Shoot to Thrill

Ride a golf cart through the Glades. Carry a shotgun. Fire at clay pigeons. Ahhh, the life of the leisure class!

"Just swing through it. Just swing through it," urges Paz, Sr., as Laureano (Frank and Beans) prepares to shoot again. Laureano explodes the first pair, then the second. He hits six targets in a row. He is, as sportscasters like to say, on fire.

But the streak ends at station five. He's rushing. "It's like Napoleon said: 'Dress me slowly. I'm in a hurry,'" he pronounces, then explains the adage. "You know, you're going into battle so you want to get it right the first time."

Of course the presence of successful, erudite men on a sporting clays course would not surprise a student of history. Sport shooting, in all its varieties, has always been a rich man's game. And, as elsewhere, shotgunning is a discrete and increasingly popular charm of the South Florida bourgeoisie. A larger portion of the local upper crust still hobnobs on golf courses, but shotgunning attracts even more sophisticated men, who just happen to have a passion for blowing little saucers to bits. "I've never really met anyone I disliked in the shooting game, but I have met them in golf," observes Dave Hewes, a retired Walgreens store manager, who is vice president of Trail Trap and Skeet, a local gun club. "I've seen guys take their clubs and throw them down the fairway because they missed a shot. In [shooting] you don't have that, because you're not going to throw a $5000 gun in the water. Shooters are more controlled emotionally than golfers."

Tropical Sporting Clays manager James Coberly tweaks a target launcher
Steve Satterwhite
Tropical Sporting Clays manager James Coberly tweaks a target launcher
A scorekeeper with ear protection
Steve Satterwhite
A scorekeeper with ear protection

They are often wealthier, too. South Florida's shotgunning brotherhood includes Cuban sugar barons and members of the Du Pont manufacturing empire, as well as doctors and lawyers. The guns go for as much as $75,000. Parking lots at some courses include Jaguars next to pickup trucks.

The first sport shooting known to modern man was trap, which Englishmen invented in the late 1700s to practice hunting. The activity involved the slaying of live birds, usually pigeons or sparrows, which range attendants placed underneath old top hats (i.e., traps). Someone would pull a rope attached to a hat, the bird would fly, and the sportsman would try to hit it.

The first trapshoot in the United States took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1831, according to author Tom Migdalski, a shotgun instructor and shooting team coach at Yale University. Competitors killed buckets of pigeons, but by the 1850s human hews and cries about the cruelty of such bird blasting prompted some states to ban the activity. In response enterprising enthusiasts again followed English footsteps, substituting glass balls filled with feathers for the live birds. When a shooter successfully shattered one of the orbs, the feathers floated earthward.

Glass balls evolved into clay pigeons. In 1880 George Ligowsky, a Cincinnati sportsman, developed a disk that was a precursor of today's highly aerodynamic targets. By then gun clubs had sprung up across the United States, Canada, and in British stomping grounds in the Caribbean.

In the 1920s the sport grew more complex in England and the United States. Bored with the predictability of trapshooting, Charles Davies, an Andover, Massachusetts, businessman developed a spinoff known as skeet. In trap, a shooter stands at a station, while targets fly away from him with slight variations in flight path. In skeet, the marksman proceeds through a series of five stations and the airborne disks launch in a greater number of patterns. Also in the '20s, Englishmen began to develop sporting clays. As with soccer, it would be many years before it would make a splash on the other side of the Atlantic.

While trap and skeet grew in popularity in the United States, they also gained momentum in a Caribbean sportsman's paradise: Cuba. Sport shooting appeared on the island soon after yanqui imperialism, following the rout of the Spaniards in 1898. Club Cazadores del Cerro (CCC), or the Hunters Club of the Hills, was formed in Havana in 1902. It was likely the first such organization on the island.

When he joined the CCC 53 years ago, Manolin del Campo was a twenty-year-old working for his family's land development company outside Havana. "I have hunted since I was ten years old. I killed my first quail December 7, 1936," recalls del Campo, a West Palm Beach resident who is retired and spends much of his time hunting and fishing. One of del Campo's most memorable achievements came at age 25, when he finished second in a CCC competition by shooting 34 pigeons in a row. "Live pigeon [shooting] was very successful in Cuba," he notes.

In the '40s and '50s, Americans and Cubans participated in each other's shotgun competitions. CCC members traveled to U.S. shooting establishments such as the Philadelphia Gun Club. Yanquis visited the CCC's spread, which resembled a fancy country club with Spanish tile floors, lots of windows, and sculptures. The building was air conditioned and featured a sleek bar room. "It was as elegant as could be," del Campo remembers. "It was very spacious, a beautiful place." Outside there were five shooting ranges and a playground for kids.

Among the Yanks who visited during this era were world champion shotgunner Homer Clark and a literary sportsman named Ernest Hemingway. Founding CCC member Bernabe Macias, who is 80 years old, and his 76-year-old wife, Beba Ibargüen de Macias, remember the writer well. "He was crazy," Ibargüen says. "He always wore shorts and sandals and ...," she flicks a thumb toward her mouth to signify the act of imbibing, "he drank a lot. Whisky."

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