Local Lifestyle

Monday, Mar 25 2013 02:43 PM

HERB BENHAM: Aiming low while skeet shooting

BY HERB BENHAM Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

Two Sundays ago, I shot skeet at the Kern County Gun Club. I hit two out of 50. That is a 4 percent accuracy rate. Had those clay discs -- made from pitch and pulverized limestone -- been dinner, dinner would have been light.

Sam and I were guests of Ken Barnes, who has won eight world shooting championships.

Now, 74, he's still a crackerjack shot and can teach almost anybody -- I mean almost anybody -- how to shoot skeet.

The club rims Buena Vista Lake, a 22-minute drive from Ken's house in Quailwood. Ken has his own wall in the clubhouse replete with articles, columns and photos. I'm surprised he doesn't have his own hamburger.

I'm a disgrace as a man. I'm afraid of guns, I've never ridden a motorcycle and, a week ago, I had a manicure. Fortunately, Ken brought three guns, vests, glasses and the shells.

We walked east toward one of the 11 skeet ranges. Barnes wanted space between us and the next shooters, somewhere between a football field and the Mojave Desert.

My gun was a 12-gauge Remington semiautomatic shotgun with a walnut stock.

I was surprised how heavy 8 pounds of gun was. On my first shot, I leaned back and almost did a back flip when I pulled the trigger.

"Lean into your shot," Ken said. "Be aggressive. Look like a hunter."

In my case that meant: Look like a guy who is trying to look like a hunter.

I leaned forward, put a scowl on my face and pulled the trigger.

"Don't lunge," Ken said. "Follow the target with the shotgun and then when you see daylight, fire."

Daylight? I was seeing plenty of daylight. The slippery orange disc -- three to four ounces and six inches across -- was the problem.

We moved to different stations, the targets tossed from the "high house" a tallish building, or a lower one, "the low house." I'm not sure I could have hit one had they been lobbed to me underhanded from the outhouse.

Meanwhile Sam, after a few warmups, hit a target. Then another. Soon, he was up on me 8-0.

I was happy for him, but after awhile his proficiency became an indictment of my lack of success. Ken was a joke, he was so good. He could have shot it between his legs or over his shoulder with his back turned.

Meanwhile, I rolled on in a river of shame and disappointment.

"You're under," Ken said.

I was under, I was over, I was behind and in front.

"Close one eye," Ken said. "It might help."

Close one eye? How about if I close two? How about if I pull the trigger with my ear?

"Be smooth," he said. "You're almost there."

I did what people -- losers -- do in my position. They go peripheral, focusing on how pretty the day is, the red-tailed hawk circling several hundred yards to the north and the light playful breeze wafting through the cottonwood trees.

I had burned about $3,000 worth of ammo. If the Confederates had had my supply, they could have taken Gettysburg.

Finally, I hit one. I don't know how I did, but I did. I was one of the guys.

"Remember that one," Ken said. "Get a picture in your mind."

The picture faded and I missed the next 20 shots. At one point, I pulled the trigger and nothing happened. Ken looked at the gun.

"You put the shell in backwards." he said.

That was like wearing your cycling shorts inside-out, something I did a long time ago during the Furnace Creek 508.

I knew what I was looking for. It's that Zen moment when everything slows down and the target/ball/basket looks bigger than a grapefruit. That's when I broke my second target.

Twenty minutes later, we had exhausted Ken's ammo, and perhaps his patience too.

It was fun. I didn't get skunked, I didn't shoot anybody and we had some father and son time that wasn't corny. I understand what Ken sees in the sport. Skeet shooters are trying to replicate the "great feeling from seeing that puff of black smoke after centering a target."

About the gun club

It costs $150 a year to join the Kern County Gun Club. A decent shotgun costs around $700. A box of shells (25 per box) sells for less than $10. The gun club has four or five registered skeet shoots every year, plus the California State Shoot every other year.

Youth days are the first Saturday of the month, nine times a year. The club is open Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For information, call 765-5818.

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