That Shot-gunning Vacation You Never Took

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Some years ago, while I was living in New Mexico a good shooting buddy of mine, Jim Achen, and I had been discussing taking a one month vacation out east and shooting a bunch of different sporting clays courses we’d never otherwise see or experience.  We talked about which states we’d visit, the courses we’d like to shoot, how we’d do it, when we would do it, etc. I think we discussed it for about two years, but we never did it. I’m sure many other people have done the same thing many times over.

Recently, a friend of mine who books and hosts groups to bird hunting destinations like Argentina, Canada, Europe and South Africa decided to offer a shot-gunning trip to a unique destination here in America – Pinehurst, NC.  Pinehurst is really a golf destination with 26 golf courses in and around town, but 43 courses within an eleven mile radius of Pinehurst. Not many know Pinehurst also has a rich and long tradition of shooting.

When Pinehurst was first started in 1895, it was a single hotel where people came to recover their health. But when it was found that most of those who were there to recover from their illness had contagious diseases, they decided to change their operation. They put in a Golf course and then a very complete shooting range with places to shoot shotguns, rifles and pistols. That’s when Annie Oakley came into the picture. She competed at some events there and won. She started teaching there when she wasn’t traveling with the Buffalo Bill Show and taught somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 men, women and children. From 1916 thru 1922, she was the manager of the shooting facility. When Annie passed away in 1926 things slowed down at the gun range, but it remained in operation until 1993. Eventually the ‘powers that be’ tore the gun club building down and put in another golf course, much to the dismay of the residents. There is still some ill will regarding that event. Shooting was very important to the residents then and still is today.

Today, there are five sporting clays ranges all within an hour of downtown Pinehurst, which is filled with excellent restaurants and lodging facilities and many other interesting shops to while away the hours if desired. There are a lot of historic hotels and buildings that are interesting, as well as being on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a charming town; it’s photogenic; and it’s easy to walk around in and find that perfect restaurant for dinner that night.

The package being offered is a 3 day/night package that includes pickup and return to the airport, lodging, ground transportation to and from the courses, shooting fees for 100 targets at each of the five sporting clubs, 500 rounds of shotshells, and one dinner. Breakfast is complementary each day at the lodging facility. Two sporting clays courses will be shot each day, one in the morning and another after lunch. Each of the sporting clays courses also offers other shotgun shooting sports like FITASC, five-stand , wobble trap, etc. Each of the sporting clays courses is  unique and different from each other because of the terrain and cover. The ideal group size is four to six shooters, but larger groups can be accommodated as well. The current price per person is $1599.00. Upgrades in accommodations are also available as well as a longer stay to include hunting.

As I mentioned earlier, I had always wanted to shoot some places out east since I’ve spent most of my life in the Wild West. Now I’ve had the opportunity to experience some sporting clays destinations far from home, and I wasn’t disappointed. Pinehurst is a different experience in many ways as you’ll find written below. The order in which you’ll shoot the different courses could vary from trip to trip depending on which course may have a special shoot at the time your there, but you will shoot all five courses and then some, depending on your timing and what you really want to do. The above mentioned program can be varied from what was mentioned to include quail hunting as well, or a day of quail hunting can be added to the trip depending on how much time you have to spend there.

I have shot sporting clays at many places in just about every western state and at many mid-western states as well. At many of them I was there as a photojournalist doing a story and would always get a nice tour and explanation of the operation. However, my experience at The Fork was like no other.

The Ordinary at the Fork

The Ordinary at the Fork

The Fork Farm and Stables is located at the confluence or two rivers, the Pee Dee and the Rocky Rivers, hence the name The Fork. It was first inhabited by the Pee Dee Indians around 1700, who migrated north from the Charleston area up the river that bears their name. It was first settled by the pioneer Colson family in 1748, and they eventually built an Ordinary, (it was their home and also an inn where lodging, food and drink were available for travelers in the area). The Ordinary, a name that is still used today, was situated along the King’s Highway at that time. The new Ordinary is where shooters, hunters and visitors meet prior to going afield. It’s where strangers meet and friends depart. There is much information and history on The Fork on their website.

The Ordinary is where I and some others met the owner and general manager, Jim Cogdell, who proceeded to give us a tour of his 1600 acre facility. He first took us to the highest barn in the United States which is featured in a recently published book on barns in the United States. The reason for the great height is to keep the barn cool for the staff and horses located in or working in the barn. There are both equestrian Olympic riders and horses in training at the stables every year, along with regular riders and horse owners. They have several different riding arenas for different riding events and trails in all directions around the property with different types of terrain for training.  You can also enjoy riding there should you be interested.

Jim proceeded to tour us around in his favorite vehicle, a Suburban, and it was a two hour tour. He showed us the many fields of different grains for harvest and areas that are planted with a different variety of plants that give great cover and food for the quail raised on the farm. He also plants, and then floods, a significant area for duck hunting. Jim discussed the different types of earth and rock on the farm and how they interface with the different plants, and how the different plants and trees play their part in providing feed and protection for the quail and other animals living on the property. He showed us how and when they introduce the pen raised quail into the wild for optimum survival. The farm is all about farming, conservation, horses and riding and hunting. It quickly became apparent this is Jim’s real passion in life. His knowledge of the earth, plants, trees and their interrelationships with the quail, deer and other animals and birds on the property made him sound more like the number one park ranger on the face of the earth. I have never met another man like him with his extensive depth of knowledge on just about every living thing on his property, be it mineral, plant or animal. I was totally astounded because of the time he devoted to make sure I had the knowledge to truly understand what he and his farm were all about. And it was about his love of the earth, the beauty of horses, the power of hunting, and the joy of the shooting sports. My only fear was that I was going to have to pass a written or oral exam. Thank God, I didn’t.

