Clay shooting requires an eagle eye

I first toted a gun when I was 10-years-old growing up in Calgary.

A childhood friend introduced me to his birthday present BB rifle and we quickly high-tailed it to a vacant lot and shot pellets at cans.  It was fun even though we had no thoughts or concerns about anyone’s safety (including our own) or other people’s property.

Six decades passed and for first time in my life I’m aiming a shotgun at clay targets from a stand at Fox Harb’r Resort in Wallace, Nova Scotia.  Much more challenging and  much more fun.

The Resort’s director of sport shooting, Peter Phillips, showed me the ropes while stressing safety first.


“Clay shooting is a totally safe sport here, because you have a stand from which to shoot, and the clay is presented to you in a direction that is safe. In our controlled environment, people enjoy the challenge without the worry.”

Many things about this experience surprised me, including the fact that clay shooting is such a popular sport across North America. While scopes are not used for clay shooting, they are still an excellent accessory when shooting out there.

About a two hour drive from Halifax, on Nova Scotia’s North Shore, Fox Harb’r Resort features a 15-acre sporting clay course with five stands, plus 350 acres of private hunting grounds. Their facilities are considered among the top locations in North America. Every year they hold four competitions and the Tiger Woods or Gordie Howe of sport shooting, George Digweed MBE,  a 26-time World Champion in the sport, consults with the Resort’s team.

“He has an encyclopedic knowledge of clay shooting and trophies to boot,” Phillips says, “and manages to put our residents and guests at ease, which is exactly the kind of no-pressure atmosphere we foster.”

This weekend (September 9 to 11) Digweed hosts Canada’s Atlantic Cup and will tutor many shooters looking to improve their skills, just ahead of pheasant hunting season.

My clay-shooting lesson started in the Sporting Lodge, an impressive post-and-beam structure in the on-property woods, with a welcoming stone fireplace.  All the equipment you’ll  need is stored next to the 5-stand course. While relaxing in the Lodge, I was somewhat nervous.  But Phillips provided a "plain English" introduction to the sport and explained the extensive safety procedures in place. I was outfitted with a safety vest, glasses, shoulder padding and ear plugs, and learned how to mount the gun properly for minimal shoulder impact.


“We take special care to prepare people,” Phillips adds. “Many, like you, have never really fired a gun like this in their lives, so we have them hold the gun at their side while one of us holds on as well, and we fire off one shell. I quickly saw, heard and felt the effect and my shoulder didn’t hurt.

To shoot clay targets, you place your cheek on top of the gun so your eye looks in the same direction as the barrel.  Phillips told me that some folks take to it right away and others are reluctant.

“We never force anyone to shoot. Most people are glad they came out and experienced it.”

Clay shooting at Fox Harb’r is open to men, women and children who are big enough to sturdily hold the gun. Peter Phillips has helped kids as young as nine take part.

“Our shotguns weigh about five pounds each, and lifting a gun is a movement that is new to most people. Even a half-hour of instruction is tiring, so we make sure they rest in between.”

Clay shooting is a bit like playing a round of golf, for which the Resort’s reputation is renowned.  You have a shotgun cocked and ready, as one of the facility’s six trap machines throws bread-and-butter plate-size target clays at different angles and speeds. You hold the gun stock against your chin, almost like a violinist, and point it in the air. Hitting the clays takes some skill and that was proof positive since I didn’t hit a clay that morning although many of the other novices that were with me at the Sporting Lodge did.

Fox Harb’r is a licensed shooting facility so as a Resort resident or guest you don’t need a permit to participate. Some years ago, Phillips trained with Don Currie through the National Sporting Clays Association and became certified to teach novice and beginners.

“Don visits us every year for a few days to offer lessons. Everyone learns a lot from his teaching, and so do I.”

Clay shooting is one of the many recreational activities at the Resort. There are also facilities for fall wing shooting on the private hunting reserve. You might consider bringing a night scope which would accompany you on your night time adventures. On you can find the best night vision scopes.

“It’s a great way to warm up for ring-necked pheasant and Hungarian partridge season,” said Phillips.

Certainly, clay shooting is more fun than aiming at targets on a smart phone or tablet computer and it beats shooting at those tin cans of my youth.  Easy to understand why people take it on as a lifetime pastime.

David Eisenstadt is the Founding Partner of tcgpr, the Toronto-based Partner firm of IPREX Global Communications.  His firm represents Fox Harb’r Resort