Course Design Discussion
(If you are serious about designing your own course, you should read this)
So, you’ve been a hunter all your life since you were a kid and you’ve always loved to shoot, doves, ducks, quail, that sort of thing. Now your son (and perhaps grand kids also) are all eager to follow in your footsteps. Each season, you hunt together and you look forward to these social gatherings with family and friends. A few weeks ago you shot in your first sporting clay tournament. It’s a lot of fun isn’t it? Here is a shooting sport that simulates actual hunting situations in the field but the difference is, you can shoot sporting clays all year round. So let’s say you’ve done well, made a few bucks over the years and you have a nice ranch or piece of property somewhere.
Now you would like to consider setting up your own five stand or sporting clays layout on it but you’re a bit apprehensive about the possible pitfalls and ramifications involved. You should be. Designing an imaginative, safe and environmentally friendly course isn’t just a case of buying a few machines and sticking them behind some trees in a quiet corner of your ranch.
The location, shot fall distances pathways, wind directions, sun directions, type of machines you need, and most important, (especially for the private landowner) the installation of these machines in locations to give an overall eye-pleasing effect are all things that need to be considered. I am also knowledgeable about all the current Texas Commission for Environmental Impact guidelines and EPA requirements for both commercial and non-commercial shooting facilities. You need the help of an expert, so let me tell you why I consider myself to be uniquely qualified to give you advice on all these things.
I have been involved in the sporting clay industry for over 35 years and I have set targets for literally thousands of sporting clay events and charity fundraisers. I write technical articles for Sporting Clays magazine which is the official magazine of the National Sporting Clays Association. Before I came to the US in 1998 I managed several shooting facilities in the UK. These were Clifford Farm Estates shooting ground in North Devon, Linnbridgeford Mill Shooting Ground near Lockerbie and Annandale Shooting Ground, on the Earl of Annandales Estate in S.W. Scotland. When I came to the US in 1998 I was the manager of Westside Sporting Grounds in Houston. I then moved to Dallas and from 1999 to 2003 I was the sporting clay and corporate events manager at one of the premier shooting facilities in the world, the Dallas Gun Club in Lewisville, Texas. During my term of employment there, I designed the impressive sporting clay course and five stand facility. I now consult and design courses at various other locations at private and public facilities throughout Texas, Florida and the UK. These include Valley View Ranch, near Athens, Cross Pines Ranch near Mineola and several other private locations. Last year I installed Garwood Sporting Clays near El Campo and recently, the exciting “covey rise” game and dove towers at Mesa Vista, “Best Quail Hunting in the World” ranch, near Pampa in the Texas panhandle. Course design and shooting instruction is my full time occupation, I do not have another job. Amazingly, there are only a handful of us that do this as a full time occupation in the US, perhaps twenty or so.
Sometime ago I put a private course in for a landowner who was very proud of his ranch. He told me this:
“I want you to put the course in so that we can’t see any machines and we don’t damage any of the trees when we shoot.”
It was a tall order but did I do it? Of course. That’s the way the game of sporting clays should be. The game was originally designed to replicate the type of shot we would get in the field. Nobody wants to shoot simulated quail and as he does this, see machines filled with orange targets sitting on the ground in front of him does he? Or shoot simulated dove shots with ugly tower structures sticking up above the tree line marring the landscape do they? At the other end of the spectrum, on occasion I have had to tell people that the area they have ear marked for their course is unsuitable and politely refuse the job. I re-visited one such location recently where the landowner went ahead with the project (not in Texas) and after two years it looked like a bomb site, with dead and dying trees that were shot to pieces, all over the place. Mature trees are a natural resource for a course, destroying them should be avoided at all cost. They should be integrated into the overall design to provide shade and rest areas for the shooters wherever possible.
As the game of sporting clays continues to thrive over here so do the increasing number of machine manufactures, all promising reliable service from their machines and good after sales back-up service and parts availability. So just who does manufacture the best machines? I have installed Promatic clay target machines for over 20 years on both sides of the Atlantic but I have now decided to install Apex/MEC machines. The Apex Company has recently been taken over by Mayville Engineering Company who are also known for their quality shot-shell re-loaders. I believe the merger of the two companies will produce a range of clay target machines that in terms of reliability and performance will be unbeatable in this industry..
So you like to shoot quail? No problem. My covey rise layouts are exactly like the real thing and I don’t mean a wobble trap that’s sending single birds out at 70 mph. Quail don’t do that do they? I mean a set-up where you may get five birds, curling to the left and right and traveling at about 30 mph as you walk up on them, just like quail do. You reload and then you get three birds, (with completely different angles and trajectories from the first ones). Next, you may get a single, then maybe another three or four. Totally random, computerized selection, just like bobs and blues do as they extricate themselves from the West Texas tangle of sage brush and plumb thicket.
A Covey Rise System Under Construction at a Private Ranch
Completed Covey Rise System - An established covey rise system
The birds rise from the ground and curl left and right just like quail
A 100 foot Driven pheasant/Argentina dove tower during erection at private ranch
Four modified machines with a computerized release
system give a unique simulated pheasant/dove flurry
I have installed Promatic clay target machines for over 20 years on both sides of the Atlantic but I have now decided to install Apex/MEC machines. The Apex Company has recently been taken over by Mayville Engineering Company who are also known for their quality shot-shell reloaders. I believe the merger of the two companies will produce a range of clay target machines that in terms of reliability and performance will be unbeatable in this industry.
Start and finish your day in top form. Let me help you develop your form and diagnosis why you are struggling.
I have developed a foolproof way to repeatedly break every target on a skeet field in 2 hours. Want to know how?
Some coaches tell you it will take 10,000 targets and 1-3 years to punch up. If you are not improving, change coaches!
Great Books by Pete
“Reading Targets” was written to help shooters to learn to read the variables of clay targets. All the pictures in the book were taken with an “eye-camera” that was positioned on the gun in the same place as the shooters eye would be. This means that all the bird/barrel relationship pictures shown here are the exact sight pictures a shooter would need to intercept the target as the shot is triggered. No more guessing about the lead that the 30 yard crossing shot needs or the 40 yard bolting rabbit!
This isn’t a “how-to” book like my others, but everyone tells me it’s a good read. Of course, they would do wouldn’t they? I wrote it. But joking apart, when I was a kid in Manchester in the UK, times were tough and food was scarce. There were no government hand-outs in those days. The book my describes my amusing and often boisterous adventures with my friends and how at ten years old, due to my father’s crippling illness I managed to supplement my mother’s housekeeping budget and the family food supply with the help of a Webley and Scott air rifle.
This book contains advice from not only a fellow bird hunter but a full time professional shooting coach who explains why you miss and what you can do about it. In the field, successful shotgunning depends on creating accurate sight pictures as we trigger each shot. WINGSHOOTING explores the three variables that determine these sight pictures, developing the line of the bird, its speed and range, to help you decipher the correct lead for each bird. The book also describes something that no other coach will tell you………how to shoot more rhythmically and avoid “poking and hoping”.