Woe Was Us

Beth Davis with her trusty Ithaca, practising trap with the Garmin XERO S1. This is not the trap field on which we were shooting in this article. On this one (St. Louis Trap & Skeet) side-winds are normal but treacherous down-drafts all but unknown.

by Terry Wieland

Every so often, something happens that makes you question everything you thought you knew, but obviously did not.  Or at least, have temporarily forgotten.

On Saturday, a week into the new year, the usual crowd of enthusiasts gathered for our monthly club trap match, which consists of two rounds at 16 yards, and two rounds of handicap, which for most is 19 or 20 yards.  Anyone without an ATA-assigned handicap picks his or her own.

After a couple of weeks of bitter cold—bitter for Missouri, at least, with frozen ponds and burst water lines—it had warmed up to the mid-40s, and we were all eager to burn some powder and dust some birds.  There were three squads of five for 16-yard, two squads for handicap.

Speaking for myself, it started reasonably well.  I started at station four, broke my first four birds, and figured I was in for a reasonable session.  Little did I know, that was the high point for the whole day.  I went on to have a dismal round of 13 (thirteen!)  At the same time, though, I noticed my squad mates were not doing much better.

When the scores were posted for round one, out of 15 guns, the high was a 20, posted by a shooter who, the week before, had gone 50 straight in an informal match.  Second was a 19, low was a 5 (yes, five).  It was, in the collective memory of the 15 shooters, the worst day any of us had ever seen.  Everyone has a bad day, now and then.  But all of us at once?

There was no real explanation for it.  It was cold, but not that cold, and the wind was almost non-existent.  In fact, if you were looking for near-perfect conditions, for January anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon Line, this would have been it.

The Garmin gives you precise information on where the clay was, and where your pellets went. It would also have been interesting, on this dismal day, to see exactly how far out the clay was when the pellets did (or did not) collide with it.

My second round at 16 yards?  Eleven (11).  By that time, I was questioning everything I was doing and worrying instead of concentrating, which is a sure formula for failure.  Yet, with a total of 24, I finished near the middle of the pack.

Moving on to handicap, which I shot from 20 yards, I posted first a 15, then a 14, and believe it or not, I felt things were really looking up.

First, in spite of the score, I thought I’d figured out not only what I was doing wrong, but probably had an explanation for everyone else, as well.

When I was not shooting, I was watching the birds, and had a chance to study both fields from off to the side.  For whatever reason, the clays were coming out flatter than they should, and suddenly dropping when they reached mid-field.  Which meant that not only me, but everyone else, was shooting over them.  The obvious solution to that would have been to hold lower on the house than we normally would.

Every so often—every 15th bird or so—one would come out unusually high, what seemed to be almost straight up by comparison, and generally it was broken with alacrity.

The trap range at Arnold: the hill in the background is considerably higher and steeper than it appears in this wide-angle photo.

Both our fields face into a steep wooded hillside, close enough that shards of clay often fall onto its slope.  In the conditions of cold and little wind we had, there seemed to be a down-draft off the hill that was pushing the clays suddenly lower as they reached a certain point.

The other thing I noticed, as the day of infamy wore on, was that even the best shooters among us, and that included guys who routinely shoot 24s and 23s, and think anything under 20 is a disaster, were not picking up the birds as quickly.  They were taking an extra split second to be precise, and this was allowing the birds to get to that exact point where they dropped a foot or two like the rug had been pulled out.

I finished the two rounds of handicap with a total of 29 (15 and 14), which was good enough to place me fourth out of ten.  The winner had 34.  (Or was it 33?  Either way, it’s best forgotten.)

An inordinate number of the guys gathered around the scoreboard at the end with their phone-cameras out, probably intent on recording for posterity the fact that it wasn’t just them doing poorly.  Misery may not actually love company, but it sure appreciates having it around.

Had I been carrying my Garmin XERO S1 trap radar, I would have set it up to see exactly where I was missing but, like many things when you need them, it was sitting at home.  I have, however, found a seriously good use for the Garmin:  A specific situation needing a precise diagnosis.

Whether it would have helped immediately is impossible to say.  For absolute certain sure, it could not have hurt.

Gray’s shooting editor, Terry Wieland, has honed his skill at finding silver linings in a lifetime of what seems to be an inordinate number of black clouds, many of which, for some reason, gather over trap and skeet fields.