Ben Cartwright takes a detour from his regular column to share his recent experiences of clay shooting in the U.S.A.
Carpe Diem! Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities seldom come along. This summer, my son Matthew turned thirty and within the Cartwright household, or Fort Banquo, as it’s affectionately known, we were kicking around ideas of how to celebrate this minor milestone.
We soon fell upon the idea of a road trip down the East coast of the U.S.A – from Boston in the north to Savannah, Georgia in the south. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for father and son which we dubbed ‘Dad and the Big Lad’s U.S. East Coast Tour 2019’. Through a friend in the music industry we even had tour passes and caps made up.
The itinerary was packed, but we thought we might be able to shoehorn in one or two rounds of English Sporting – or Sporting Clays as it is called in America. Given our joint history with the New World, it’s perhaps not surprising they’ve removed the reference to England.
In the end, we managed three – one in the north, one in the middle and one in the south. The shooting ground in the middle we decided upon was DeWitts in North Carolina – a ground Matthew had shot at previously with his U.S. Marine Corps friends.
But what of the other two? I scratched my head and got googling. I’d never visited a shooting ground in America. Time to get creative – otherwise known as ‘clutching at straws’. I was aware of Chris Batha from his books and YouTube videos.
By pure coincidence, he lives near Charleston, South Carolina, which was our final destination. So I emailed him. In no time at all, I was in correspondence with Sara, his P.A. Chris kindly arranged for us to be hosted at Forest City Gun Club in nearby Savannah. Ironically, he was going to be in the UK when we were in the U.S. Two down, one to go.
The Preserve, Rhode Island
This just left a location in the north. I received a WhatsApp message from Matthew. ‘Dad, you’ve got to check out this place in Rhode Island. It looks amazing!’ And indeed it did. The Preserve in Rhode Island is a 3,500 acre private sporting estate that aims to provide the ultimate sporting and residential experience. As my Greek friend Costas says, “It’s not for the riffy-raffy”.
So once again, nothing ventured, nothing gained – I emailed The Preserve. A few days later I was on the phone to Chris Mihailides, the Operations Director, discussing the possibility of shooting their world-class Sporting Clays course. No doubt bemused by this request from a pair of Brits, he extended the hand of friendship and offered to host us for an afternoon.
A month later, on day 3 of the tour with the heat index sitting firmly on 98 degrees, we rolled up at The Preserve. Chris bounced into the enormous sporting goods shop to warmly welcome us and swiftly bundled us into a Polaris for a quick tour of the estate. You’ve no doubt heard the stories of the way the Americans do things – bigger, better, etc. Well it’s true.
The financial investment and attention to detail that has gone into The Preserve is phenomenal. This is possible, in part, because there are an estimated 13 million active clay shooters in the U.S.A. This figure does not include hunters.
Furthermore, given the size and relative wealth of the U.S.A, it’s therefore possible to segment the market, as The Preserve has done, to provide an offering to high net-worth individuals (HNWs). Their client base includes Academy Award winners, NFL stars, CEOs and celebrities.
The estate boasts all manner of accommodation, including lodges, yurts, treehouses and Airstreams, from which you can participate in the exhaustive list of activities. In addition to the shooting layouts, there is an 18-hole golf course, fishing, riding, archery, Nordic ski, snowmobiling, hiking, ziplining and mountain biking. There is even a Hobbit house with a fire pit to relax in afterwards.
Returning to the lodge after the Polaris tour, Chris showed us the indoor shooting range. At 150m, it’s the longest indoor range in America – and air conditioned too.
Next to it is the FATS tactical firearms simulator that’s used by visiting Police and military units. Invited to have a go – and despite the 30 years since I last used a 9mm semi-automatic – I am pleased to report I put all the rounds into the centre mass of the target.
Down in the gun shop, Chris, the head coach and course-setter, kitted me out with a Beretta Silver Pigeon. Officials from Beretta visited a year ago and stated “The Preserve is the best shooting facility we’ve ever seen, bar none!”. High praise indeed. Arriving at the first stand in our golf buggy, I could see why.
The large timber-framed stand with roof cost around $8,000 – $10,000
to construct. There are 19 of these in various sizes. Most face out toward a sunny glade of mixed pine trees, each housing 4-6 traps. Across all the layouts Chris manages 300-350 traps.
The presentations are similar to the UK and are of easy to moderate difficulty – but that’s understandable given their client base. In time, they intend to build up the gun club and youth academy, and can easily adjust
the targets to be more challenging.
Due to time constraints, we didn’t get a chance to shoot the 12 station Compact course, which is perennially popular. We did pass by it, as it’s adjacent to the walked-up quail fields on the way to the 210ft tower.
My favourite stand, though, was the hunting lodge sitting atop a small hill overlooking the estate. The traditional timber and stone cabin has a 10 station Compak layout you shoot from the verandah. I could just see myself hiring that for a lazy day with friends.
After the twelfth stand, we’d run out of time so we called it a day. The buggy was a godsend in the heat. If I’d walked the 1.5 mile course I would have melted before I’d got halfway round.
Back in the clubhouse, we had just enough time for a cold drink and a chat with our hosts before heading off to New York. The Preserve isn’t for everyone, but it is something special – providing you can afford it.
If you want a luxury lifestyle experience like no other, and the chance to rub shoulders with Hollywood A-listers, then Carpe Diem!