Before our farm and stable tour, we were shown the shooting facilities by Jim, and then we had the opportunity to shoot at the facility after our tour. We started on the FITASC course, a single parcour three peg course with six different traps set on the course where you would shoot singles and report pairs. This was the first shooting facility I’ve shot that had a permanent FITASC course set up for practice. I really enjoyed it, and prefer to shoot FITASC over sporting clays anytime. We spent a little extra time there shooting as it was so much fun and challenging. We then went over to the twelve station sporting clays course which is for large gauge, 12 and 16 gauge. It would be fun to shoot sub gauge there as well. But they also have a seven station sub gauge course for 20, and 28 gauge and 410 bore. We did look at the targets, but I sure wish I had brought my 28 gauge.  Next time.  They also have a twelve trap tower/flurry combination that throws fifty targets in a given period of time and requires four shooters and we only had three, John Wiles, my host, Elizabeth Lanier, an instructor that was running a class for women the next two days, and myself. I think it would have been a little too much for us with only three shooters. Four or five shooters is the norm. But we still had another place to shoot, the covered Five Stand. They had eight traps on the Five Stand with just about every type of presentation possible. It was great fun but got harder and harder, as the sun was setting by that time and the targets became hard to see. But we didn’t retire that easily, as we wanted so see how dark it got before we finally had to quit. The Fork offers more variety in shooting than any other place I’ve ever visited in the United States, and you’ll never regret spending some time there. It would also be a good place to do some shot-gunning and bird shooting in the same day. You could spend a week here, and every day would be exciting, new and different. Lodging and food is available there.

Drakes Landing was another nice sporting clays facility on the trip that also has a five stand operation. But they do offer a lot of different shooting venues that include rifle and pistol and shotgun. It’s a nicely wooded place with rolling terrain that presents a lot of interesting target presentations. You’ll have a chance to shoot targets that are below your feet and other interesting angles. It could be the place with some of the more difficult and challenging target presentations on the trip; but I’ll let you decide that. They also offer upland and dove hunting along with deer and duck hunting.

If you’re real lucky, it might be the place where you’ll have lunch one day. Lawrence, their chef, did an outstanding job. There have only been two places in my life where I had outstanding BBQ baby back ribs. All those in between were lacking. The first was Jax Microbrewery & Restaurant in El Paso, TX some twenty years ago, when I could wash it down with a great General Pershing Porter. The next was at Drake Landing on this trip. The meat was a slipping and sliding right off the ribs tender. The only thing missing was a great beer to wash it down with as we were still going to be shooting.

Kidds Place is another of the sporting clay facilities that offers you a chance to experience the North Carolina countryside with some interesting target presentations. It’s a little flatter than Drake Landing but there are some interesting targets to be taken. They normally have fourteen stations operating for a lot of variety. In addition to the sporting clays course they also offer a five-stand operation and a single parcour three peg FITASC course for practice or training. After shooting the sporting course we spent some time on the FITASC course as I couldn’t get enough of it, and really enjoyed shooting their parcour. If it were up to me, that’s the way sporting clays would be shot. It seems there is a lot more interest in FITASC in the southeast than there is in other parts of the country. Tom, the owner, is thinking of setting up a second parcour or maybe another five-stand. You’ll know of his decision when you get there.

Dewitts Outdoor Sports also offers a fourteen station sporting clays course with a lot of variety in terrain and with ponds. They offer open field targets, heavily wooded area targets, small window targets, tower targets and shots at targets over open water. They also have two shooting boxes, an A and a B box at each shooting station. It enables them to offer an easy shooting position and a difficult shooting position for each shooting station which makes a lot of sense to me as it allows them to attract the more advanced shooter and a novice shooter to the same course. They also offer a five-stand operation, which is also lighted for night shooting, and a rifle and pistol range. They also offer upland hunting and guided Mallard Duck hunts in season. Oh, and Dewitt’s raises over 300,000 bobwhite quail each year for sale to other preserves and for their own hunting grounds.

Deep River Sporting Clays and Shooting School is another of the fine sporting clays facilities located near Pinehurst, NC. They offer a lot of different terrain and flat areas with a large variety of presentations including water areas. They generally offer thirteen different shooting stations on the course. You’ll find it as entertaining and challenging as the others you’ll have the chance to visit on this trip. They also have a raised deck with a wobble trap below for some different type of shooting as well.

If you’ve never been to the southeast, this trip will give you the chance to experience southern hospitably and charm along with a lot of fun shooting. All the destinations offer shooting instruction and other services and including more ammo if you find you just have to shoot that FITASC course or other discipline.

The Webb Farm & Inn is also nearby if you want to spend an extra half or full day quail hunting in some prime land. They operate on over 1,200 acres, and I was very impressed by their operation and their facilities. I only recently found they were named among the top six quail hunting facilities in the United States, actually they were number four. This information came from the CNN Travel Channel on their article ” Hunting Heats Up”. Their lodging facilities are excellent, and the food was outstanding as we had lunch there one day. The presentation of the food and delicious tastes we experienced are what you would expect to find in a high end restaurant in some large city like Chicago or New York. But it had some southern notes. Whether you spend a half day, full day or a whole week there, you will not be disappointed.

For more information on this trip contact:

John Wiles
P.O. Box 3186

Pinehurst, NC.

866.635.2838

443.624.8719 Cell

www.bestwingshooting.com

www.theinternationalwingshooter.com

big_john_1948@msn.com

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