Shooting cold ... and in the dark

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Jim Nelson likes to shoot his shotgun.

He shoots every chance he gets, even in the cold and in the dark.

As a Polar Bear League of the Craig Trap Club member, Nelson would normally shoot through the winter if not for an injury that sidelined him this season.

Still, he plans to attend all the meetings and talk about shooting with his comrades in the sport. Thursday evening was the first of those meetings in 2007 for the Polar Bear League, which lasts until late March. People can sign up all winter and shoot until the end of the league at the club, located roughly a mile west of Craig.

Until then, Nelson is doing what he can to make those in attendance better shooters this winter.

"I'm a pretty fair shot," he said, modestly. "I hit the targets most of the time."

Truth be told, Nelson hits the targets almost all of the time.

He shoots competitively in the American Trap Association, and in 1995 his average was 98.7 percent, meaning that out of a series of 100 traps flung through the air in any possible direction, Nelson consistently hit more than 98 of them each time.

Of course, that was a dozen years ago and his average is slipping as his age climbs.

Last year, he managed to shoot a 98.3 percent average.

Other members of the Polar Bear League shoot in the American Trap Association. The winter gatherings give them the chance to stay in shooting form for the competitions held during the summers.

Many people also come to the league meetings just for the fun of shooting.

Rob Sovine has lived in Craig for 21 years and has been shooting with the Polar Bear League for half of those.

"I've been shooting my whole life'" he said. "We won it a couple of years ago."

A member of the Craig Trap Club, Sovine frequently shoots 300 clay targets in a single day and 500 during a registered shoot.

He said a couple of years back, he shot 1,100 times in one weekend, between the competition and practice rounds.

One thing keeps drawing him back to the sport.

"It's the people you meet and get to spend time with," he said. "Especially when you get into the competitive shooting."

At Thursday's Polar Bear Trap Club meeting, outgoing club president Kent Nielson said the turnout of about 30 people was average, but anyone interested should still stop by the club.

The league goes until the end of March, with each competitor responsible for shooting 300 clay pigeons during that period for a score.

From 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Sundays, teams of five shooters blast away at orange clay targets hurled randomly from an automatic thrower.

On Thursday evenings between 6 and 9 p.m., white clays are used to better see at night under the lights.

The trap club has been in Craig since the 1960s, and the public is encouraged to come out and shoot.

If visitors don't own a shotgun, a loaner will be provided, and shells and targets are available at the clubhouse.

Polar bear league members establish handicaps during their first 100 targets shot at a range of 16 yards from the throwing machine.

Better shooters are placed further from the machine, as the handicaps are determined.

Polar Bear League members will often shoot 50 to 75 targets in an evening, with a round consisting of 25 targets shot from five different locations.

"The machine oscillates back and forth, so you never know where a target will fly," Nelson said. "It may go hard left or right, or take off straight away from you."

Club members can shoot anytime at the Trap Club, and the club owns an automatic, voice release device that is available for lone shooters. Just saying the word "pull" will send a target skyward to be blasted by an accurate club member.

The sign up fee is $50 for the Polar Bear League, which pays for targets, the end of the season dinner and trophy's awarded to top shooters.

The league is a fundraiser for the trap club, which also is home to 4-H shooters during the summer.

Interested shooting enthusiasts can call Kent Nielson at 824-6223 or Dick King at 824-6544 for more information on the Craig Trap Club and the Polar Bear League.

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com.

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