Rainy Sunday in March

It will horrify Wieland’s side-by-side loving friends, but he’s come to the conclusion that if he ever has to limit himself to one shotgun, it will be the Blaser F3—with its eight sets of barrels, three buttstocks, and two forends. Which is hardly just one gun, is it?

by Terry Wieland

As I write, Skeet season is upon us—that is, the two months in which the small club where I shoot forms a Skeet league and teams go at it tooth and nail for the honor of being named Arnold Rifle & Pistol Club 2023 Skeet Champions.  An honor indeed, and worth fighting for, I’m sure all will agree.

The first couple of seasons I shot in the league, I insisted on using a side-by-side game gun and shooting gun-down because I looked upon it mainly as practice for pheasants and grouse.  Since Skeet is not, and never has been, my game, anything approaching 20 was an acceptable score—for me, if not for those of my team mates who really did want to win.

To make it even worse, each Skeet season I tried to get at least one outing with every gun I have, old and new, suitable or not.  Such switching of guns is a sure formula for poor performance.

At first, teams were put together ad hoc, but about five years ago serendipity resulted in a half-dozen guys who got along well, liked shooting together, and decided to enter the league as a team.  We have shot together, both in the Skeet league and the fall trap league, ever since.

Blaser has mastered the art of making barrels and stocks that are completely interchangeable, right out of the box.  You buy one shotgun, and then suddenly you have six.

As you can imagine, there is now some pressure to perform as well as possible, so last year I gave in, converted my Blaser F3 to something resembling a Skeet gun, and began to shoot gun-up.  My scores improved to the point where anything less than 20 was a disgrace, and I even flirted with 25 a couple of times.

To die-hard Skeet shooters, who rack up 25s with boring consistency, this may seem dreadful, and I have known a couple of these fellows.  The difference between them and, well, most of the guys on our team, is that they take it extremely seriously, have all the right kit, take lessons now and then, and shoot Skeet at least twice a week, all year ‘round.

The kit won’t do it for you—at least, not by itself—but the lessons and the constant practice certainly help.

What also helps is having a gun that can be adapted to proper Skeet configuration.  When Skeet was invented almost a century ago, it was intended to be shot with grouse guns, held down near the waist, but times have changed.  We are not talking about International Skeet, with its gun-down, speeded up birds, and three-second delays, which is a different game entirely.  But devotees of the American game who want to win something more than a club championship now use guns that more resemble the traditional doubles-trap gun than anything William Harnden Foster was using in 1927.

The Blaser F3 in Skeet mode adds, on average, about five birds to Wieland’s normal abysmal Skeet scores.  Can’t argue with that.

Barrels are longer, guns heavier, combs higher, and they invariably have pistol grips and beavertail forends.  Not what anyone would choose for ruffed grouse in New England, which is what Skeet was originally intended to resemble.

What I have found is that shooting gun-up with my F3, with 32-inch barrels, turns it into an entirely different game—as different, perhaps, as American Skeet itself is from International.  I’ve also found that I like scoring 22s and 23s a lot better than 17s and 18s.  High house two, which used to be my bugbear, is now pretty easy, as is station four.

Station eight is always dreaded by newcomers, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes almost automatic.  For my part, I get the hang of it, but I also lose the hang of it, so I’ll hit station eight high and low a half-dozen times in a row, then miss them a half-dozen times.  Skeet veterans by now will be nodding their heads, having seen this all before.

It could well be that age is playing a part, along with the fact that I shoot Skeet seasonally and simply don’t practice enough.

Another club where I’m a member is strictly shotguns, and I can go there by myself and shoot trap using the microphone releases at each station.  I can’t do that with Skeet.  There is a way to shoot Skeet by yourself, utilizing a delay mechanism, but I just can’t seem to get used to that to the point where I feel it’s doing me any good.

Also, and I think this is an important point, trap is a solitary game, whereas Skeet is a social affair.  Practicing trap by yourself is reasonably natural, shooting Skeet by yourself is not.

None of this is intended to be anything more than idle ruminations on a rainy Sunday morning as I replace the trap buttstock on my Blaser and get the Skeet barrels out of storage and pick out chokes and apply appropriate dabs of gun grease here and there.

But one thing I know for sure:  My first Skeet scores this week will be disappointingly low, but then, so will everyone else’s.  And one other thing about our team:  We will be genuinely happy when someone else does well.

Gray’s shooting editor, Terry Wieland, loves most kinds of games with a shotgun, to the point where he doesn’t practice enough at any one of them to become much more than competent.  At his age, however, he’s happy as long as he doesn’t finish dead last.