Gear up for summer fun at the target ranges

Shooting sports help hunters maintain form in the offseason. 

ROBINSONVILLE, Miss. — The anticipation was getting to me as we waited for the first flurry.

From beyond the berm and over the small pond they came, in singles and pairs and very quick rapid-fire bursts.

Clay targets, flying silently like an attack of tiny orange-and-black spaceships guided by little Martians, were coming our way.

You should have heard it:

"Left! Left! Got it! Right! Almost down! Good shot! I'm outta shells! Middle! Arrrggghhh! I'm out! Left! Two in the middle! On the right! Good shot!"

In just two minutes, 75 targets had been thrown from seven traps at the "Duck Flush," at The Willows shooting sports facility at Grand Casino Tunica here.

Two or three shooters, or maybe one if he's feeling froggy and confident, can take the two-minute drill for a burst of adrenaline with a couple of boxes of shells close by for fast reloading.

"The Duck Flush is one of the most popular games we have," said Bill Daniels, director of shooting sports for The Willows.

"Sometimes people spend a day just shooting it with their friends. They leave with what we call a 'perma-grin,' because it doesn't go away."

With most hunting seasons closed or winding down and summer almost here, thousands of shooting sports enthusiasts across the country are heading to the range.

Clay targets will be flung from traps for such activities as sporting clays, skeet, trap, wobble, 5-stand and their many variations.

Bird hunters can keep their eyes and reflexes sharp with regular rounds at a clays range.

Even a couple of times a week throughout the summer shouldering a shotgun, taking leads on targets and making a clean follow-through can create a difference in autumn when pursuing upland birds or waterfowl.

A day at the range also can be a lot of fun. Families can get involved and a lifetime hobby created through patience and good instruction.

It may take nothing more than an afternoon at the range during a vacation or on a business trip to plant the seed.

Some facilities are in rural areas, close enough to a bigger city to attract shooters yet far enough to offer a quiet getaway.

Others, such as TM Ranch Shotgun Sports in Orlando, Fla., close to Disney World, are situated near definite tourist attractions and may attract vacationers or corporate types.

TM Ranch, for instance, offers public shooting and private or corporate memberships, Browning and Beretta rental guns, gunsmith service, golf carts and a lodge-style clubhouse.

It has two sporting clays ranges with 28 stations, five combination trap/skeet fields and two 5-Stand stations, with some of them on lighted fields.

Situated about 15 minutes from the Orlando International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, the facility enjoys year-round shooting opportunities. The range is privately owned and situated on 500 acres as part of a 12,000-acre former cattle and citrus ranch.

Tom Hurlbert said TM Ranch works with local tourism agencies to spur business. It also has appeared on outdoors television shows on ESPN and other networks, which offers a national presence for its two clays courses. Its courses are designated as orange and blue, a thinly veiled salute to Hurlbert's alma mater, Auburn University.

"The blue course is set up for beginners and intermediate shooters to have a good time," he said. "The orange course is set tougher for people who want to brush up on their skills. We set them so people will have a full complement of targets to fit their needs."

A similar situation occurred in Robinsonville, situated about 30 minutes south of Memphis, by the Mississippi River.

When the Grand Casino Tunica was constructed, it included a stunning golf course and the Willows shooting facility.

The Willows offers two shooting courses with options for novice, intermediate and veteran shooters.

As with other facilities across the country, flight trajectories here are slightly different for each option, such as a longer sight window for the novice and quick, short window for top gunners.

More than 30,000 rounds a year are thrown at the Willows, where hotel guests and celebrities often fill a day's shooting schedule.

"Probably 50 percent of our business is hotel guests who are bored and looking for something to do," said Daniels, who moved about four years ago to the Willows from the well-known Blackjack Sporting Clays facility in Orlando.

"If they say they've never shot before, we go over things and send them out with an instructor," Daniels said.

"We attempt to make everything as comfortable as possible because we want them to enjoy their day."

"We don't shoot with strict menus (for handicaps) because you may be a 90 shooter and have someone in your group who shoots 30 or 40," Daniels added.

"The guide can tailor a round to a shooter's abilities. With moderate to good shooters, the guide can suggest a station to give a challenging shot and still make it entertaining and enjoyable."

For more information on the two shooting facilities featured above, contact
The Willows at Grand Casino Tunica in Mississippi, (800) 946-4946, ext. 3154,
and TM Ranch Sporting Clays in Orlando, (407) 737-3788.