Have you heard of "skeet"? It's the sport where James Bond characters take sips of martinis and then scream "Pull!" at the top of their lungs, before blowing flying clay disks out of the air with a shotgun. I've never held a gun, or any real interest in shooting before now. But any sport that combines drinking, screaming, and shooting is something I can't help but find fascinating.
The Portland Gun Club is located at SE 174th, just on the other side of the Portland/ Gresham line. I found out over the phone that it's pretty easy to get started; it's inexpensive and one doesn't need a club membership to start shooting. The only catch: You need your own shotgun. For reasons that became obvious only after I asked, the man over the phone explained that renting out shotguns is too much of a legal liability.
I didn't want to go to the range empty-handed. I didn't want to just watch people shoot at silly clay targets. I wanted to shoot at silly clay targets, too. But where could I get a gun? You can't just walk into a store and buy a shotgun any more can you?
MY NEW GUN
It took me exactly seven minutes to walk out of the Big 5 Sporting Goods store with a brand new shotgun. I started timing the sales woman when she said it should only take five minutes to clear the background check. I settled on the MagTek single action 20 gauge shotgun because it was the cheapest one they had.
Following a potholed road, past an abandoned truck, the sound of what could be children playing with fireworks can be heard in the distance. Parking in a long row of pick-up trucks, the sinking feeling in my stomach becomes more prominent. There are no ascots. There are no martinis. There might be a man with a claw-hooked hand--but he doesn't look like a super-villain. There's just a line of men with mesh caps and hunting vests, rapidly firing shotguns.
I am now nervous.
The Manager of the Trap Field, Mike Riggs, meets me with what appears to be some suspicion.
"This isn't a story about gun laws or anything, is it?" he asks. "Because we don't care about that. Our stance is always this--we're neutral."
After this disclaimer, he proudly outlines the history of his field.
"Portland Gun Club," he brags, "is the oldest operating trap field west of the Mississippi. It was started in 1913 and is located on its original grounds. We're non-profit and volunteer run. We're open to new members and encourage anyone who is interested to come on out. Also, we encourage women and children shooters. Probably 20 percent of our shooters are women and children."
An important distinction to note is the P.G.C. is a trap field and not a skeet field. Every time I ask someone for a definition of the difference, they don't really care to explain. Most of them only shoot trap, so they can't really give a comparison to skeet. However, for any sticklers out there, "skeet" is played using two towers of different heights that sit across from each other. The clay pigeons fly side-to-side across the field. With trap, the clays are thrown from "traps" just in front of the shooter and the clays fly away into the field.
RULES OF THE GAME
Mike wanders away to attend to an office matter. Rick Pollicar enthusiastically takes me under his wing. Rick is a regular shooter and a Board Member at the P.G.C. He isn't as interested in talking about the field as he is in actually playing the game. I keep trying to bring my questions back to safety rules and regulations. He assures me they have and follow a strict guide of rules. However, when I keep asking him for them, he says "I'll just tell you if you're doing anything wrong. Let's fire a couple of rounds."
The rules of the game are simple enough. There are five traps on the field laid out in an arc. At each trap there are five positions, also on an arc. At each position there are five clays and five shots. Each shot is recorded as a hit or a miss. If each position is played, this makes 125 rounds, and a possible 125 hits. The shooter plays against themselves or other shooters. There are also two variations of the game: Doubles, which has two simultaneous clays flying from the trap and two shots, and Handicap, where shooters stand further from the trap.
DIE, PIGEON, DIE!
I'm amazed the way Rick breezes up to a nearby trap, handing me ear protection. The trap eerily looks like either a brightly painted Nazi war bunker, or a Little League baseball dugout with shotgun pellet sprays on the back. Without saying a word, two more shooters join our squad at the trap. Rick begins to hand me a massive-looking 12 gauge shotgun, the largest gauge that can be shot at the field. I balk and ask him to take the first shot.
Rick opens the chamber of his shotgun.
"Don't ever come up to the line with a loaded gun," he warns. "Don't even load it until it's your turn and the other shooters are waiting."
He pops the shell into the chamber and presses a button. It closes like a guillotine and the shotgun is now armed.
"Pull!" Rick yells into a voice-activated microphone, and a fluorescent-orange disk flies up from the trap. He shoots and misses.
Rick waits for the other shooters and then loads his gun. He shoots and misses again.
"Must be the pressure." he laughs.
On his third round, he hits the clay target and it shatters.
I can't delay the inevitable any longer. Rick passes me the gun. It's surprisingly light.
"What do I need to know? Won't it take off my arm if I hold it wrong?" I ask, beginning to panic.
"No " Rick brushes away my concerns as my turn comes around way too fast for my liking. "Just pull the trigger."
Rick arms the gun and takes a step back.
"Pull!" I scream, trying to pump myself up. The clay whizzes away and I fire. I hardly feel the kick of the gun. I am surprised again when the clay shatters under my barrel sight.
"Good shot," Rick encourages. "Let's try another."
Before I can protest, he arms the gun and the other shooters are waiting. I hit again.
The next thing I know, I'm unloading spent shells and passing them back to Rick while he puts a new shell into my hand. I'm arming the gun myself and awaiting my turn to fire impatiently. I score another four or five hits in a row before I get too cocky. I try and hit a clay right as it leaves the trap instead of waiting for a good shot.
THE INTERNATIONAL PLAYBOY
After a few more rounds, I get self-conscious about using so much of Rick's ammo. We step off the line to talk as the other shooters finish.
"I get bored playing video games," says Rick. "I can't play for more than a few minutes or hours. But I've spent all day at the traps and shot 3000 rounds in one day."
Despite his wise, veteran stance at the field, Rick admits he's only been shooting for two years.
"I never picked up a gun until two years ago. I've never hunted, I won't shoot anything that bleeds, and I didn't consider myself a 'gun person.' But a friend got me into it and I've been shooting ever since. I now hold the P.I.T.A. [Pacific International Trapshooting Association] record for 50,000 rounds shot in two years. It's very easy for people to start in this sport."
"What's the allure?" I ask, "What brings people to such a random sport?"
"It's just fun." Rick says. He shrugs and shakes his head. A boyish smirk escapes from under his gray moustache. "It's just fun."
I still don't know if trap shooting is the "Sport of International Playboys," but I was more than ready to celebrate my newfound gunmanship with a martini.
"Can you drink here?" I ask.
Rick shakes his head. "Guns and alcohol don't mix."
Laughingly, I muse, "How could you stop me if I was drinking?"
"Look," Rick says, stopping me in my tracks. "You never piss off a guy who has a gun and ammo." Rick grabs his ammo pouch for effect, and laughs, "A lot of ammo."
So much for the international playboy.
Portland Gun Club, 4711 SE 174th Ave. Hours: Thurs. 12-10 pm, Sat & Sun. 11-5 pm. $5 for 25 clays, ammo is additional.
photos by stephen voss