KEVIN TATE: Shooting clay targets a simple, frustrating, rewarding rhythm

Although targets for sporting clay courses come in a wide variety of shapes, each offering their own unique challenge, the device used to throw the things in the first place is typically the initial frustration most encounter.
Many years ago, I earned money through a summer job and bought the first shotgun that was truly mine, and I immediately set about shooting all of the targets and shells my further earnings could provide. To do this, however, required a way for shootable targets to be thrown.
The first day I had the new gun, my Dad – already my mentor and shooting coach – got volunteered to use the hand-held plastic thrower our initial frugality had led us to buy. Never in the history of commerce has a product proven as unsatisfactory as did this thing. Launching a well-thrown target from the plastic thrower required a degree of manual dexterity and physical coordination far beyond anything demanded of the shooter. Additionally, there was always the happy chance the shooter, eyes focused downrange awaiting the target, might instead be clobbered about the head and back by a wayward clay.
We concluded the initial shoot early and, as soon as possible, Dad and I got a mechanical clay pigeon thrower, called a trap.
The device’s spring and throwing arm sat atop a low three-footed metal frame and the instructions said you were to mash the front two feet into the dirt, then hold the back foot on the ground with your foot while you released the spring arm.
The trap was well-constructed, no doubt designed by a team of engineers whose work spanned the course of months. The method for securing it for use, however, proved to have been the result of many seconds of effort, conducted on the way to market. At the first call of “Pull”, the taut spring snapped shut, whipped the launcher arm through its arc and caused the entire mechanism to leap from the sod in a manic fit of shivering rattles and clangs. The second shoot ended like the first.
Strapping the trap to a spare tire worked great until we noticed the trap’s base was carving a disconcerting slice out of the spare’s side wall. Finally, my Grandaddy welded a steel box for the trap to live and work in, and created a set of three very long pins to attach the whole of the contraption to the Earth.
I don’t know how many clays it’s thrown in the years since, thousands for sure, and I eventually became a satisfactory wingshooter, a task made easy, if not by practice with the gun, then by comparison with the effort to get targets thrown at all.

Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.

Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer