Our Sport Shop line has earned rave reviews from the hunting and fishing media since we launched it last year. From Field & Stream and Sporting Classics to Gray’s Sporting Journal, we’ve received official and unofficial reviews on how well our gear performs in the field. On the unofficial side, Jeff Galbraith, friend of EB and publisher of The Flyfish Journal and an avid hunter and fly-fisherman—has taken the opportunity to tell us on multiple occasions how much he appreciated the care package of Sport Shop gear and how well it performed for him last fall. So when he headed for the local sporting clays course, he took it a step further and decided to write us a report of the gear in action. —LYA Editor
Words and Images by Jeff Galbraith
While pretty much every previous September 1 has found me tromping up a Cascades USFS/DNR/logging road with my yellow Lab Dr. Gonzo casting about for opening-day grouse, this year’s opener was devoted to shooting birds of clay.
Several months earlier, a good friend had enough beers and gumption in him that he bucked up at the local Coastal Conservation Association chapter’s annual auction and bought a round of sporting clays at a nearby course. Graciously donated by club and CCA board member Roger Goodan, the shoot was able to raise some dollars towards Puget Sound conservation efforts.
And to be clear, Top Gun is not your usual local rod and gun club’s cement pad built on a former gravel pit. Mt. Vernon, Washington’s Top Gun Club sporting clays course is the stuff of genteel redneck dreams and legends. Originally conceived and constructed by Jeff Van Den Top, a successful contractor and excavator, Top Gun has gone on to host the US Western Open every year, as well as other national and international level competitions. Featuring 700+ acres, clubhouses, a 5-stand station and several stocked trout ponds —as well as the world’s largest fishing pole—this place is a bit of a Taj Mahal for shotgun sports enthusiasts. While open to the public for one week a year during the US Western Open competition, we were there to enjoy a shoot on a normal operating club day—among the club’s twelve total members. Now that’s exclusive.
For those unaware, sporting clays is a skeet-type shooting competition that is often (and reasonably) described as “golf with a gun.” With up to six shooters, each takes turns stepping to the dozen-odd stations to shoot pairs of clays launched in the most maddening of trajectories. Bouncing “rabbits,” arcing “teal” and zipping “grouse” scoot along the fairways, through the woods and over the ponds, with a layout displaying as much creativity as the most ambitious golf course. And with glacial scoured bluffs and monolithic chunks of granite integrated into the stations, Top Gun is as much an aesthetic and engineering work as it is a sporting course.
Among the six of us – each fairly regular waterfowl and grouse hunters – were a core of native Northwesterners and a strong contingent of Wisconsinites. And although the Skagit waterfowl and North Woods grouse action prepared us reasonably… those little suckers are hard to hit. Perhaps the only clay target shooting I’ve found to be at least as challenging as live birds, sporting clays is more like a live-action video game than anything to be found in the field or in the blind. But then, that’s part of the appeal.
Shooting a borrowed Turkish over-under 12-gauge, I was quickly able to determine that the gun was too small both by feel and by the large number of clays sailing on unscathed. Though given my shooting over the day, it may not have mattered whether I was shooting this gun or a rusty .410. That said, I am never one to let lack of skill get in the way of complete enjoyment, and managed to thoroughly appreciate the chauffeured UTV, the lunch and, of course, the beer after. The Eddie Bauer Sport Shop Classic 3-Pocket Belt Bag, provided courtesy of staffers Jack M and Dan K, helped keep my shells organized while I alternated between whiffing with my friend’s 12-gauge and my old Ithaca 16-gauge double gun. With the game loops and security pockets, this should also be a perfect utility piece for grouse hunts starting this week. Thanks much, guys!
Speaking of grouse, I was concerned for my friend whose gun I’d borrowed. With the shoot on opening day, I asked him if he was sure he wanted to loan it out. What would he shoot for grouse on the opener? “Oh, I don’t know,” he yawned. “Figure I may just go archery and/or shoot a few with the pistol this year.” Sure, I laughed, sure.
Riding home through the Skagit silage fields on Sunday, I checked my messages to find an attached photo of a harvested blue grouse lying astride an old longbow.
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