The clay target came from behind a small hill located east of the shooting station. It was traveling right to left and bounced up and down slightly in flight, somewhat resembling the up-and-down motion of a passenger jet trying to land at McCarran International Airport during the heat of summer.
Mike Reese, our guide for the afternoon, called the target a battue (pronounced bah-TOO and from the French for beating the bushes to flush game) and said it was perhaps the most challenging target for shooters to hit. It wasn't long before I was a believer.
The battue, a shallow-domed disk, climbed to the top of an arc about 30 feet high. Then just when it reached the point where a shooter would expect the target to stall long enough to present a shot, the battue suddenly rotated 90 degrees and with deceptive speed plunged toward the rocky wash below. I missed. Then I missed another. And another.
Even once I knew what the battue was going to do, it was difficult to account for the target's deceptive speed. When I finally broke one, my lead was about 8 feet ahead of the target and well on the downhill side of the arc. Still, for a moment I felt good about busting at least one of the targets. Then Reese served me up a piece of humble pie by shooting two or three in a row. When he was done with that, Reese informed me through his wry smile that the speed on the battue was turned down just for us media types.
I'm glad they did that.
The battue and other challenging targets can be found at the new sporting clays course that opened Friday at the Clark County Shooting Complex. After shooting on a few of the 30 stations on the course, I can tell you a distant look at the course does not do it justice. You have to be on the course to appreciate the design work by Marty Fischer, considered by some to be the most sought-after course designer in the country.
Al Hague, a freelance writer and photographer who specializes in covering shotgun sports and my partner for the day, has seen the country's top sporting clays courses. He was especially complementary about the new course, its design and the challenges it offers shooters.
Though there are no dramatic changes in the topography of the land on which the course is built, Fischer was able to utilize what was there so each station presents the target in its own unique way and gives shooters a new challenge at every stop. One station, for example, offers a combination of targets representing a rabbit running along the ground and a duck flying nearly straight up. Shooting them each as a single is a challenge, but shooting them as a pair will test most shooters.
Another station features clay targets that fly low and fast down the wash, not unlike a brace of quail breaking from cover. If you think you are seeing a common theme in the station descriptions, you are right. Though some have described sporting clays as golf with a shotgun - sacrilege in my book - sporting clays actually is designed to simulate the flight of various game birds or the flush and escape of an animal such as a rabbit.
Also found at each station are three shooting positions from which to choose. At each position, or box, the target will be presented slightly differently and in varying degrees of difficulty. That means the course offers shooters 90 scenarios on any given day. Those can be changed between visits by moving the trap locations.
The cost to shoot the sporting clays course is $32 per 100 targets. The course is approximately a mile long and handicapped accessible. A gasoline-powered clays cart can be rented for $25 for three hours or $50 for all day. You might want to bring a couple of friends and divide the cost of the cart.
"Sporting clay courses are probably the most sought-after venues around the country, especially among younger people," said Steve Carmichael, shooting complex manager. "I think this new course is really going to be a hit with our residents and with tourists."
So do I.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.