Thursday, June 5, 2014

Shooting the clays, shooting the rapids in Laurel Highlands

The title probably makes this sound kind of like an "earth-water" sort of thing, and I guess it is that. But you wouldn't get mud by mixing water with the types of clays I refer to here.

By "shooting clays," I'm referring to the popular activity of "sporting clays."

I had the opportunity to do both in Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands earlier this week, while a guest of the Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

For those unfamiliar with "sporting clays," try to imagine what it would be like if you combined trap/skeet shooting with golf.
Jamie Ross takes aim under the watchful eye of
NSCA instructor Paul Ankney.
Sporting clays involves using a shotgun to shoot clay "birds" (discs) launched from various locations, at various angles.

What makes this a bit different from skeet or trap shooting is the fact that participants move around from station to station on a set course, via a golf cart, and record how many birds they hit each round. The total gives you your score. (You can find a more detailed explanation of skeet-vs.-trap shooting here.)

I've fired a shotgun only a few times in my life, back when I tried a bit of skeet shooting at a buddy's farm when I was still in high school. I've fired a rifle a few times, even gone hunting occasionally, and I've fired pistols on a target range. Most of my shooting experience is actually in archery, as I was a member of the New Totem Archery Club for a few years when I lived in Fort St. John, B.C.

Bows and arrows are much different from shotguns, though.

Our group of four got some quick instruction from Paul Ankney, an NSCA Level II shooting instructor, then off we went.

After finishing the course, I can tell you I'm glad I don't have to hunt for my dinner every day. There might be a few days when I go hungry.

I was surprised I was actually able to hit one. In my only other previous attempt mentioned above, I'd hit the first one then missed everything else. This time, in our first round of six (two birds launched three times), I hit one of them. Then I hit two the next time. However, I was inconsistent, sometimes hitting only one, other times two, but never more than two out of six birds.

While I certainly didn't shame myself, I didn't get a really high score, either. In fact, I hit less than 50 per cent of the targets offered. But it was a really nice day to spend in the outdoors, I enjoyed some good camaraderie and I had a lot of fun trying a new sport.


Guide Brett Lesnick readies our raft.
The following day, I was more in my element, as I was shooting rapids - something I've done many times - in a whitewater rafting excursion in Ohiopyle State Park with Laurel Highlands River Tours.

We would spend about three hours playing among the class III and IV rapids of the Lower Youghiogheny River.

It was the first time I'd faced whitewater since undergoing shoulder surgery for a labral tear last summer. I'd paddled a few hours on flat water, but this would be a more telling test.

The shoulder did fine. And I had a real blast.

Our guide, Brett Lesnick, made some funny quips (as all good rafting guides do) and made sure we had fun, but with a mind to safety first.

We blasted through several rapids, getting very wet - but if you're not getting wet on a rafting trip, you're just trying hard enough.

We didn't spend the entire time paddling through whitewater; we made a side trip off the river to take a short hike to Cucumber Falls, a smaller version of the 20-foot high Ohiopyle Falls that we put-in just below, to start our day.

When we not hiking or running rapids, we learned about the cultural and natural history of the area and spotted several species of birds - including numerous mergansers, a pair of kingfishers, a pie-billed grebe and a turkey vulture that I'm sure would loved to have seen us pile up on some rocks. Sorry Mr. Vulture - you'll have to eat somewhere else!

Cucumber Falls: a side trips along the way.

After we got off the Yough, a hot lunch awaited us in the park, followed by a quick tour of some of the other highlights of the Ohiopyle, and then a final farewell to the river.

The experiences were very different - but either way, land or water, they were both a good day's shooting.

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