Having had a few days sight seeing and living the cowgirl dream round Dallas, Victoria (owner of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club) and I were itching to get out for some target practice. I’m always quite excited about going to a new ground for the first time as you can’t rely on knowing where to place your barrels so you can get straight on the clay or the “it’s coming from above those trees”; you just have to go out and shoot off instinct! Vic and I had googled the ground before going and couldn’t wait to see it in the flesh. Admittedly, I was also a bit nervous as I wanted to make a good impression. Vic and I would be shooting with Judy (Rhodes, Texas legend and Founder of DivaWOW), Barbara Baird and Michelle Cerino both of Women’s Outdoor News. To top it all off and really add to the pressure, Dallas Gun Club is a majorly exclusive club with an even more major and exclusive waiting list for membership. So, on Wednesday 16 November we headed over to Dallas Gun Club to get our eyes in ahead of our hunting trip. The weather was ideal and it couldn’t have been any better at a warm 29 degrees. We did spare a thought for everyone freezing back at home in Blighty – if only for a brief moment!
From the moment you start driving down the Gun Club’s long driveway, you can instantly tell that this is a ground with class and somewhere where you take your shooting seriously. It is set in sprawling and well-manicured grounds and covers every shooting discipline. Of course we have ‘areas’ within our grounds in the UK (i.e. skeet layout, sporting etc) but some of the designated areas alone at Dallas Gun Club were bigger than some of the UK grounds I’ve been to in their entirety.
On arriving at the club, we all sat down for cheese burgers, fries and onion rings (when in Rome!) and, while at all times maintaining our Debretts level of elegance, hoovered them down! It was a great opportunity to get to know the other girls and their shooting trips and adventures. One of the Diva WOW ladies, Cheryl, started shooting fairly recently in her later life after retiring from her career as a country & western singer. Deceivingly petite, this lady could have given Annie Oakley a run for her money! Both her and Judy could remember the days when ladies shooting didn’t really exist in the form that it is now, so much so that ladies were not allowed in the club house. It seems that the US are a few years ahead of us in terms of the ladies shooting market and it was so inspiring listening to Judy talk about pioneering the way – something that Vic could obviously completely empathise with. Judy set-up DivaWOW to get and educate more women outdoors and into shooting. It seems that her passion was infectious and the local women were clearly waiting for someone like her as the group took off and now, not only are Judy’s days fully booked, but the ladies are part of the furniture in the club house.
Once lunch had finished and we were borderline sick of sweet tea, we got our guns and kit together ready for a full afternoon out on the clays! As well as getting in some target practice, Vic and I also needed to familiarise ourselves with the shotguns that had been very kindly loaned to us from Franchi for the duration of the trip: two Franchi Instinct L 12g multi-choke shotguns. The guns themselves were very smooth to shoot and on the lighter side of a 12 bore. This was welcome news as these would be ideal for hunting across the prairies.
In order to get a good understanding of our guns and how they shoot, Judy took us to pattern test our guns which is something that is taken quite seriously pre-hunt in the US. Pattern testing is where a shotgun is fired at least twice at a stationary target (or ‘plate’), usually from about 15-20yds and then maybe a bit further back, which has an aiming mark that the shotgun should be pointed at. The ‘plate’ is washed or painted down so that it is clear and then the shotgun is fired at the aiming mark. Once the pellets hit the ‘plate’ they leave a mark at the point of impact and those marks show you the pattern. Simple! When you do pattern your gun, be more Dallas and remember to shout (*in a lovely Texan accent*) “FIRE IN THE HOLE!!” once you have loaded and the safety is off! This phrase quickly became the motto of our trip. Poor Michelle! After a week with Vic and I, I’m really not sure which she found most painful; the fact that I used EVERY opportunity to say this loudly (in every possible situation) or our very poor attempts at Texan accents…
Once we had finished the pattern testing and had analysed our shot, it was time to head out for a round of sporting. As Dallas Gun Club is so sprawling, and the temperature rising, it really wasn’t ideal to walk around the club’s grounds, so we travelled in style in a convoy of golf carts designed to hold all our shotguns – my kind of wheels! At one point the cart
was nearly a man down- or more specifically a Sadler down – when, as I had been relegated to the back seat,I tried to take in the surroundings and relax but Judy ‘The Stig’ Rhodes put her foot down and subsequently hit an unexpected bump in the road. I quickly learnt to hold on with every limb and wedge myself into my seat. I’m not sure my travel insurance would have covered me for an injury sustained by falling off the back of a golf cart… Luckily our shotguns were secured to the framework as they didn’t have to be in their slips. From what I have gathered, gun slips are not as common in the US as they are in the UK. Everyone has a carry case but there certainly isn’t the routine of putting your gun back into the slip to transport or walk it round.
In terms of the targets themselves, we mainly practised on going away or incoming targets as these would be the most similar to what we would see on our forthcoming pheasant and prairie chicken hunts. My favourite target to shoot has to be a driven but driven shooting doesn’t really happen in the same way in the US but when it does take place it is named ‘European shooting’. Going away targets are my least favourite target to shoot but after a few rounds had gone through the barrels it was safe to say my eye was in. We did manage to find a high tower later on but, unfortunately, this presented a crosser rather than a driven target. All the same it was good to get stuck in and test our Franchis.
Out on the stands, it really felt like I was shooting in rural America as, in addition to the
perfectly landscaped lawn hugging the drive to the clubhouse, when you were in the sporting area it was rocky and dusty underfoot but with lots of cover for the pheasants. We also had quite the collection of shotguns and semi-autos with us and, dressed in our Dallas bling and leopard print, we were starting to feel very Texan! The sun was out in full force and whilst the Brits sweated their way round the ground, the Dallas ladies shot in flipflops.
Once we had used up our clays, and having made admirable progress on the two slabs of cartridges we brought with us, we headed back up to the clubhouse for a well earned drink, a peruse of the Dallas Gun Club merchandise and a few selfies with some of the club members before heading out for a farewell meal at an awesome tex mex restaurant – margaritas compulsory. We had achieved our aim for the day – to shoot with the other ladies, to get our eye in and to familiarise ourselves with our shotguns. It was such a fantastic day and an incredibly memorable ground.
We had had such a good time with Judy and the ladies in Dallas. I love that hunting and outdoor sports are welcome here and everyone we met was so friendly and interested to hear about our trip! I was actually saddened to think we were moving on, but excited for what was to come. I was also super impressed at what these ladies had achieved. They have opened up their shooting and hunting industries to ladies way before our industry in the UK even had the idea to follow suit. It just goes to show that when we encourage others and voice our passion for the sport, industry and lifestyle, we really can change the perception and impact for the better.
Next week – The Ringneck Classic