Anecdotes and Observations from a Sporting Perspective

(Or Hard Targets and Setters)


My journey into sporting clays began four or five years ago with the idea of teaching my niece, Samantha, how to become a successful shotgunner.   It became readily apparent to all involved that teaching something you don’t know much about is extremely difficult, for the pupil and the instructor alike.  I had gained plenty of shotgunning experience in the “manly” pursuit of upland game but had no real knowledge of clay disciplines.  To say that Samantha struggled for a while is an understatement.  She would begin to get frustrated when she couldn’t break many clays and I would struggle to help her.  We soon began to understand a little more about the game and improved slightly.  After a great deal of reading and research, it was apparent that I needed to learn by doing in order to teach anything meaningful.  Thus began the second leg of our sporting journey with treks to various clubs around South Carolina.   My brother-in-law, Samantha’s dad and my buddy, Danny Miller, joined in on many of the ventures.


 We shot several fun shoots at Live Oak and Clinton House and eventually made our way to Backwoods Quail Club in Georgetown where we were quickly schooled by the old target setting “master” Dave Lemmen.   After one particularly humbling score I met Dave after shooting ended in the Mingo station/café. I introduced myself and he asked how we did.  I had seen him refilling targets and inquired about the “hard” target sets. I will never forget his remark, “I don’t set hard targets - just ones that are easy to miss!”  He continued, “when you look at one of my targets and you think it’s going straight – you’d better look again!”    He went on to explain that he’d put a great deal of thought into those targets and was proud of his presentations. “See,” he continued, “I want all targets to be fair to every shooter. If I set a right to left chandelle that’s easier for right handed shooters, I am going to follow that somewhere on the course with a target that is easier for a lefty.” He also explained that he studied the wind andsunangles and changed colors of the clays to make them visible and “fair” to all shooters, regardless of skill level. He further stated that the course dictated the targets. Laughing, he admitted, “I have been fast asleep and dreamed of a particular presentation and have, upon awakening, sketched the idea out on paper to use in a future shoot.” Now guys, that’s someone who is a true master of the art of target setting!  I understand lately, more than ever before, that target setting is an art form for those who want to “school a shooter.” but be fair to all!   My idea is that it is a hard balance to achieve!


Recently, I had a conversation with Doug Thompson, Hemingway’s on the road target setter. (Dave Lemmen stays closer to home these days.) Thompson said much the same thing.  “It’s not a seeing game,” he remarked when I asked him about the art of setting targets.  “I try to make them fair and I want to beat the shooter inside thirty yards with curl and quick, not far and fast.” He went on to explain that his goal was to keep the targets fair to the little old lady that is out for a good time shooting or the kid who is just beginning in E class but also challenging to the Master Shooters.  I interjected that I never griped about targets because they are the same for all participants.  In reply, he had one last comment.  “[There are] a few that gripe but most come out and try to gain some insight and maybe take a lesson or so - that’s what it is all about in this game.” 


So, when you are grousing about the “hard targets” just remember that someone who truly cares about the art of setting targets has really put some thought into the presentations you are seeing, and has a plan to ensure fair targets for all!  Also remember that setters do not control the weather. The set that is perfect onSaturdaymay not be what you’re looking for onSundayor next week’s practice (due to fickle weather conditions here in the South).

One of the most memorable shoots early in my journey took place at the Georgia State Championship Shoot in Savannah at Forest City Gun Club. It was in the spring as I recall and we were on the back edge of a “Nor’easter.” Our squad was unlucky enough to be on the “green course” in the more open area. The wind was savage.  We shot a while on the first leg of the course and then turned where the gale force winds could impact the targets. Inland to outland birds would literally stop in midair and the one fueled by the coastal winds were “makin’ ninety!”  We still refer to them as “Wow Birds!”  All we could think was WOW upon our first view of them.  Our first day’s score reflected those conditions, but on the red the next day, in more sheltered conditions, we were able to gain back the lost targets. This is just one example of how weather conditions can affect one's score. So, don't lose confidence if every score is not within your average.


To wrap all this up in a neat package: the next time you or your buddies are leaving a course with slumped shoulders and unhappy expressions after practicing or shooting a course of “hard” targets in bad weather, remember that it all begins with your attitude toward the course.  If you are out there to learn (as I am), it is meaningful to examine the presentation with the eye of a target-setter.  What is the setter trying to do with the pair that will increase difficulty or make you uncomfortable?  Usually there is an incoming or outgoing target and one thrown high and curling down to give you a compound lead angle requiring an adjustment.  Sometimes, the clays beneath your feet are trouble for an inexperienced shooter, as the line is difficult to read and they are easily shot over.  Is the setter giving you trouble with speed or teal type targets that you’ve not often seen? How do you deal with minis or midi targets that appear to be doing one thing but are actually doing another? I know this is a lot to ponder but if you want to improve your clay shooting skills these are some things you are “gonna’ have to” consider.


As you make your way back to the clubhouse with your buddies, all beaten down and dejected, you are bound to run into Rick Hemingway (another champion target setter and range owner. ) who will give you his little smile and patented spiel, ”how’d it go fellows?  Not so goodtoday, huh?”  Then, a barely audible, “Target setter wins!” Trying to beat these virtuosos  of target setting, while maintaining a mental approach that keeps us from beating ourselves, is what brings us back to the state's courses time after time


Dan Paxton