Feats of clay
We put the squeeze on skeet shooting and find it's a barrel of fun.
“Pull!” Ah, how sweet the sound. Almost as sweet as the fact that it’s followed by getting to fire a shotgun. As for nailing a clay pigeon and seeing it explode into a puff of victory dust? It ranks up there with hitting a line drive or driving a golf ball among the most satisfying moments in rec sports.
Skeet shooting actually is a lot like golf, according to Steve Moskop, who runs SkeetChicago with his wife, Dione White. It’s a social game played in a group where everyone takes turns; it’s incredibly addictive; and play occurs away from the hustle and bustle. But it’s better than golf because you get to shoot stuff.
Moskop and White started SkeetChicago earlier this year as a way to share their favorite pastime with the masses. Classes start at the couple’s home in West Town, where Moskop introduces the basics of firearm safety, the rules of the gun range, and the mechanics of aiming and firing. Shotguns are simple to use—even first-time gun users won’t have a problem—but the physicality of skeet is really different from rifle or pistol shooting. It’s the difference between hitting a layup and sinking a free throw: One’s all about the fluidity of motion and moving in relation to the target; the other’s an exercise in control, discipline and repetition. Unlike basketball, though, skeet’s still incredibly fun even if you’re terrible at it. Which I turned out to be.
After talking for about an hour, we pile into a van and head toward Kenosha, Wisconsin. There aren’t any skeet or trap ranges closer, Moskop laments, but the trip lends a summer-camp vibe to the day. Everyone’s friendly, and my anxiety about being stuck with strangers all day abates.
A skeet range is shaped like a horseshoe and has eight stations, seven along the semicircle and the eighth in the middle. Clay pigeons are launched out of two “houses,” one high up on the left and the other low down on the right. The highest possible score per round is 25 (four shots on the first, second, sixth and seven stations; two shots at the rest; and one do-over shot for the first target you miss), and most competitive shooters will hit 25 every time. Moskop and White tell us that a five is a great score for a new shooter and to focus on mechanics and rhythm, not just on hitting the pigeons.
Before we start, Moskop walks us through the course, describing the biggest challenge in skeet: lead technique. In target shooting, you aim right at the target; in skeet, you have to fire where the pigeon is going to be, not where it is. You have to change how far ahead of the pigeon you’re aiming based on which station you’re shooting from, all the while tracking that dang disc by turning your upper body. Looks easy. Is hard.
I step up to take my first shot and the orange disc soars by, but I do manage to nail one of the pigeons at the first station. I am elated. Moskop tutors each of us, gently correcting our stances (lean forward), our motion (keep your upper body loose) and our leading (wait for it). Picture a superpatient Little League coach, except he’s handing you shotgun shells.
After our first round, we break for lunch—a tasty picnic Moskop and White packed for all of us—and discuss how to improve. Round two flies by now that we have the hang of it. Well, the other people in my class got the hang of it. I scored another five, and am so determined to keep firing that shotgun that Moskop signs me up for a round of trap shooting. Trap’s pretty different from skeet because you’re stationary and the pigeons are flying directly away from you. I turned out to be even worse at that and decide to stick with skeet for my next outing.
The ride back to Chicago is quiet. Sure, we’re all tired from having spent a day out in the sun lugging shotguns around, but mostly, I’m bummed that I have to go back to the city, to the regular world, where I can’t just yell, “Pull!” and know bliss is mere seconds away.
To get locked and loaded with SkeetChicago.