By Nick Simonson, LCPF President
Why does it seem like summer is busier than any other season of the year? Is it because the warm weather makes it much more enjoyable to be outside, so that the days feel so fleeting? Is it because the rush of trout, pike, walleyes and smallmouth has faded and now I’m just anxiously awaiting autumn so that I simply think the hours away while grinding my big muskie bait over some weed patch? Or is it because I’m a bad shot and I am procrastinating these three months to the dark side of the calendar only to face the music in October? Ah-ha!
I’ll be honest. I am not a great shot. And I have only slightly more follow-through some summers in my shooting motion than I do in my efforts to improve my aim, at least until crunch time rolls around and the first hints of autumn roll in on the late summer breeze. But this year, it is going to be different.
Though if I want my lack of hand-eye-bird coordination to improve, I have some hurdles to overcome. The last round of clays I shot was in August of last year and my shot didn’t get better as the autumn wore on. I couldn’t blame the few birds that got up in front of me either, as I saw about two dozen flush in shooting range, but managed to put only a handful down. I think there was a point in December where my lab, Gunnar, gave up on giving me dirty looks due to neck strain from doing so in each previous outing.
There was a time I seemed pretty proficient in the field. I can look through my hunting journals and see days where I limited out, taking three birds on four shots, or picking up a pair on perfect shooting. Of course, these trips also occurred in the mid-2000s, with CRP at its peak and a string of warm winters to bolster bird numbers on even the fringes of the pheasant range. Maybe it was the fact that I could put up 50 roosters on a walk without a dog that made me seem so good. Those “good ol’ days” coupled with some less-than-accurate scorekeeping on my part might have led me to the mistaken belief that I was once a half-decent shot.
But there’s no denying it now. My shotgunning needs work. For success in the field, I’m going to need time on the range. Practice makes perfect, or at least good enough so that my dog doesn’t laugh at me.
As a result, I’ve joined a local trap club where not only can I get my time in behind a clay thrower, but also work on my rifle and archery skills. While the summer progresses, I hope to see an improvement in all three forms of marksmanship – for the sake of my pride and the animals I pursue. Because I am frugal - or as my wife would put it: “cheap” - the $40 membership fee has already factored into my summer scheduling. Each Tuesday night and those Sunday afternoons where I’m not on the road have been blocked off on my calendar in hopes of making every dollar count. So in a way, I’m somewhat “trapped” into shooting by my fiscal conservatism.
Let me tell you, from what I remember about “the good ol’ days” all it took was filling the back half of summer with a box full of spent shells and a coating of orange-and-black dust in the field before you. My buddies and I would tear through cases of 7.5 shot like marshmallows at a campfire and before the end of August I had a collection of empty cardboard clay target boxes piled up in the back of my truck reminding me that the clays (like my ego after a bad night at the range) were “Fragile as Eggs.” However, when opening day came, at least I felt ready, which is more than I can say now. But with time and practice, I’ll get back to where I was – or at least to the level of “somewhat respectable” – if I ever hit that benchmark before.
Maybe you find yourself in the same situation, wanting to be a better shot. The only way to get there is by practicing. Perhaps its time you trapped yourself into a more rigid regimen, or invited some friends along to the back forty and blasted your way through a case of target loads and some orange-domed birds. Undoubtedly, the more times you do, the better off you’ll be when fall hunting seasons come around.