I've never been the guy who follows sports or gets excited about the big game. And even though I'm a Southerner, I'd sooner feed ducks than shoot them. So you can imagine how I feel this time of year — smack in between the Super Bowl and SEWE — like a traitor to my gender. That is until now. I've found the perfect sport for an anti-sportsman like myself: clay shooting.
In an attempt to tap into more of the Lowcountry tradition, I've recently made a few sojourns up to Georgetown to the Hemingway family's Back Woods Quail Club. This 10-14 station course is essentially "golf with a shotgun."
But don't let the term golf put you off. Yes, there are carts, but you don't have to use them. Nor is this some NRA hideout. It's really just a diverse group of people who like to shoot for sport. And whether you're a seasoned huntsman with an expensive Berretta or you happen to have a 1912 Winchester pump shotgun that you found in your in-laws attic (like mine), here's why you should give clay shooting a shot.
First off, Back Woods is 25,000 acres of beautiful pine forest. When you drive up, you're instantly faced with an impressive, orderly layout. You have your classic five-stand skeet shooting area looking out over a freshly harvested cotton field, and to the right of this is a cluster of buildings with several gators and golf carts out front. Sure, my Toyota Corolla did sort of stand out in the parking lot in a sea of F-150s, but no one batted an eye or passed judgment.
The way Back Woods' clay shooting course works is surprisingly easy. Each guest has a choice of doing the aforementioned skeet or two sporting clay courses, which I tend to prefer. For those who are more adventurous or firearm savvy, Back Woods also has preserve hunts for quail, hogs, turkey, and deer, as well as an outdoor rifle range. But if you follow my suggestion of sporting clays, select the green course, which is good for everyone from beginner to Annie Oakley.
After you sign in at the office, you'll be issued a debit card and a cart conveniently equipped with a gun rack. Then you'll head down a path featuring 14 stations that vary in difficulty from week to week. A beautiful thing about the course is the very backdrop, ranging from meadows to ponds to pine thickets. And since it is such a lovely path, I prefer to nix the golf cart and walk. Once at each station, step up, insert your debit card into the reader which keeps track of how many clays you've used. At 48 cents a clay for non-members, and an average of six clays per station, it can add up — but it's totally worth the thrill of improving as you blow clays to smithereens.
There are two options for each station, which is controlled by a remote. This means you determine when you're ready to shoot. And there's variety to each shot. Sometimes the machine throws the clays high, sometimes low. Sometimes it even sends them skidding across the ground to simulate a rabbit. Suffice it to say, you face a different challenge every time. In fact, Back Woods often changes up the trajectory from week to week.
And just like golf (or so I'm told, I'm not much of a golfer either), clay shooting is best done with a group of friends. Back Woods rents shotguns and gives lessons, so anyone can go. I've taken folks with years of experience to a guy who'd never shot more than a BB gun and teaches poetry. They've all left feeling very confident. Even if you're a novice you're going to hit something. There's no sense of judgment out on this course. No one scoffs if you miss. No one minds if you take a while at a stand. All the other shooters, at least in my experience, tend to be very accommodating.
Which is all to say, if the impending March Madness has you feeling as down and out as an overheated mascot at half-time, consider heading to Georgetown for a day of retro sport.
Back Woods Quail Club
647 Hemingway Lane