Join the Club

Teresa and her Browning BT-99 trap gun. She says part of learning how to shoot trap includes learning to blame your poor performance on the gun.

Sportsmen’s clubs attract — and need — the best sort of people

by Teresa Mull

While talking to Ed and his wife outside of church a few Sundays ago, Jim walked by, gave me a fist bump, and paused long enough to tip me off as to where a nice buck was rumored to be hanging out on a piece of my parents’ property.

My brother was in town visiting, and when I accompanied him to the beer store, we ran into George and met his daughter, who happens to live in the same neighborhood as my brother in Washington, D.C. At the grocery store afterward, we saw John, who advised us on the best brand of salami to buy. The next day, I chanced upon Lynn, who procured from his car a donation for our town’s historical society (I’m the president), which he had been driving around with in hopes of seeing me out somewhere.  

Each one of these characters I met through my local sportsmen’s club’s Tuesday night trap league, and they are as fine a group of men as you’d ever want to find. The women are just the same, if not even friendlier. Being something of an endangered species causes us naturally to gravitate to one another and bond almost instantly. 

Sure, there’s a handful of oddballs and the occasional overly competitive, unfriendly loner, but I’ve found, by and large, the type of people who partake regularly in sportsmen’s club activities are remarkably welcoming. They’re there to improve at a sport they find challenging and enjoyable (most of the time), socialize, and help others do the same. 

That said, I understand being the “new guy” can be intimidating. But keep in mind everyone was the new guy at some point. Plus, people love nothing more than to offer their knowledge (and sometimes their shooting glasses, a vest, even a gun) on something they’re passionate about—especially a sport as addictive and technical as trap shooting. Leave your ego in the truck and accept guidance freely, keeping in mind you don’t have to heed every pointer that comes your way. Someone counseled me early on to choose one or two mentors to listen to and ignore the rest. I’m not that disciplined, but I do give more weight to some people’s instruction than others. 

Even Annie Oakley benefited from instruction. At first, anyhow.

If you’re a seasoned shooter who’s let your sportsmen’s club membership lapse for a few years, or never bothered joining at all, remember: Experience and wisdom are gifts to be passed on, and these clubs die without members and volunteers to sustain them. Perhaps a 2024 New Year’s resolution for you can be to re-up your membership, at the very least, or better yet, become an active member at your local club for the advancement of the shooting sports and your own personal health. Hobbies, you see, especially outdoor ones, are linked to better mental and physical health, and I can attest that blasting an innocent clay disc from the sky into smithereens never fails to improve my mood. 

“Social connectedness” also contributes to improved well-being and longevity. While talking to Ed outside church, he asked me if I was planning to attend the indoor .22 shoots the club holds over the winter. It’s fun, he assured me, though it’s “more of a bullshit session than anything.” Nothing wrong with that. 

If you’re worried you won’t fit in at the club, rest assured: I’ve met a lawyer, a nurse, an emergency medical technician (EMT), an insurance salesman, a roofer, a beer store proprietor, a schoolteacher, and a dozen other people whose professions I have no idea about because they don’t matter. I’ve learned from one club member how to keep bees and collect honey, from another, the best techniques for growing tomatoes. I tasted wild hare for the first time in a stew someone who had recently hunted in Maine brought to the club to share. My fellow shooters, though eclectic in their backgrounds and personalities, are nonetheless reliably of the same attitude regarding personal responsibility and what’s worthwhile. 

All of this is to say, my life is richer because of the friendships I’ve forged at my local sportsmen’s club — not to mention the shooting skills I continue to acquire. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t run into someone I know from “gun club,” as we call it, and though I do live in a small town, I wouldn’t have met these people otherwise. 

If nothing else, it’s comforting to know so many people who are handy and safe with a firearm. And, by the way, sportsmen’s club memberships make great last-minute Christmas gifts.

Teresa Mull is better at socializing at the Sandy Ridge Sportsmens’ Club than shooting, but she’s hoping to even things out in 2024.