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
Kirwin owes his job, in part, to the Cazadores' clout. In 1997, when then-parks director Bill Cutie recommended closing Trail Glades, CCC members rallied against the proposal. Along with a coalition of gun clubs, they convinced a majority of county commissioners to preserve the facility. To reverse a longstanding fiscal decline, the county increased fees from five dollars per person to six dollars for trap and seven dollars for skeet. Under Kirwin's direction, range attendance has increased seven percent; the gun-friendly park has gone from operating at an annual deficit of more than $200,000 a few years ago to a $41,500 surplus this past fiscal year. The sporting clays concession, which pays the county only three percent of its proceeds, accounted for half the windfall.
Cups runneth over at the banquet as well, as the wine and whisky flow. People line up for roast beef, chicken cordon bleu, rice pilaf, potatoes, and flan. At one table the gaiety is tinged with nostalgia. Beba Ibargüen de Macias has brought two scrapbooks containing old newspaper articles that chronicle competitions at the CCC's Havana clubhouse. She wears a bracelet made of small gold medals her husband won in Cuba during 1958 and 1959. "Se dice que recordar es volver a vivir," she declares, then translates. "They say that to remember is to live again."
After dinner Arango announces the results of the Copa Cuba, a shooting contest held at Trail Glades this past September. Steve Fischer, a Detroit native who moved to Miami in 1980, placed first in the sporting clays competition, but is not present to claim his trophy. Cubans dominate the skeet and trap contests. After some couples dance to Latin tunes, Arango awards raffle prizes, which include airplane tickets and two large hunting knives.
Soon it is midnight and most of the remaining banqueters have moved outside to the second-floor deck. One debate centers on the ancient practice of shooting doves. "They take little animals and kill them," observes Corina Alvarez, a wry 30-year-old public-relations account executive at Burson-Marsteller. Nattily dressed in a low-cut black mini, she is referring to a group of hunters that includes her escort, George Arias del Campo, a dapper 26-year-old in a suit and tie. Arias, who is standing next to Alvarez, smiles quietly and rolls his eyes. In the morning, he says, he will be heading off with his grandfather, Manolin del Campo, to shoot doves at the Okeechobee County game farm of sugar company executive Pepe Fanjul. Not only is Fanjul a member of one of the wealthiest families in the nation, but he is noteworthy for another reason. Del Campo thinks Fanjul built South Florida's first sporting clays course in the mid-1980s.
Sporting clays' U.S. roots first took hold far from South Florida. According to shotgunner and historian Bob Brister, the first competition took place in 1980 near Sequiem, Washington, during the North American Field Shooting Championship. The contest was organized by Chuck Dryke, a dog trainer and father of Matt Dryke, a gold medalist in Olympic skeet shooting. In the years that ensued, the epicenter moved east. The Orvis Company hosted the first U.S. championship in Houston in 1985. The NSCA is based in San Antonio, Texas.
These days one of the sport's boosters in South Florida is Bob Oliver, who owns Tropical Sporting Clays, a private concession that runs the course at Trail Glades. (Miami-Dade County manages the trap and skeet ranges.) Oliver designed and built the course, which opened in 1997. The droll, cigar-smoking 66-year-old from Colorado can often be found wielding a $16,000 shotgun. He can afford such luxuries because in 1996 he sold his company, Defense Technology Corporation of America, a Wyoming-based manufacturer that is one of the world's largest suppliers of tear gas and pepper spray.
As dusk descended one recent evening, Oliver sat on the back of a golf cart, showing off his $75,000 Perazzi shotgun, which one of his assistants had fetched from the clubhouse safe. He laid down the Italian-made piece, turned it over, and marveled at the array of etchings. They were done by an Italian artist on silver plating surrounding the trigger area and include golden geese flying over a landscape with pine trees and a farm house on the horizon, an Indian chasing a buffalo, and a portrait of Oliver's deceased black Labrador retriever, Bruno. "This engraving doesn't help you shoot," Oliver noted, providing the standard joke.
"The Italian engravers are the cream of the crop," says David Paz, Sr. Paz recently saw an engraved Holland & Holland Brothers shotgun owned by Fort Lauderdale doctor Baron Beck that cost $55,000. "That's probably the most expensive gun I've seen. The engraving was a game scene with pheasants, woodcocks, and grouse, and also pointer dogs. German short-hair, I believe. And it was absolutely beautiful," Paz reports. "However, he still doesn't shoot any better with it."
Paz owns a German Krieghoff shotgun worth $11,500, but shoots better with an American-made Browning that he bought for $2800. As an army reconnaissance soldier during the Vietnam War, he wielded a Stevens pump-action shotgun. He took up sporting clays four years ago after tiring of pistols and rifles. "My goal is having a good time and introducing friends and acquaintances [to sporting clays] and showing them a good time," Paz says. "But I don't worry about the score."