a newly restored Henry Atkins reasonably priced at $5,500. According to Classic owner Joe Hill, the shotgun was inexpensive because it was one of Atkins' "moonlight" shotguns -- meaning he made it after hours while working at Purdy. To keep his job, Atkins discretely produced these shotguns before setting up shop on his own where he could proudly display his name on his masterpieces.
Bill Schwarz with the Atkins Moonlight Special
This Atkins specimen was serial number 39. It was a 12-bore with a double set of Damascus barrels (30- and 26-inch) built around 1874.
The shotgun was restored by Bill Schwarz, a master gunsmith in Ellijay, Georgia. Schwarz was the man behind the restored Lefever that swept the Gold Medal Concours d'Elegance of Fine Guns in 2000.
Moving through the tent, Atkin Grant & Lang of Hertfordshire showed some delightful shotguns, both new and perfectly restored. Perhaps the most compelling was a matched pair of like-new Joseph Lang Imperial model 12-bore sidelocks with 28-inch barrels and 2¾-inch chambers. They had full bouquet and scroll engraving along with Gold 1 & 2 on the barrels. Priced at slightly over $51,000, Ken estimated it was still half the price of a new matched pair of Joseph Langs.
Griffin & Howe's Magnificent Trio
If a matched pair isn't enough for you, Griffin & Howe displayed a breathtaking trio of round-action Mckay Brown 12 bores nested in their original case of oak and leather. The guns were proofed in 1992 and were absolutely immaculate and original -- replete with accessories. The trio cost $150,000.
As I finished perusing the fine guns on display, the rain broke.
I was ready to take on the Connecticut Shotgun American Classics -- a 50-target sub-gauge competition on the sporting clays course. Lou came through again with a Launch Edition 20-gauge. It shared many features with its 28-gauge sibling, only this one had shorter 28-inch barrels and screw-in chokes.
Next Up: The Connecticut Shotgun 20-Gauge Launch Edition
The 20-gauge Launch Edition ranges in price from approximately $3,500 to $5,000, with a matched pair at $8,000. The one I shot had a price tag of $3,884.
The Launch Edition 20-gauge proved fast and maneuverable against Dave's targets. To illustrate, I was at one station that threw a pair of fast-dropping crossers. After I called for the targets, I realized that I hadn't switched off the auto-safety. In mid-shot, I flipped the switch and still managed to nail both birds at about 20 yards, just before they hit the ground. And by the way, as it happened this gun was choked full-full.
It set the stage for some celebratory cocktails that night in Georgetown.
The third and final morning presented a clear, sunny opportunity to redeem my scores once and for all. As it turned out, that wasn't in the cards for me.
I was returning to my packed car from two back-to-back rounds at the Griffin & Howe Compak Sporting event, when I saw Ken of Atkin Grant & Lang standing outside the tent chatting with some folks.
Shooting the Joseph Lang
I went to say good-bye to him when out of the blue he asked me if I wanted to shoot one of the Joseph Lang matched guns. Well, we all know the answer to that question.
Ken took Gun 1 and we walked to the single teal set up for exhibitors as a try station. I'll never forget how, when he pulled the first target, I mounted the gun and the bird simply hung there, right down the length of the meticulous barrels, so inviting, like a pendant dangling above a woman's bosom. Bang, broken, effortlessly.
After a few more rounds, Ken challenged me to break the pieces -- and they went too with a perfect second shot as though I had all the time in the world. Finally, I finished my box of shells.
What a stunning way to conclude four days at the Southern Side by Side Fall Classic.
Irwin Greenstein is publisher of Shotgun Life.
Mid South Shotguns: 910-318-2187
Bill Schwarz, gunsmith: 267 Brushy Top Road, Ellijay, GA 30540