Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
In driving up to the Ancient Oak Gun Club, I felt like was in a modern Western, or at least a country music video, with all the gravel that pings off your tires on the bumpy driveway.
It just prepared me for the experience. The last time I held a gun, I was 10 years old, and its barrel was filled with BBs. I was a good shot back then, and I remember a training session as a kid when I hit a target dead-center before the wind flipped it onto its blank side, and I hit it dead-center again.
That feat gave me somewhat of a reputation. The rest of my time spent at Goshen Scout Reservation in Virginia was filled with me responding to people calling me “Bullseye.”
I was eager to see if my natural talents had faded over the last 12 years.
Zachary Fuesser, who played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for six years, greeted me at the front desk. After hanging up his cleats, Fuesser needed something to fill that competitive void. He turned to shotgun sports, specifically sporting clays, which is the specialty of Ancient Oak. He’s been working at the club for about a year and a half, and has been participating in shooting competitions for the same amount of time.
Fuesser said sporting clays is much different than trap and skeet, two other popular shotgun sports, because the targets don’t repeat. They come from all angles, speeds and heights to simulate the unpredictability of real-life hunting.
Fuesser handed me some earplugs and drove me out to the club’s northern course. That’s the beginners course, and features 14 targets of relative ease. The southern course, where we would go later, is 14 targets of a much higher difficulty.
I received a rundown of how to reload and fire what I thought to be a standard beginner's shotgun, Fuesser told me the gun I was using, a Krieghoff K-80 Sporter, was actually his personal gun he uses in competitions. It cost him $15,000.
“I love this gun so much,” Fuesser said at one point. “I don’t even wear my wedding ring when I shoot it. It will scratch it up.”
I was suddenly a lot more nervous. Fuesser insisted that he wanted me to use it, so I did. Two shells slid into the chamber. I closed it up and raised the gun high, placing it on my right collarbone. I felt the cool wood of the rib and the cold metal of the trigger. I lined up the sight lines. I inhaled.
“Pull,” I told Fuesser, trying to sound confident.
I saw the clay fly out of the sky from my left, and I tracked it with the sight. As the clay started its descent, I decided the time was right, and I fired.
I missed. Fuesser said I was just behind it, a phrase I would hear repeatedly over the next hour or so.
Two more misses followed. Fuesser told me to try moving the gun quicker, anticipating where it will be instead of reacting to its position. I took his advice, and on the next pull, I herked and jerked the gun like a sputtering car from a ‘50s cartoon. When I pulled the trigger, I saw bits of clay spray everywhere.
“I’ll be honest, that was the ugliest gun movement I have ever seen,” Fuesser said to me after what I can only guess was complete shock that I actually hit something. “But it worked.”
After a handful more shots on the beginner’s course, we made our way to the advanced course. Fuesser wanted me to try my hand at the “rabbit,” as he called it. The rabbit initially bounced into the air before rolling along the ground much faster than the clays flew in the air. I nailed the first one, which put a swooping smile on my face. The advanced course is definitely a challenge that I was not fully prepared for, but it gave me a newfound respect for the skill it takes to compete in shotgun sports at a high level.
As I pulled back out onto that long dirt road, I wished I didn’t have to leave so quickly. Fuesser said that all it will take for sporting clays to grow is enough people trying it once, because once is enough to get hooked and convince friends to come back with you. Based on my own experience, he’s right.
If nothing else, I felt a little more qualified to be starring in that Western than I did when I arrived.