Shooting under the lights

By Dick Mason, The Observer February 04, 2011 04:13 pm

 Wayne Paxton, left, releases shooting clays Wednesday night for Terry Ambrose, center, and Larry Harrison.  CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer
Wayne Paxton, left, releases shooting clays Wednesday night for Terry Ambrose, center, and Larry Harrison. CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer

NIGHT TIME is again the right time to trapshoot in the La Grande area.

At least it is at the La Grande Gun Club.

Wednesday night lights are back at the club now that its annual winter trapshooting league is up and running.

Shooters compete Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings in the six-week league, which started in late January . The Wednesday evening shoots provide competitors a chance to relax and release energy after a long work day.

“It is a get-away,’’ said Heath Paxton of La Grande.

Twenty-four shooters have signed up for the winter league and another two are expected. Individuals can sign up for the winter league through the start of Saturday’s shoot, which begins at 9 a.m..

Wednesday’s shoots start at 6 p.m. under the La Grande Gun Club’s lights.

White clay targets are released in the evening because this color is easier to see at night under lights. Orange clays are released at daytime shoots, said Pat Gekeler, secretary-treasurer of the La Grande Gun Club.

Many shooters seem ambivalent about the difference between shooting at night and in the daytime. Not Wayne Paxton, who prefers firing in the evening.

“I love it,’’ the Baker City resident said.

Paxton finds that firing at night is easier because there are fewer distractions.

“I don’t have to worry about the background,’’ he said.

He explained that clouds, birds and airplanes never can disrupt his concentration at night. Paxton is one of the most dedicated shooters in the winter league. He also fires regularly at ranges in Baker City, Cove and Union.

The La Grande Gun Club’s new walkway and shooting pads were put in last year as the above date made from the brass bases of shotgun shell casings (hulls) embedded in concrete indicates. They replaced a walkway and pads installed in 1930. The “1930’’ date, also made from the brass bases of shotgun shell casings, is a remnant of the old walkway.
The La Grande Gun Club’s new walkway and shooting pads were put in last year as the above date made from the brass bases of shotgun shell casings (hulls) embedded in concrete indicates. They replaced a walkway and pads installed in 1930. The “1930’’ date, also made from the brass bases of shotgun shell casings, is a remnant of the old walkway.

THE LA GRANDE GUN CLUB'S Wednesday shoots begin at 6 p.m. when total darkness has hit. By the end of the league’s six-week season there might be a hint of twilight right at 6 p.m., something trapshooters do not embrace.

“It is terrible at twilight,’’ said Terry Ambrose of La Grande.

Targets are not clear at dusk, but they become sharp once darkness descends thanks to the club’s good lights.

“The lighting is about like it is at a football field,’’ Gekeler said.

Eric Rynearson of La Grande said the lights at the La Grande Gun Club are better than at many other trapshooting clubs. He said the lights at some other clubs do not illuminate as far as the ones here.

The La Grande Gun Club has one of the few trapshooting ranges with lights in the region. Other area towns that have lighted trapshooting ranges include Wallowa and Baker City.

The La Grande Gun Club looks sharper than ever under its lights thanks to new concrete walkways and shooting pads installed last summer. The concrete walkways and pads replaced ones that were put in in 1930. They have improved the range. They are higher at the firing points and wider and smoother overall, Gekeler said.

The walkways and pads were built with a grant provided by the Friends of the National Rifle Association.

Temperatures at Wednesday evening’s winter league shoot were in the mid-20s. Trapshooters stayed warm at the range by spending time in the heated clubhouse between rounds. It is a place of community, one where shooters exchange good-natured banter in a building filled with historic photographs at the club dating back to the 1920s. Photos displayed include one taken at the club’s grounds when it was known as the Wing, Fin and Fleetfoot Club.

The club’s name and much more about it has changed since the 1920s. The wind that  frequently gusts over its grounds probably has not, however. The air was relatively still Wednesday night, but trapshooters were not reluctant to talk about the wind and the impact it has on accuracy.

“Wind makes the (clay) birds more erratic,’’ Gekeler said.

Jim Bauer of Union said he tries to take a a wider stance to give him stability when the wind is blowing. He said that sometimes he tries to have the shooting clays released right after a gust blew past only to have another hit right at the moment of the next release.

Casey Hiatt of La Grande said the wind bothers him most by the impact it has on targets. He explained that it either pushes them up or accelerates their velocity while they are traveling sideways.

Gekeler said that the shooting clays respond to the wind like Frisbees because they are shaped like them.

The La Grande Gun Club does not have wind breaks, but it does have openings for its  winter league, upcoming tournaments and for new members. For information on the  club and its activities call Gekeler at 541-910-9147.