In the Beginning
Worldwide Sporting Clays Course Design Services
Many years ago, probably more than I care to remember now, I sat soggily on the uncomfortable seat of Clay Sport Royal that I had positioned strategically on the brow of a wooded valley. It was mid-summer in Bonnie Scotland and a cold rain was driving across the Annandale Estate from the Solway coast. Water droplets, percolating first through the tangled canopy of Sitka spruce branches above my head and then through my waxed Barbour jacket, trickled uncomfortably down the back of my neck. But this was Scotland; a green and pleasant land and over the years I had grown was accustomed to the inclement weather.
A Clay Sport Royal, you say? Yessiree. It was a manual clay target launcher and back then, it was the crème de la crème machine in the Sporting Clay industry. It boasted a business like cocking handle with a red rubber grip, an efficient one-way bearing system and two stainless steel clips to hold the targets firmly in place. Successful operation required muscles on your spit and the physique of a Irish blacksmith. It could throw a pair of standard targets over 120 yards…..which was an impressive performance, even by today’s standards.
The "Clay Sport Royal" target launcher
Pull! Came the muffled command. I obliged and as the pair of black discs sailed out across the ravine over the waiting guns, multiple shots would ring out from the valley below. The targets were (occasionally) pulverized into dust and fragments. Whoops of excitement would drift back up the hill towards me through the misty drizzle and the cold wind. My first clay target machine purchase was worth every penny.
At that time I had a gun and fishing tackle store, Border Tackle and Guns on Langholm high street in the Scottish Borders. That first Clay Sport Royal quickly became two, then three, then four and more. Rabbit targets were rolled down a suitable slope from the channel fashioned by three pieces of wood nailed together. My Subaru estate car was traded for a monstrous Toyota “HiLux” 4 x 4 truck to carry all the traps in. I recruited teenagers from the local Agricultural College for trappers. Despite the often dismal weather, my small tournaments were popular. Enthusiasm among my customers for each scheduled shoot became increasingly infectious and my pheasant shooting customers especially loved them. Little did I know back then how the game of Sporting Clays would evolve to what it is today?
After owning and operating two successful shooting facilities in the UK I moved to the US in 1998 where I became the manager at Westside Sporting Grounds near Houston. One of the members there was the legendary Bob Brister and we quickly became friends. The bull whip was often knee deep as we swapped tales in the Westside Club house over a beer until the sun went down and I miss him still. Bob at that time was the editor of Field and Steam and he wrote an article about the new shotgun game for the magazine in 1980. In those days, the game of sporting clays was quickly dubbed “golf with a shotgun” and Bob became known as “The Father of Sporting Clays in America.”
In the US the sporting clays bug was biting. Most shotgun shooters at that time were dyed-in-the-wool skeet and trap guys. The Dallas Gun Club for example, was primarily a skeet club until I designed the sporting clay course there twenty years ago. Before long, the addictive game was gathering momentum and backyard courses were springing up like flowers in a roadside ditch. Clubs for the competitive shooters followed, then came the more elaborate Clubs for the well-heeled. To satiate the hunger of the enthusiasts, many Sporting Clubs could easily rival the discerning extravaganza of premier golf and country clubs. These elitist clubs were bastions of perfection and offered everything the members could possibly want. From in-house gun stores, with mouthwatering displays of exquisitely engraved Berettas, Perazzis and Fabris to on site gun-smithing to field fashion garments to wear on the course. Think Blixt, Orvis and Ralph Lauren…. and the ladies shooters especially loved it all. Today, it is still one of the fastest growing sports. With over 15 million participants in the US, it would be hard to imagine when the game wasn’t a part of the shooting industry.
Several years ago, I noticed a growing trend. The demographics seemed to be changing but what exactly contributed to this? Two things. Statistics show that more and more shotgun enthusiasts are purchasing rural properties for use as recreation and wildlife management; often a five stand or sometimes a full sporting clay course is part of the overall master plan. The second is that installing equipment now is now a lot easier than it was twenty years ago. Today, technology is such that most machines can be solar powered thus eliminating vulnerable wires that can be shot or chewed by vermin. Machines mounted on two wheeled carts allow quick presentation changes. Modern machines are waterproof and can with stand the weather. A radio release system with it’s own lapel microphone ensures that the owner can pull his own targets. If he so desires, the retired company director that liked an occasional shot at doves or duck can now hone his skills in private on his exclusive course. And this is pure speculation on my part but the recent Covid virus seems to have triggered (excuse the pun) an increase in inquiries. Installing equipment in a private location for the benefit of family and friends can effectively enhance social distancing.
To cope with the increasing demand, a few years ago I teamed up with Simon Hurley from Midwest Clay Sports, who I consider to be the very best trap mechanic in existence. Simon’s involvement in this industry is long, high and wide. For many years he worked for Promatic. Then he designed the machines for MEC here in the US. What he doesn’t know about clay target machines isn’t worth knowing. We make a good team; I design, Simon and his guys install. Between us we have over 60 years involvement in this industry.
So if you are considering installing equipment on your property and you are apprehensive about possible pitfalls and ramifications, I strongly advise investing in some expert advice and over the years I have had my share of horror stories. Like the landowner who for many years was dropping shot into his neighbors’ pristine trout stream. The law suit that followed wasn’t pretty. Or the multi-million dollar facility in the UAE where in early evening, the Olympic shooters were looking directly into the setting sun. A competent, experienced course designer is worth his weight in gold. The emphasis is on experienced. He will be able to eyeball a piece of property and tell you exactly where to put the machines, safety cages and pathways in days, not weeks and he will help with all the changes required including zoning ordinance.
Changed days from my introduction to the sport in Scotland all those years ago and I’m loving every minute of it!
Installing a mini high tower at a private ranch in Oklahoma.
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”.