Three words. Or four. For a lot of people, the words trap, skeet and sporting clays do not mean anything. Just 12 months ago, I was one of those people. Anyone could have told me that those terms were related to falconry and I could not have been bothered with a quick google search to double-check that I was not being made fun of. If pushed, I suppose, some may be able to guess that ‘’clays’’ have something to do with shooting. I was not one of those people. Here I am now though, an avid fan of all three.
Trap, skeet and sporting clays are the names of the three most popular competitive target games in the United States.
I was lucky to be introduced to them for the first time just a few weeks before the pandemic hit, sometime in February of this year. I, like many others, have always felt a sort of aversion towards guns in general. Not even my inner child was able to figure out how grown men and women got so much joy out of shooting things, let alone spend the ungodly amounts of money and time that I now know some people do on this hobby. Besides that, there are always just enough tragic stories that we hear about on the news. The parent that left a loaded gun in the car with a child. Those two friends gunned down at a range by a veteran that suffered from PTSD. The gun that fell to the floor, went off and took someone’s hand. Too many stories that, in theory, could have been prevented if the law did not allow firearms to be used for recreation.
One of the things that I take most pride on is my open mind and the fact that I’m always looking forward to having the way I look at something or how I feel about it, changed. And so, when a friend of mine who is a professional shooter (that knew how I felt about shooting guns for recreation) invited me to the range saying that I would get over my objections really quick once I tried it myself, I went for it.
By the time we were done with the session, I was having a raging conflict in my head. I had just finished shooting about 200 rounds, my ears had a constant ringing, and my right shoulder felt so sore that just raising my arm to drink out of my water bottle made it sting. And yet, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins, giving me a rush that is a bit hard to put into words.
Karol, the friend that took me to the range, is a member of Jacksonville University’s shooting team. Recently, I asked him if he thought that what happened with me was a common occurrence. His answer? ‘’100%. I am probably not exaggerating if I say that about 1 in 5 guys in the team actually felt the same way as you did before falling madly in love with it.’’. Knowing Karol and having lived it myself (granted, perhaps I did not fall madly in love with it) I do not dare to put into question his honesty in that response. But he did trigger a bunch of other questions that I realized he may not be able to answer without letting his personal bias get in the way. The biggest one was what makes this a sport. I have asked myself this question about other things before, like chess and golf, but not about shooting. What level of athleticism is actually required to be a proficient shooter? What kind of time is dedicated to the craft before you start getting good? Are there people that actually make a living out of this? I found answers, and I cannot say that I saw some of them coming.
I went to Jacksonville University’s coach for the shooting team, David Dobson, who is also the founder of JU’s shooting program. We spoke on the phone for a few minutes; here is transcript of the questions I made him that I believe are most relevant:
DD- Coach Dobson.
Jacksonville Clay Target Sports is located about 30 minutes from downtown Jacksonville. Be sure to follow them on Facebook if you are interested: https://www.facebook.com/jacksonvilleclaytargetsports .
JM- What would you say is the number one reason guys join the team?
DD: In our case, it is often people that were already into shooting before they got here. After that, I would say it is mostly guys that are looking for a way to blow off some steam, same as in other sports.
JM: So you don’t believe that there is something special about shooting that sets it apart from other sports?
DD: There definitely is. But usually that’s the reason they keep coming back, not why they show up in the first place. Once you’ve tried it, it’s pretty easy to get into it.
JM: What would that be?
DD: It’s a combination of things, and the appeal is not necessarily the same for everybody. For some it may be the sense of being able to defend yourself if you had to; knowing how to safely handle a firearm. For others it could be the joy of seeing themselves improve and get good at something, a feeling which we all like as humans. And there is no denying that for some people it is as simple as ‘’shooting guns is fun’’.
JM: It is the belief of some that shooting should not be considered a true sport. What is your stance on that?
DD: I don’t see the need or use in trying to convince anyone that it is. Either you like it or not. But I believe the fact that it’s an Olympic sport says enough.
I must say, Coach Dobson’s last answer was really good if what he was looking for was to put the naysayers in their place. Even though I am sure he did not mean to.
Surely, the fact that shooting is an Olympic sport (which I must admit I did not know prior to my conversation with Coach Dobson) doesn’t automatically grant it official sport status, just as the absence of sports like bowling, indoor soccer and surfing does not mean that those are not 100% true sports in every sense of the word. But to Coach Dobson’s credit, at the very least it means shooting allows some of its athletes to earn a reasonable income and that there is enough of an appetite for it to gather ratings and generate revenue. Further, there are even universities that offer a full ride for shooters they see potential in.
The argument against having guns in the hands of civilians, which literally gives them the power to end a life in a second, is definitely one that could last hours. I am not here to sell the argument that all guns should be readily available for any adult as long as they don’t have a criminal record. That being said, my own research and the conversations I had with people that live in a world where guns are not inherently bad have led me to feel comfortable with arguing that all guns should not be off limits for civilians period. They provide an escape just as much as any other sport does for people, they have allowed for a massive niche to form, and it even gives those who fully dedicate a way to put themselves through college, and in some cases even pursue a career as a professional. Besides… what if you live in Alaska?