Shotgunning Comes Full Circle with Ultimate Upland
Brian Koch started Ultimate Upland in 2010 to be the most comprehensive resource for upland hunting enthusiasts. Since then it has grown into a community where bird hunters congregate and share their love for the sport. Koch strives to be the hardest working bird hunter in the country and aims to reach hunters and fans with detailed accounts of Ultimate Upland adventures.
Three decades ago my dad put a shotgun in my hands. We’d setup on the old farm hill with the hand trap and shoot clays until our shoulders were sore and cases of pigeons emptied. Then we’d go down in the pasture, pick up the unbroken clays, return them to the top of the hill and shoot some more. I’ve never had a professional shooting lesson but believe I’ve had the best shooting instruction available anywhere.
And a few years ago my nephew Zach began getting that same instruction on the same farm hill from the same man, his grandpa. The hand trap has been replaced by battery powered which is now towed up the slope with a lawn tractor. But the lessons are the same: be safe, shoot often, have fun, but listen and learn from a man who has put more rounds down range than most small armies. Needless to say, Zach has grown comfortable with a gun in hand.
As part of our Off-Season Odyssey I thought it would be interesting to pit pupil against pupil. As we drive cross country on Zach’s spring break we’ll stop whenever time allows to shoot sporting clays and hone the shotgunning skills sowed by my dad. After eight hours driving we get our first opportunity to stretch our legs and burn some powder at a clays course in Illinois.
Zach has sprouted into a young man. His reactions times will be faster, his vision better. He’s on the front end of life, the upswing. Whereas I’m fighting to stay on the right side of the hill, he’s coming of age. Needless to say, I have concerns. This is the first time I’ve had a shooting stick in hand since the close of wild bird hunting season. I don’t want to be outshot by my nephew. It’s too early for that. But the possibility is real.
It’s apparent these friendly shooting matches are just a microcosm of the purpose for this road trip. As much as I hope to broaden Zach’s horizons, there is also a growing desire to define my own legacy. There has to be something that an uncle can still offer, some nugget of experience, of expertise, that can still awe a teen. Maybe that’s besting him in sporting clays, exploring amazing new places or just driving infinite hours to stick to a self-imposed itinerary on a road trip few would attempt in this timeframe.
After the first couple shooting stations, I’m grateful some of the symptoms of youth are still at hand: small lapses in focus, and a reluctance to try the proven path. It’s these things which keep me at a small shooting advantage. But there is also foreshadowing of rounds to come – stations where my nephew whips me handily and forces me to lug the dreaded shooting bag to the next. Each round of sporting clays we shoot, the margin of victory is tight, but more importantly we both improve our own scores.
Whether it’s shooting at the foot of the Rockies, off-roading at Big Horn Canyon, peering over the rim of Crater Lake or bouldering at Devil’s Tower, I find comfort in remaining relevant. And watching Zach grow up seems less a threat than a privilege.
We complete the 6,900 mile Off-Season Odyssey loop returning to the exact same sporting clays course where it kicked off ten days earlier. A legacy of shooting that began over 30 years ago with my dad’s passion for the shooting sports has come full circle as well. What Zach will do with his love of the outdoors and shotgunning is up to him. But I expect he’ll pass it along in his own way and own time and the legacy will continue. And one day, hopefully in the very distant future, he may actually be able to best his uncle’s score.