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Friday, March 24, 2017
By The Weekend Birddog
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            My byline first appeared on this column twenty years ago this month, my first go at standing in for a hardbitten Wisconsin grouse hunter who never came home from his last covert. 

His name was Ed Scherer. He flew P-47 Thunderbolts in World War II and became a cutthroat skeet hustler behind a Remington Model 31 pump and the endless supply of shotshells Uncle Sam supplied as part of “deflection” aerial gunnery training. Scherer mustered out to earn his daily crust as a school yearbook photographer;  after hours, he unleashed an old fighter pilot’s combative zeal on our country’s peacetime skeet fields.

Three times Ed Scherer was world champion, thirteen times a member of skeet’s first team All America squad. In 1974, he was elected to the NSSA Hall of Fame, and long before the birth of this magazine, was a popular and prolific contributor to Skeet Shooting Review.

For Ed Scherer, sporting clays was a love-at-first-sight crush from which he never recovered.  Trading on his reputation, he made a pilgrimage to Great Britain to study at the Holland and Holland shooting school.  He wangled lessons with Ken Davies, Roger Silcox, Barry Simpson, and John Bidwell, then came home and looked up Jack Mitchell for more guidance.  Later, he and Henry Burns would hammer out stateside sporting’s inaugural instructor certification program, a curriculum that evolves in scope and rigor each passing year.

Ed once told me that the only thing he loved as much as shooting clays was teaching others how to break them, and that the only thing he loved more than his teaching was hunting sharp-tailed and ruffed grouse.  At age 73, Scherer was still pushing hard behind a rangy Elhew pointer that he bragged had more than 500 ruffed grouse shot over her. November 1, 1995, he left hunting companions at the truck toward day’s end, whistled two good dogs into a promising wilderness aspen brake, and simply vanished.

Ed Scherer was a maddeningly immodest man whose expertise, toughness, and boundless enthusiasm for wingshooting I deeply admired. For the March  1996 Sporting Clays, I wrote, “This column comes as an inheritance, passed as a sort of trust from one grouse hunter down to you and me…Unlike Ed Scherer, I am not a primary source. What I am is a good listener, an earnest interpreter…Together we’ll find food for thought, fuel for debate, and never forget to laugh.  Hopefully, we’ll learn something about getting the most out of our shooting, the very best from ourselves and those around us – just two of the skills at which that other grouse hunter was truly expert.”

I was thinking of that twenty-year-old pledge while enjoying the latest Sunrise Productions offering, Ben Husthwaite’s Method Star. Ed Scherer was among the pioneers in filming and peddling sporting clays instructional videos. If he were alive today, he would be blown away by Sunrise’s state-of-the-art EYE-cam® equipment and tight, thoughtful scripting, stark evidence that when it comes to video tuition, sporting clays has, indeed, come a long way, baby.

The hook in this unique DVD is Husthwaite’s “Method Star,” a color-coded, graphic reference that reminds students of the best way to acquire lead for specific targets thrown at virtually any angle.  Husthwaite’s students shoot Swing Through at shallow-angle trap or teal targets scribed within the yellow shaded portions of his proprietary star diagram. They use Pull Away technique on crossing targets represented within that star’s blue points. For the vexing “green area” target flights, Ben coaches to an individual’s preference between methods, given target speed and distance, as well as when and how the student best sees particular clays.

Producer/Director/Host Bruce Scott showcases Husthwaite’s spare, assertive teaching and unique take on method, particularly in Ben’s enthusiasm for Swing Through as a viable competition technique.  In his rolling Midlands accent, Husthwaite clearly explains why Swing Through is his first choice on specific targets and details how to maintain the consistency in the technique that so many Guns, particularly those from a field shooting background, seem unable to manage in tournament sporting.

Method Star is a virtual tour of Husthwaite’s Method Star diagram using all the staple marks: trap-type targets coming and going, deep crossing clays, rabbits, chondells, and battues. At one point, Ben brings in countryman Phil Ashley as part of a vivid demo on how deeper 90-degree angle birds are commonly missed, and how best to trouble shoot a faulty approach. There are excellent pointers on how best to pick up targets fired from hidden traps, tips on shot size selection for specialty birds, info on why Husthwaite prefers a gun that shoots a little higher than many shooters prefer, and how an too-often overlooked aspect of gun fit – where the gun balances relative to the hinge pin – can make a real difference on a scorecard.

