It was cold damp autumn day, as I remember it, sitting in a cinder block bunker terrified I was going to loose my hand as I loaded black clay disks into the machine in front of me. Seconds later I would hear a muffled voice shout, and the machine’s springs and mechanism would suddenly and violently let go flinging the disk out of the bunker followed by another muffled boom, boom. I would then quickly lean down take another disk from the box and gingerly place it in the machine. It was at this point my fear would take over, worried one of the distant voices would shout too soon and thus catch and propel my severed hand out of the bunker instead of the disk. Of course this never happened and once I got the rhythm, my fear slowly subsided, well sort of.
I think I was about 12 years old at the time and I was helping out at the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot at the local trap shooting club just outside Ancaster, Ontario. Each year the contest was held on the weekend before the holiday as a dozen or so members, including my dad, all vied to hit the most clay pigeons and go home with a freshly cleaned turkey donated by a local farmer. Though my dad and grandfather had versed me well in the handling of guns by that age I was still too young to take part so therefore drafted to load the machine.
That was a long time ago now, but something I thought about as I made my way to the Vancouver Gun Club in Richmond, British Columbia recently. This was the first of two visits to gun ranges I had organized as part of Reuters pictures series on guns. The Vancouver Gun Club dates back to 1924 and is nestled amongst farmland on 39 acres of open and wooded property. The outdoor range is shotgun only and offers trap, skeet and Olympic trap shooting. It also has sporting clays plus another type of shotgun sport shooting called Five Stand. The club has an annual membership of about 400 but also offers day passes to non-members.
I was greeted at the club by a member of the executive, Brian Wong, who after giving me a quick tour of the facility mentioned that once I was done with taking pictures to come over to the trap shooting and give it a try myself. Over the next four or five hours I wandered the grounds photographing some of the 50 or so people out that day. Men and women ranging in ages from mid-teens to their 70s combined with shotguns ranging in price from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, made for a varied day of photos. While taking pictures at one of the sporting clays stations one of the shooters suggested that if he hit the clay I should be able to get a picture of the hit, I guess you might say he challenged me to a shooting contest. Obviously I had to wait for the gun to fire before I fired and it took a few tries for me to follow the bright orange clays out with my lens. We soon were in sync and as he triggered his double barreled shotgun I triggered my 10fps camera and would hazard to say after about a dozen attempts my hit and miss rate was about the same as the shooters.
At the end of each of the two days I spent at the club I took up Brian’s offer to shoot a few clays myself. Though maybe it would be more accurate to say shoot “at” a few clays. I spent many a weekend as young lad shooting at moving and stationary targets with my dad but gave it up as my photojournalism career began in my late teens. I was therefore quite surprised to realize that shooting a shotgun and firing a camera at a moving target had many similarities. Suffice to say I hope the photos I got over the two days were better than the results I had with the shotgun after all these years.
All in all it was a marvelous time at the Vancouver Gun Club. In fact I plan acquire my gun license and return to the club in the coming months along with my son to pass forward the good times I had with my dad at the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot.