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Breaking Clays and Busting Chops

There’s not much better than clay-busting therapy time spent with a shotgun. Case in point, our annual “family and friends” skeet shoot this past Labour Day long weekend.

Yes, I know I’m using the Canadian spelling for Labour Day. No I’m not changing it, despite the pleadings of Microsoft’s spellchecking software.  You’ll also need to be aware that it isn’t a “skeet-shoot” in the Olympic sense of the term…but more on that later.


This event has had ebbs and flows over the years, sometimes drawing dozens of shooters and other times just a meager crowd of relations and close friends.  Past champions, myself included, gloat over former glories and lament their inability to repeat those triumphs.  Egos are boosted on the back of a streak of good shooting form, and hopes for victory can shatter like the targets thrown against the sky.

Enough flowery metaphors though.  It is ideally a chance to make the scatterguns go boom, tenderize shoulders in advance of a fast-approaching waterfowl season, laugh and reminisce with pals, and air out petty personal grievances in the form of not-so-subtle trash-talk.

The 2015 iteration of this event took place just this past Saturday, or September 5th for those of you without a calendar.  While there was some buzz about it, we found a slightly smaller group lined up in the back hollow.  Some regular attendees were indisposed at a camping trip, while I’m sure others were discouraged by the sweltering temperatures and blazing UV index.  It was well over 30 degrees Celsius when we started the event but the eight of us in attendance were all game to compete, and as we uncased shotguns and peeled open shell boxes the sense of anticipation was obvious.

For a time we milled around, no one really wanting to be the first to lead things off, but eventually one of us crossed onto the shooting line and began thumbing shells into the breech.  As the first clays broke, earplugs were inserted and everyone’s confidence grew and before long everyone was lining up for their turn, shooting long flyers and low crossers while we crudely critiqued each other’s shooting prowess with colourful language and witty rejoinders.  We set up a line of two or three guns and tested each other’s speed and accuracy, even managing to dust the broken flyers of split clays a couple of times.

There were also tragic misses and hilarious reminiscences told.

In time, and in a way that was mostly informal, we came to the competition round.  I had won this single-elimination competition in 2012 by heating up at just the right time and going on a 9-for-9 streak, after a preliminary warmup that exposed just miserable shooting on my part.  To say many ‘superior’ wingshots were rightly embarrassed that day is an understatement.

The elimination round allows a shooter three shots in a round with the intent being to break single clays thrown more or less similarly.  This year, our designated thrower decided that one of the clays would be randomly selected to be a fast, low, left to right crossing shot, which is arguably one of the harder shots to make in my opinion.  After my cousin Luke had run a perfect 3-for-3 in his opening round, and my brother followed up with a 3-for-3 of his own, I stepped up and broke the first two clays (and I looked damn stylish doing it too, but that’s for a future post) before our thrower whipped the third clay, which was the low crosser.  I snapped the 870 to my shoulder and fired in one smooth motion, powdering the target and drawing cheers of surprise from the small gallery of other shooters.  I snapped the pump action on the 870 one last time and confidently headed back behind the firing line, content in my glory.  My friend Jason, who was firing a side by side shotgun of reasonable vintage, also managed a 3-for-3 so a quartet of shooters headed to round two.

I powdered two more clays in the next round, including another low crosser before tasting defeat on a clean miss at the third target.  My brother also bowed out in the second round, while Luke and Jason had perfect second rounds to advance to the final.  In the final round, Luke missed one clay, which was enough of a window for Jason to run another perfect round, finishing 9-for9 and taking this year’s honours as the champion.

We celebrated by shooting more clays, telling dirty jokes, and critiquing my wardrobe.  We put the guns away and attempted to catch thrown clays in our bare hands.  My brother and I each managed to make some catches, showing that soft hands are for more than smoothly swinging a shotgun.  Eventually the hour came to clean the field and with the guns stowed we had some cold beers, piled up the empty shells, and retrieved any unbroken clays before sitting on truck tailgates and laughing some more.

As I sat there in the sun, shoulder tingling from the pounding of countless rounds, laughing with good friends and enjoying the last weekend of the summer, the sense of fellowship and freedom hung heavy in the humid late-afternoon air.  A family and friends barbecue was going to start in a couple of hours and it required me to shower and change my clothes…not for my own pride but out of a sense of politeness to the other guests.  We posed for the annual photo shoot and made plans for the upcoming weekends of goose and duck hunting, and then we headed back from the hollow down to the farm house.

The turnout had been on the small side, the shooting had at times been atrocious, and the sun had been a bit hard on us all.  Still, traditions are made to be maintained, and blazing away at our annual farm skeet shoot is one tradition I’m happy to honour.

A Season Opener for a Failed Deer Hunter

With the faintest, furtive greys of the predictably wet November day spreading from the east, I step out onto the deer camp deck and the chill of a pre-dawn drizzle bites into my bare legs.  I could have put pants on, but didn’t see the point just yet.

I grab the jug of orange juice off the picnic table and I swirl the grainy slush around inside of it.  The drink pours like cement into the red plastic cup and I chug it back as though it were a heavy dram of whiskey.  The chill of the ice tightens in my throat as I pour another cup before re-entering the cabin.

The wood stove crackles and pops.

“She’s looking a bit damp.” I announce, and a few grunts acknowledge my observation.  I set the jug of juice on the long wood table and a portable radio crackles some trendy country song.  In the back room I can hear gear being organized for the day.  A gas lantern hisses a yellow haze, and next to it a modern, battery-operated unit glows silent, clean, white light.

