© 2014 Aaron Atkinson

The Bang-Bang Side-Step

Three years ago my father-in-law started a Thanksgiving day tradition that I really enjoy. While normal people are sleeping in, watching the parade or working in the kitchen, we get together and shoot our shotguns at clay pigeons. With five guys, five boxes of targets and 25 boxes of ammunition, the fun lasts almost as long as our shoulders can take the incessant pounding.

We shoot at a friend’s rural home a few minutes northwest of the city. Last year, after a few rounds of warm up targets, I started getting a little bored. To a degree if you’ve shot one straight-away, quartering or crossing target you’ve pretty well shot them all. It was then that I glanced to the west and noticed the recently dug out pond with the excavated dirt piled up next to it. During a lull in the action I wandered over, walked down the bank and tried to see the rest of the gang while peering over the top of the five foot high dirt pile. It was too tall, I couldn’t see them. It was perfect.

“Watch this, guys,” I called out as I tossed a clay pigeon while standing behind the berm on the bank of the pond. It flew right at them.

“If we throw from down here, we’re safe from the shot that will be flying straight at us. It’s not very often that you get to shoot targets coming right at you.”

And so a new tradition was born. We giggled like school girls as we hurled pigeons, shot them in delightful self-defense, and then reloaded as fast as we could. It was a riot. But it’s not a game for the faint of heart or for the less than accurate shot. From what I can tell, those clay pigeons hurt when they make it through the gauntlet unscathed and break with a thud against a hip, knee, shoulder or back.

My objective is pretty simple. Shoot at and break the ones that are zipping towards my head and from time to time when my gun is full and the coast is clear, bail out my kin who are less comfortable with making an ounce of lead turn incoming discs of orange clay to a cloud of dust.

Other’s have different objectives that are born more from self defense that borders on panic. They develop a cadence that starts with a couple of errand bangs from their shotguns and ends with a last second side step of retreat. It’s a cowardly, but prudent approach that bruises the ego more than the flesh.

I see this move out of the corner of my eye, give a little chuckle, and keep on shooting. While a direct blow hurts, and the jabs of fellow shooters at the cowardly evasion must sting a bit, I find that the gentle rain of dusty, freshly powdered pigeon feels rather glorious as it tumbles down harmlessly at my feet.

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