Taking aim in Colorado’s high country | AspenTimes.com

Taking aim in Colorado’s high country

Charlie Owen
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
**FOR USE IN WEEKEND EDITIONS OF SEPT. 6-7** Kathryn Long takes aim at the Piney Valley Ranch shooting complex in Wolcott, Colo., in this photograph taken on Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008. Long said that she has been trap shooting for roughly five years and likes the sport because of the discipline and patience it has taught her. (AP Photo/The Vail Daily, Theo Stroomer)
AP | Vail Daily

WOLCOTT, Colo. ” It’s a hot Saturday in Wolcott and storm clouds hover in the distance. They don’t appear to be an immediate threat, but that could change. From afar, the loud, booming noises coming from Piney Valley Ranch could be mistaken for thunderclaps; but there’s no doubting the sound of gunshots.

The ranch offers outdoor sports enthusiasts an array of activities, most notably fly fishing and hunting. But the loud, periodic bursts of gunfire aren’t the result of hunters pursuing big game. No, these shotgun-wielding customers are here for trap shooting, the ultimate test for hand-eye coordination.

Two clay discs are launched into the air with different flight patterns and speeds, while shooters take aim and fire in an attempt to nail the targets before they land.

“It’s all about finding that Zen in your sport,” said Kathryn Long, a 24-year-old from Florida who knows how to handle a gun. Her father taught her when she was a kid, and she fell in love with the sport.

“I’ve always enjoyed guns,” Long said. “I’ve always felt very comfortable with them.

She handles a Beretta 12-gauge shotgun with ease as she explains the beauty of a sport that teaches patience, self-discipline and respect. But how does she find Zen in a sport this loud?

“It’s learning how to soothe your nerves and calm yourself down so you can reach that point of relaxation and concentration,” she said. “It’s just fun.”

Guns are a touchy subject in America. Second Amendment rights aside, sports like skeet and trap shooting prove that firearms aren’t used solely in violent crimes. Long compares the sport to golf, tennis or baseball.

“It depends on who’s behind the gun, just like it depends on who’s behind the wheel of a car,” she said. “You know who you are as a human being. You know what you’re capable of. I know that if I pick up a gun it’s not going to make me want to go and hurt someone with it.”

Indeed, Long calls trap shooting a “gentlemen’s sport,” and said that some of the most friendly and helpful people she’s ever met have been avid gun collectors and sport shooters. In her opinion, guns, and the people who own them legally, get a bad rap because of those who abuse the privilege.

“I just wish people would get out there and try it before they made an opinion,” Long said.

Her enthusiasm for the sport inspired her to start organizing trapshooting contests around the country.

Another clay-shooting enthusiast, Lance Nichols, moved to Wolcott from Idaho to be a hunting guide and ranch hand at Piney Valley Ranch.

“It’s fun to just go out and shoot,” Nichols said. “Most people do it for practice for hunting birds or whatever or just as sport, and it’s been getting bigger and bigger.”

Nichols, a gun owner himself, said trap shooting on the ranch is more a test of patience and skills than an attempt to prove one’s manhood.

“Safety is the biggest key that we like to teach out here,” he said. “Always keep everything safe, and point it in the right direction, and just have fun.”

Safety should always come first, agreed Matt Bayley, a gun-safety and self-defense instructor at the Minturn Shooting Range.

Bayley, who owns On Target in Vail, looked and sounded like a jovial drill sergeant recently while teaching a married couple from West Vail.

He shouted directions, which his students repeated aloud and then followed. “Shooters, step up. Load your weapons. Aim. Fire,” Bayley barked.

Bayley specializes in tactical shooting, which teaches people how to defend themselves against an intruder. He teaches his students the proper stance for shooting, how to hold a handgun and how to aim and fire it effectively. He takes his job seriously and is very concerned with teaching his students proper respect for guns.

“We go through probably six to 10 layers of safety,” Bayley said.

Easels mounted with paper targets shaped like human silhouettes stood in front of Bayley and his two students, Sonja and Brian Craythorne. The targets were pierced with dozens of bullet holes, showing off the couple’s skills. They have been taking lessons with Bayley for only a short time and as older, second-home owners, certainly don’t look like gun enthusiasts.

“I don’t intend to shoot anybody, and probably never will,” Brian said. Nevertheless, he wanted to know he could handle a gun properly if he or his family was ever attacked. He and Sonja weren’t necessarily afraid of what lurked around every corner, but they wanted to be prepared for anything.

“I just enjoy the sport,” Sonja said. “I’m enjoying trying to hit the bull’s-eye and the marksmanship.”

“It’s much more challenging than a novice would expect,” Brian said.

The fear of handling a firearm prevents the majority of people from trying them, Bayley said.

“Knowledge is power, number one, and people are afraid of guns because they’ve never used them,” Bayley said. “It’s a very wholesome sport.”

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