I sit in the stiff-backed wooden chair and unwrap a granola bar, content for a moment to watch the primal dance of grown men in tight deer camp quarters.  My father and uncles, in their late-50’s or older, are seasoned veterans of this ritual and they move purposefully around the perimeter, eating lightly, pulling on lined work pants, and double-checking their coat pockets or fanny packs.  These men travel light in the bush, but don’t ever want for comfort.

My cousins, and others in camp that are of my generation, move less smoothly.  We all seem to have more equipment in our ponderous backpacks, and we mill around testing grunt tubes, clipping thick foam seats to our belts, wriggling into space-age, skin-tight athletic shirts, and then pulling thermal hoodies or camo sweaters over those.

I’m a throwback.  I wear an old wool sweater over top of my Under Armour.

I get up and move upstairs to my corner of the cabin.  From the edge of my cot, I finish getting dressed before I stuff a couple of apples and a candy bar into my backpack.  My coat hangs over my bed, and I feel around in the pockets for my gloves and toque.  I find my two way radio and flick it on; the ‘full battery’ icon is good news.  Descending the stairs, I see that men are already filing out the door.

“Shawn, where’r you going today?” someone says.  I had not really thought of that yet.

“Beaver Pond, I think.” It is a snap choice to go to a run of hardwoods that forms a funnel between some ridges and, as the name implies, an old beaver pond.

“Okay,” my dad chimes in “Make sure you stay there until lunch.  A deer could come through there anytime.”

“Will do.” I tell him, even though I won’t if the wind changes and gets bad for that stand, or if I just get too cold.  Dad nods and heads out.  I slip on boots and grab my rifle off of the gun rack on the wall. I’m the second to last one out.

I exit the cabin door, a shining blaze orange beacon.  I look to my left and watch similar orange forms slip up the trail, silently headed to their posts.  Stepping off the deck, I reach into my pants pocket and find the clip for my .308.  With a satisfyingly snug ‘click!’ it nests into the rifle.  I check the safety with my thumb and then I work the bolt, smooth and almost automatically.

The familiar, metallic ‘snick-snick’ of the shell being chambered tells me that now, after a year off from it, I’m finally deer hunting again.

I push the safety off and then click it back on again.  I picked up that habit from my great uncle Bower, and I do it every time I load a gun.  Bower was there in 1995 when I shot my first deer, one of the first on the scene as I recall.  He was quite pleased with the little doe fawn I knocked down that day, and so was I.  Bower has been gone for over a decade now, but his memory floods back every November.

We smile and laugh when we tell stories of him.

I do not shoot many deer, and it seems that the ones I do shoot are never more than 2 ½ years old.  The others in my camp shoot plenty more deer, and those deer are oftentimes a lot bigger, so my lack of prowess has become, in a way, my badge of honour.  My feet move quietly on the damp grass and wet leaves, and through wind and spitting rain I hear the cabin door open and close one last time.

I don’t bother looking back, I know who it is, and I know where they are going.

They are going deer hunting, just like I am.

A Quick Word About Advertising Terms and Conditions

Hello friends,

I have received a few emails from readers notifying me today that part of my blog was down.  Specifically, my sidebar GoogleAds.  First off, thanks to you readers that emailed me for your concern.  It shows me that you seem to like the content and care when part of this blog appears to not be working.

So I got in touch with Google and they have (at least for now) disabled my GoogleAds account, ostensibly for what they deem “invalid clicks”.  Which brings me to my second point, which is a brief tutorial.

For those of you not savvy on this here Internet thing, when you click on my GoogleAds I get a small amount of money called cost-per-click (CPC).  This money of course is not free, it comes to Google from the companies that are being advertised.  If you are clicking on ads daily for no reason other than curiousity, Google considers this a violation of my GoogleAds account terms and conditions and disables the account (which is why it looks like a portion of my sidebar is not working…because it isn’t).

For those of you who are savvy and are clicking these ads knowingly in the effort to make me money or again just out of curiousity, thanks and I appreciate the spirit but again Google’s Ad Analytics team consider this evidence of invalid clicks, and they will disable my account, causing me a bit of a headache.  It is not like I was getting rich off this blog (as that was never the intent), but it’s pretty likely that the meager amount of revenue I had to date accumulated in this program from all clicks, valid or what Google defines as “invalid” (think in the neighbourhood of $35), will be forfeited back to the advertisers.  Do not pass “GO”, do not collect ~$35.00

Confused?  Want to click an ad, but now reluctant to?

I’m a bit confused as well and I’m awaiting Google’s response on my appeal to have the account reinstated, but as a proactive measure I’m sending this note out and I’ll be adding basically the same verbiage to a Terms & Conditions section.

Google only deems a click “valid” if it stems from, and I’m quoting now, “genuine user interest“.  Yes it is a nebulous term, and you guessed it, there is no recourse if Google still feels the clicks are invalid as, again quoting, “Google will use its sole discretion when determining instances of invalid click activity“.

So, I am not allowed to encourage you to click an ad (which I am not), but I am in no way able to challenge Google’s discretion in determining validity of any earnings I may make.  So what to do?

I’m not going to scrap the whole GoogleAds thing, but likewise I really do not have the wherewithal or resources to battle Google either over $35.  So I will close with this:

Please do not click the GoogleAds on Get Out & Go Hunting unless you are genuinely interested in hearing more about the service being advertised.

I’ll flip an update or two to those who emailed me when I have some closure on this whole GoogleAds thing…if they just drop off the site completely then it is a safe assumption that my appeal was denied and I’m not participating in the program anymore.

The blogging will go on though and just ignore my left sidebar for now….after all, I hope everyone pops by for the stories, and not for the ads anyhow.