Ben Cartwright travels south

Ben Cartwright continues his US tour with a visit to a backwoods shooting range in the heart of North Carolina

It’s huge! Ten days and a thousand miles into our roadtrip from Boston down to Georgia, my son Matthew and I arrived in North Carolina. It’s hard to comprehend the size of America until you get on the ground and attempt to traverse it.  

North Carolina isn’t one of the states many British people know about. It’s approximately halfway between New York and Florida, with wide sandy beaches on its eastern coastline and the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in the west. Considered to be a southern state due to its Civil War history, it’s mocked by metropolitan Americans for being a ‘Redneck’ State. 

Matthew explained that the further south we drove, the more redneck it would become. I gave some thought to what, if anything, I knew about Rednecks.

I had a vague recollection of some old Hollywood films – Smokey and the Bandit, The Dukes of Hazzard and Deliverance. In my head I started to hear the sound of banjos and squealing pigs. 

Our second shooting ground of the tour was DeWitt’s Outdoor Sports. It’s near Fort Bragg, which is the world’s largest military base with 50,000 serving personnel. It’s also home to various Special Forces units and still contains the full size mock-up of Osama Bin Laden’s compound on which the SEALs trained before they deployed.

Matthew had suggested DeWitt’s as he’d shot there before, with some friends who serve in the US Marine Corps. That afternoon Captain Tyler Ross, USMC, joined us. 

Turning off the highway, we drove for several miles along dirt tracks until we eventually arrived at DeWitt’s. The venue comprises several hundred acres of pine forest and open scrub, interspersed with large lakes.

DeWitt’s often hosts State and NSCA regional clay competitions. For shooters who prefer bullets instead of lead shot, there is a 200m rifle range and a 50m pistol range. 

In the clubhouse we received a warm ‘southern’ welcome from the owner’s wife who invited us to pick some shotguns off the rack and load up with ammo. 

I asked if she wanted to see ID or passports to which she replied, “I know y’all not from round these parts, but ah reckon if y’all got all the way out here, you boys know wit ya doin’.” Well, that was that sorted then!

Similar to our visit the previous week to The Preserve in Rhode Island, we were offered the use of an all-terrain buggy. 

We were grateful for this, as it was 105 degrees with very high humidity. Matthew loaded it up with his Remington semi-auto 12g, and Tyler and I would share a 20g Beretta Silver Pigeon. 

Matthew prefers heavier guns as he’s quite a big lad while Tyler, who’s 5’ 8”, was well matched to the Beretta. Standing side-by-side, Matthew and Tyler look like Little and Large. 

First stop, for a warm-up, was the purpose-built Compak 5-stand. The covered and elevated deck, complete with picnic tables, overlooks an 8-trap layout – suitable for small groups who want to shoot, eat and socialise. This type of stand is very popular in the USA, and I for one would love to see Compak stands like this in the UK. 

DeWitt’s is close to the huge US military base at Fort Bragg

Surprised by how many cartridges we had shot on the Compak stand, we returned to the clubhouse to replenish stocks before moving on to the Sporting Clays. The course is a circular route over a mile long consisting of 14 stations. Each station has two firing positions over four traps, so there is a good variety of presentations and difficulty.

I found the clays thrown to be much the same as those in the UK, the only minor difference being that there were slightly fewer high driven targets. At both DeWitt’s and The Preserve these were provided in one area of the course with a high tower or two – which were equal to anything in the UK.

We finished up the afternoon at arguably the most impressive stand, a raised wooden platform projecting out over a spectacular tree-lined lake. As you can imagine when three men get together and the banter ensues, we had to close out with a competition.

The challenge was a fast sim pair that came high over the right shoulder, camouflaged against the trees before dropping into the lake. National and regimental reputations were on the line. The final result? UK and Royal Engineers 2 – USA and US Marine Corps 0. Phew!

On the way back to the clubhouse, we passed ponds used for duck flighting and open fields for walked-up shooting of quail and pheasant. With the latter, the birds are released a short time before the hunter arrives, and if necessary he or she can book a guide and his dogs for HPR work. To a Brit this seems a tad contrived and a rather synthetic form of hunting, but clearly there is a market for it in America. 

Having completed the second of our three shoots, I was forming a much clearer picture about clay shooting in USA. The significance of huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ within American culture cannot be underestimated. In the USA, country sports businesses often combine all three activities into one venue.

The ground covers several hundred acres with pine forest, open scrub and lakes

This was true of both DeWitt’s and The Preserve. The availability and affordability of large tracts of land without restrictive regulatory control gives confidence to owners that they can create a sustainable business, which in turn stimulates investment. 

This investment was nowhere more evident than in the standard of the infrastructure and facilities. Next to the clubhouse are two low buildings. One is a bunkhouse that sleeps eight to ten people, and the other is a dining room with kitchen that caters for up to 40 people. Groups can hire either for the very reasonable sum of $150 per day (£120). 

This leads me on to closing out this month’s column by highlighting what I believe is the main difference between clay shooting in the UK and in the USA – and that is the social aspect.

The afternoon finished on a raised stand shooting over a tree-lined lake

In America, it starts with the whole family participating from a young age, irrespective of gender. Wherever we went, and especially in the south, it was clear how much emphasis is placed on family life. 

Country sports venues such as DeWitt’s provide a wide range of family oriented facilities and shooting disciplines. One family we met that afternoon saw Mom on the pistol range, Dad and his teenage girls on the Compak stand, and Grandpa tending the BBQ.

Perhaps if this approach were adopted in the UK, it might attract more people into shooting? 

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