LIVING LIFE LARGE: Protecting Blowing Rock’s Clay Pigeons

LIVING LIFE LARGE: Protecting Blowing Rock’s Clay Pigeons
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By David Rogers. August 4, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — So it had been almost 50 years — half a century — since I had fired a shotgun. The last time was quail hunting with family on a snowy December day in Oklahoma, where we were enjoying a rare winter vacation from our home north of Bakersfield, California.

COVER IMAGE: Blowing Rock News editor David Rogers (foreground) got back in touch with youthful memories, even if the clay pigeons were rarely threatened.

As hunting trips go, that was memorable not only because of the snow, but as I walked the right side of a shallow ravine, my father was pushing through the underbrush on the left side. A bird flew up in front of Dad and started flying towards me. Instinctively, my father whirled to his right and blasted away at his prey.

…just an inch or two below my ability to extend the family tree.

Greg (left) and Kent Tarbutton hosted the grand opening in the well-appointed, Orvis-endorsed lodge.

I don’t remember whether Dad hit the bird or not, but I do remember that some of his buckshot hit me, just as I was taking aim on the bird flying toward me. A couple of those little black BB-looking discharges from the end of my father’s double-barreled shotgun embedded themselves in my Levi’s, just an inch or two below my ability to extend the branches of the family tree.

That experience had nothing to do with my not picking up a shotgun for another half century.  I was 17 at the time, a senior in high school and I was soon off to college where other interests and pursuits established themselves as higher priorities in how I spent my time.

But for sure it was a valuable lesson in hunter and gun safety. I recall little (or nothing) else about that trip, but my last quail hunting expedition is etched firmly in the “sting” (and yelp!) of that moment in my memory banks.

Gun safety is first and foremost.

So when preparing to attend this past Saturday’s grand opening of the Chetola Sporting Reserve, I took great care in evaluating the alternative merits of my wardrobe closet for the occasion. Mmmmm….I was going to be around people with guns….Camouflage is out. Bright orange it is!

Len Capel (left) takes aim and fires!

I needn’t have worried.   Gun safety and instruction are first and foremost of the Chetola staff’s priorities, perhaps more so than even the fun of a trap shooting experience  — and that is saying something because the Chetola Sporting Reserve experience is top-flight recreation for man and woman alike.

The lodge is the centerpiece of the 67-acre private club.  If it looks like it stepped full tilt boogie from the pages of a Bob Timberlake furniture catalog that is understandable — because it did.

Overall, the property is carved out of towering pines, red maples and mighty oaks, a corner of the High Country that was once part of the highly acclaimed Blue Ridge Mountain Club.  Even for someone who hasn’t fired a shotgun, pistol or rifle for a half century, Chetola Sporting Reserve is a special addition to the Chetola Mountain Resort portfolio, as much for the ambience as for the shooting experience.

Owners Kent and Greg Tarbutton by-passed the ribbon-cutting ritual to get their guests to the shooting boxes and the fun just that much faster after a scrumptious lunch and gun safety instructions (including a video).  For the two dozen invited luminaries, it was none too soon for veteran trap shooter and rookie alike, each of whom took great pleasure in not only their own experience, but the accomplishments of others in the group, whether related or not.

It wasn’t just the shooting, but the time spent with our father.

It was like that group interaction was made for the moment.  “Connectivity” of the face-to-face, human kind (as opposed to electronic gadgetry) is an important facet of the Chetola Sporting Reserve business mission.

Jensen Moretz receives instruction from one of Chetola’s pros.

Interviewed by Blowing Rock News during a break in the action, Greg Tarbutton acknowledged that the inspiration for adding Chetola Sporting Reserve to the larger Chetola portfolio of properties began when he was just seven years old, when his father would take him and his brother out shooting.

“It wasn’t just the shooting,” Tarbutton said, “but the time spent with our father.  What we are trying to do at Chetola is create opportunities for people to connect: with family members, with friends, and with co-workers.

“In this day and age,” he added, “that kind of connectivity, people physically alongside people and interacting face to face, is rare.”

Waving his arms at the surrounding trees and mountains, he noted, “Down here, we don’t have much in the way of mobile phone service, so we don’t have so much of that kind of electronic connectivity. This is living life, interacting with people as well as enjoying the outdoors without the intrusion of all the electronic gadgets.”

The clay pigeons probably thought I was missing them on purpose.

Looking at the surrounding forest, there is strong evidence of the so-called “Horton Fire” fueled by the area’s underbrush.  While much of that underbrush is gone, the fire left most of the trees charred, but alive and even thriving.

Jimmy Smith, right, looked like this wasn’t his first rodeo.

“It came to within about 100 feet of this facility in most directions,” Chetola Director of Marketing Bryan Moore recalled for Blowing Rock News. “That the lodge and shooting stands were all saved is pretty miraculous, but also testimony to the hard work a lot of people put in at the time to prevent damage. Especially those first responders manning the fire lines deserve our thanks and appreciation. And we had employees down here, too, doing what they could.”

There are two ways into the sporting reserve that has an all-in price tag of nearly $2.5 million, Tarbutton shared.  The original way is a gravel road coming off of Sampson Rd., but in an agreement with Blue Ridge Mountain Club to provide access for its members, BRMC constructed a winding gravel road down to the sporting reserve from Reynolds Parkway, the main artery through Blue Ridge Mountain Club. While “regular” cars can make it down “OK,” visitors to the Sporting Reserve will feel more comfortable in a higher profile SUV or Jeep-type vehicle. And if you bring one of those super-low profile cars down like my Lexus hybrid, you’ll be spreading gravel with your under-carriage, so probably not a good idea.

As for the shooting experience, I did hit two in a row of those clay pigeons, but that was only after I realized that I was positioning the butt of the gun too low on my shoulder. Instead of looking down the barrel, I was really looking at the barrel (so not really at the target).

Women account for about 45% of the trap shooting market.

And I’m sure that I was only successful after missing so many that the clay pigeons probably thought I was missing them on purpose.  At one point, I’m pretty sure one of them spun around in midair, jammed its thumbs in its ears and waved its fingers while laughing at me — pretty much knowing they were safe!

That wasn’t the case for all the guests, though.  One young woman hit just about every flying target put in front of her, from all directions, as did a number of fellows who were obviously experienced trap shooters.

“Our Chetola Sporting Reserve is designed to appeal to all levels of marksmen,” Greg Tarbutton noted. “It is not just for the expert or professional.  Especially with the Timberlake design aspects, this facility has features that appeal to both men and women. And appealing to women is important to us because the female shooter now makes up about 45% of the market.

“In fact,” Tarbutton smiled, “we have women calling us because they want a ‘Shotgun Wedding.’  It is NOT the shotgun wedding of yesteryear where the bride’s father might have been holding a gun to the head of the proverbial groom who got his precious daughter pregnant!

“Rather,” he explained, “these modern day shotgun wedding parties are less formal, featuring trap shooting and other sporting opportunities for the bride and bridesmaids, and they are weddings that come at a significant savings to the more traditional event.”

For more information about Chetola Sporting Reserve and membership information, CLICK HERE.

Editor’s Note: Chetola Mountain Resort is NOT an advertiser of Blowing Rock News. LIVING LIFE LARGE is a new editorial feature of our experiences in and around the High Country.

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