By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
In a pond-splattered, melaleuca-filled corner of the Everglades, five shotgun-toting men take shelter beneath a green-and-white-striped canopy. After a brief but heavy rain subsides, they step into two golf carts and drive twenty yards to a wooden platform. They could have walked that distance, but conserving energy is critical out here. And hey, it's been a long week, and the gear is heavy. Besides, the point of this shooting escapade is to unwind, relax, have a little fun.
Shotguns conjure images of rednecks and, to judge from their nicknames, these good old boys fit the bill. The shooting party includes Homer, his son Junior, Tricky Dick, Mr. Ed, and Frank and Beans.
Frank and Beans is a dark-haired, goateed young man, as husky as he is easygoing. He takes one step up onto the stand, which overlooks a 100-yard-wide, murky, alligator-patrolled expanse of water. Then he grips a shotgun that he received as a gift two weeks ago.
Homer, a fit, energetic 52-year-old hombre, is the group's sachem. Indeed, the visor of his cap is decorated with beaded figures sewn by a woman from the Swinomish tribe who sometimes shoots with the group. One hieroglyph signifies healerand another, warrior. "You got to have some strategy," Homer says to Frank and Beans. "This bird is coming from right to left, so you got to get under it to the left."
"Pull!" Frank and Beans yells, and a flying saucer the size of a dessert plate whizzes horizontally about 30 feet above the pond. He points the gun, pivots slightly, and KABLAM! Frank and Beans misses. Seconds later another spinning disk launches from the right. KABLAM! He misses again. Two more pairs of targets streak across the sky and plop into the water, unaltered by Frank and Beans' payloads of tiny shotgun pellets.
Homer is up next. He fares better, yet he is unsatisfied. He's unaccustomed to missing and is officially in a slump. "I've been shooting high for the last two weeks," he observes. "I don't know why." After the others have shot, the group drives to a similar station about twenty yards down a path that winds along the pond's edge. There is a total of fourteen stops. Along the way, tucked on the ground and elevated on rustic wooden towers, are target-launching machines loaded with stacks of clay disks. Each station includes a hand-held remote control. Punch the button and the targets soar.
Welcome to the wide world of sporting clays at Miami-Dade County's Trail Glades shooting range, near the corner of Tamiami Trail and Krome Avenue. To the untrained eye, the fourteen platforms seem almost identical. But each features a different presentation, which in sport shooting nomenclature means the clay disks' flight pattern. Presentations are supposed to imitate real hunting situations; here's where the language gets tricky. There are crossers(which cross in front of the shooter), incomers (which come in toward the shooter), and outgoers (guess). A slightly rising outgoer, for example, emulates a pheasant or a grouse, while a descending incomer would be a duck or perhaps a very confused partridge. The biggest crowd pleaser is the rabbit, a target that rolls on its side along a rubber mat spread in the mud.
About halfway into the round, Frank and Beans is on the station eight platform, which rises about four feet above the ground. Junior invokes some football imagery. "Think of yourself as Dan Marino up there," he suggests. "And you've got Tony Martin."
"You've got to lead him," Frank and Beans says, finishing the thought.
"That's right, you've got to lead him," Junior repeats.
Frank and Beans fires and hits a few, but his percentage is still low. He's improving, but if this were football he'd be throwing like a place-kicker.
Not wanting anyone to become too frustrated -- a good idea when you are in a group of men carrying shotguns -- Homer offers some Zenlike counsel to the guys, who with the exception of Junior, are shooting erratically. "If you have a bad station, don't get mad. Forget about it," he advises. Despite the repeated cracking of gunfire, dragonflies flitter about. "Sometimes a dragonfly will land on your barrel," says Homer. "I haven't had anyone claim that as a valid excuse, but it is, I think."
Homer is accustomed to nurturing all kinds of people. The Swinomish healing symbol on his cap refers to his real identity: He is David Paz, Sr., a surgeon who works in the Jackson Memorial Hospital emergency room. His son Junior is David Paz, Jr., a lawyer who has an office in Coral Gables. Frank and Beans is Frank Laureano, an Alabama native and a nurse at Jackson. Tricky Dick is Richard Stewart, a gentlemanly Oklahoman and retired insurance executive. Mr. Ed is Ed Cooney, a 40-year-old tool-and-die maker from Pennsylvania.
The group proceeds to station six, which features a springing teal -- a clay pigeon that ascends at a sharp vertical angle away from the shooter. Paz, Sr. (Homer) is pulverizing targets, a process that showers the group with a light hail of clay fragments. "Hey, they're shootin' back," jokes Paz, Jr. (Junior). "It slices, it dices, it even circumcises," he says, referring to his dad's gun. Stewart (Tricky Dick) and Cooney (Mr. Ed) are also hitting with more frequency.