John Russell: This city boy takes aim at clays


After attempting to shoot my first clay pigeon with a shotgun, there was no use in trying to lie.

There was no way I could hide from Michael Hogue, owner of Three Quarter Circles Ranch, that I grew up in the city.

It was evident that I knew as much about shotguns as my 3-year-old knows about stem-cell research.

But I was lucky. My city-boy roots didn't keep Hogue, a longtime Routt County rancher who grew up hunting and shooting, from introducing me to sporting clays.

"It's kind of like golf. only with a shotgun," he explained to me as I stepped into one of the 12 lodgepole-framed stands on his 40-acre shooting range.

But the smoking gun I held in my hands after my first shot didn't feel like the 3-wood my dad taught me to use at the South Suburban driving range.

It's hard to believe that Hogue didn't fall down laughing when I accidentally hit a tree stump instead of the clay "rabbit" I had aimed for.

Hogue was kind enough to point out that I wasn't the first person to shoot the stumps, which are placed along that particular station to make it more challenging to hit the target.

I believed him, but I also wondered why none of the other stumps displayed scars similar to the one I had just made.

The one thing that was certain, after spending an hour at Three Quarter Circles Ranch, was that I have a lot to learn about shotguns and sporting clays.

But I also learned why so many people in this country have fallen in love with the sport.

You don't have to be a hunter or a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association to enjoy sporting clays. I discovered that hitting the target -- and, yes, I actually hit more than one -- is like smashing a softball down the third-base line, rolling three strikes in a row on the lanes or driving a golf ball down the middle of the fairway.

Since Hogue opened the sporting clay course in 2002, he has been attempting to build a following in our mountain valley for this unique sport.

It's also one of the reasons so many of us enjoy living in a town such as Steamboat, which offers many unique opportunities. Between golf, baseball, softball, rodeo, horseback riding and all the other sports offered here, I think this place should be called Sports Town USA -- not just Ski Town USA.

And in a town such as this, sporting clays is a perfect fit.

Hogue insists that sporting clays isn't just for hunters, gun enthusiasts and ranchers. And after teaching this city boy to hit a clay pigeon, I think he might be right.


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