By Teresa Mull

The last weekend of October, I found myself in Fuquay-Varina, a little south of Raleigh, North Carolina, reunited with an old college chum. We sauntered through the mid-morning sunbeams, flickering through the tall pines of Drake Landing, a sporting clay range and hunting center.

Drake Landing is described as, “A fifth-generation working farm that through the years has cultivated food, fiber, tobacco, forestry products, and fun for the Andrews family and our neighbors both here and abroad.”

We met Earl McLean at the clubhouse. Earl, dressed just as you’d expect in a Woolrich shooting shirt and outdoorsman’s hat, fit the bill for a seasoned sporting clays instructor (which, with more than two-dozen years’ on the job, he is). Earl is a good-humored Southern gentleman whose pleasant drawl puts you at ease, even when you miss your bird by a country mile.

We loaded a few shotguns into a golf cart fitted with a rack specifically designed for securing the firearms by their barrels (a contraption I believe should be standard in all vehicles) and puttered about from station to station.

I had spent this past summer honing my trap shooting skills. (By “honing” I mean starting with some single-digit scores and barely becoming respectable by the end of the season.) Sporting clays are surprisingly different. And by “different” I mean more difficult!

There is almost nothing I’ve found to be more disheartening in the world of sport than missing several clays in a row. After the second or third bird sails to the ground unscathed, you (or maybe it’s just me?) begin to think you’ll never hit anything ever again. And the more you fret, the more tense, mentally distraught, and distracted you become; you lose your focus, become flustered, and the worse you do. It’s a vicious cycle.

Fortunately for my friend and me, such a cycle had no chance of taking hold with Earl by our side. It’s one thing to instruct a person about what he or she is doing wrong, pointing out where to aim, how to stand, cheek the gun, and so forth, but it’s quite another to inspire self-confidence in the shooter, especially after a series of off-shots. Earl kept our spirits high, and after a skittish start, we both managed a decent day at the range.

We rode over gently undulating hills, stopping once to shoot a pair with a “rabbit” (a low-flying clay that almost skims the ground) and what I believe was a “battue” (or duck) target, wherein the bird is launched vertically on its side, rather than being thrown flat like a frisbee. I promised Earl rabbit stew for supper, and delivered. “Battue Stew,” despite the nice ring to its name, sounded less-appetizing, so I let that one go…

We shot against the backdrop of brilliant blue, cloudless skies, and at times into the tricky camouflage of autumnal foliage. There was a water feature, a wide-open field, and woodlands – like a golf course, almost, but with a bang instead of a whimper.

Our shooting session concluded just as we started to become aware of the barrel weight and the southern sun’s intensifying rays. At the end, we were tired, but satisfied and happy. We returned to the clubhouse and chatted a little with Dan Andrews, Drake’s founder and owner, who was hosting that day on the club’s vast acreage a hunt for a group of Wounded Warriors.

Here’s the wonderful way Dan describes his shooting facility and the family heritage he is preserving:

As a small boy growing up here, I would follow in my father’s footsteps in the freshly plowed ground. Watching the crops grow, the thunderstorms roll in, and picking up birds when he and his buddies went hunting. He has taught me a lot, how to be a father, a farmer, a leader, and outdoorsman for the love of the land and the importance of passing it on. The land is truly a treasure that should be enjoyed and admired for everything God created here.

Working these fields, I always longed for the cool morning and the covey of the birds in the hedge grove, or the ducks on the creek bottom, or the big buck in the low grounds. Hunting, my passion, would help me through the long days on the tractor. Hunting wasn’t about the meat or trophies I collected or the trips to other states in search of adventure, it was about friends and memories. After returning home from college I would dream of a place, my place, Drake Landing.

The people that I could meet, the children I could introduce to the outdoors, the land I could pass down to my children, and all the memories that could be made here.
Drake Landing is a work progress, we continue to grow and add activities for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re here to hunt duck, quail, or pheasant, shoot sporting clays or archery, please take time to make a memory and make a few new friends.

Winter is coming, and the end of the traditional shooting season in Pennsylvania, where I live, is nearly upon us. I am blessed to have memories of warm, happy days such as this one with Earl McLean at Drake Landing stored away in my heart. Let’s hope my shooting doesn’t get too rusty during the snowy months!