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Geoff Thomas: Plumbing new highs in clay

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A Canterbury high country station is perfect for  simulated field shooting.
Photo / Geoff Thomas
A Canterbury high country station is perfect for simulated field shooting. Photo / Geoff Thomas

"Pull," said the shooter as he squinted down the barrel of the shotgun. The trap twanged and an orange clay target flew overhead. The gun roared and the spinning disc burst into fragments.

The next shooter stepped up and the instructor, Dale Clark, slipped a cartridge into the breech and the head of the bolt slid home with a loud click. The mechanical clack-clack of a semi-automatic shotgun being loaded conjures images of cops-and-robbers movies and always focuses attention.

Clark explained where the target would fly from and how to pick up the line of flight first with the eyes, then swing the gun on to it. It sounded easy. He missed. It is easy to miss, particularly for a first-timer.

Ten shooters had gathered at a place called Carodale, a 10-minute drive into the hills from Silverdale, north of Auckland. They had all won the shooting experience in a promotion in the plumbing trade and were pretty happy about spending a week day learning to shoot guns instead of sorting out customers' problems.

Clark is a national champion shotgun shooter who, with his wife, Carol, set up the facility - hence the name. They have a small farm with paths through the bush where targets fly overhead, or from behind, or from the side or roll down the hill like a rabbit. It is called sporting clay target shooting, and simulates the different shots encountered when shooting real game birds. They cater for corporate groups, clubs or families and friends; and they run a pretty slick operation, combining instruction with entertainment. And, of course, safety.

You can always tell the duck shooters or those who have done it before. They know what to expect and it's human nature to try to impress your colleagues. But the shooting virgins often win the friendly competition because they do as they are told.

Dale Clark is a master tutor, patiently coaxing nervous new shooters and explaining where they are going wrong. Then, when they start breaking targets, the self-confidence soars and the smiles broaden.

He makes it fun. "The first round was a practice one. Now we will raise the stakes," he said. The targets flew a little faster. He had hidden green clay targets in the machines that spat them out. "I have no idea when a green target will appear, but if you hit it you get double points. If you miss, you lose two points and you have to wear this until somebody else misses a green one," he explained, producing a dunce's hat.

His carry bag contained a variety of fun hats and, pretty soon, everybody was sporting something.

The barbecue at his shooting lodge took care of lunch, sweetened with Carol's chocolate fudge for dessert, then the contest took a new twist as Dale produced bows and arrows and set up archery targets. This changed the score line and, when it came to popping balloons at long range with .22 rifles, the scores moved again. It was a lot of fun and a great way to entertain friends or clients.

Then it was off to Canterbury for a day out on a high country station. The South Island plumbers who'd won their day of shooting had to travel a bit further, but they took to the clay target shooting like ducks to water. Some of them shoot ducks. After a couple of rounds of regular targets, the stakes were raised. The target thrower was hidden behind a large pile of rocks and the shooters waited for the clays to fly overhead. Everybody had 10 targets, and they came just as fast as the operator could reload and fire the trap. So it became a question of trying to reload the gun as quickly as possible, while shooting at the flying clays which could appear at any time. Where the plumbers had easily hit the targets flying towards them when they controlled the timing, when the dynamics changed and you had to reload the gun while trying not to miss an opportunity it became a panic. The winner, with nine out of 10, filled his pockets with cartridges and calmly loaded only two at a time so he was always ready for the next target. Those who filled the seven-shot magazine didn't even get a shot at some of the targets. It became an interesting commentary on how people react differently under pressure.

High-powered rifles followed; the sort of rifles professional shooters use to hunt deer from helicopters. There was an AR15, the US Army rifle which gained fame in Vietnam, and an AK47, which was sort of the opposite approach. But they both blew the plastic milk bottles filled with water into many pieces, and it seems everybody wanted to pull the trigger on those particular weapons.

When the guns were put away, the barbie was fired up and the chilly bin was opened, and the stories just got better.

- Herald on Sunday

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