Husthwaite is a natural in front of the camera, a chiseled, proudly tatted poster boy for the athlete one would choose to send off the team bus first, just in case the opposition is watching.  He is the true star of Method Star, an engaging, articulate teacher who makes this DVD one of the easiest to follow in the Sunrise stable of instructional videos.

Both Husthwaite and Ed Scherer came to competitive clays from a burning passion for gameshooting. In fact, Ed’s rambling, scrapbook-style manual, Ed Scherer on Sporting Clays, includes the chapter, “Sporting Clays Payoff:  The Fall Hunt,” reminding readers that our sport was, at heart, rehearsal for becoming a more proficient wingshot.  That’s become an antiquated viewpoint, as for any number of real-world reasons, the generation of shooters after Ed’s passing are more likely to see FITASC, Sporting, ZZ-bird, Five Stand, et. al. as the be-all/end-all of shotgun recreation.  Perhaps more’s the pity.  But that’s why, looking toward the future, it’s reassuring to meet Jacksonville University shooting coach Dave Dobson and one of his star student athletes, Mike Esposito.

Dave Dobson is a rock star, not just in the current jargon as a supremely charismatic dude, but as a guitar virtuoso who’s played on stage and in studio with some of music’s legendary figures.  He also happens to be a former pheasant and waterfowl devotee who grew up to become one of our game’s elite teachers.  In 2009, Dobson pitched a trap, skeet, and sporting clays team to administrators at Jacksonville (Fla.) University.

Administration wanted to know two things:  How will this enhance student life and enrollment in the university? How will we pay for it?

Dobson, already an adjunct JU faculty member and advisor to the campus’s Wounded Warrior group, owns an MBA and his own investment counseling business. He was ready with solid answers for Question Two.  Scholastic Clay Target Program National Sporting Clays champion Mike Esposito is only part of the answer to Question 1. In six years, JU’s shooting team has grown from 11 students in a club program, to a varsity team boasting a roster of nearly 50 young men and women.

Esposito is a graduate student in JU’s business program, and a newly-minted NSCA Level II instructor.  He has an undergraduate degree in exercise kinesiology and was a former walk-on athlete, both as a safety on JU’s football team and a pitcher/outfielder on the university’s baseball squad.  Looking back to his early years on campus, though, Esposito says he knew something was missing.

“I grew up hunting deer, duck, doves quail, alligator – everything. My family doesn’t hunt, but my best friends growing up all did,” says the 24-year-old native of Palm Coast, Florida. However, when he came to campus in 2009, Esposito began to feel that the commitment to gridiron and ball diamond were beginning to swallow him up.  Tough choices had to be made.  In the end, Esposito walked away from those JU locker rooms to focus on academics.

It was during that time that Esposito took an elective class in wingshooting, taught by Coach Dobson. “More and more, I was wanting to be outdoors,” Esposito remembers.  “I remember realizing how much I love having a shotgun in my hands.” 

That’s when, like Ed Scherer, Ben Husthwaite, and so many of the rest of us, Mike Esposito “fell in love with sporting clays.”

Even so, he drifted in and out of Dobson’s practices.  Gradually, though, Esposito began “missing the range when I wasn’t there.” Before long, the challenge to improve bit him hard.

Now Esposito says his practice routine logs 300-600 shells as week, ideally parceled out into two or three sessions.  “I’ll get on a skeet field and do station work,” he says.  “Later, if I go shoot sporting, I’ll shoot two pairs and move, shoot two pairs and move.  If there’s an issue, I’ll stay (on stand) until I’ve worked that problem out.”

Mike’s preference is to address targets with the gun off his shoulder. “The game was made to simulate hunting. I like doing things that will make me better in the field.  But more importantly, (starting gun down), I feel like I can see more, like it opens my peripheral vision so wide.

Esposito’s training helped him hurdle one huge setback on the eve of the 2015 SCTP championships set for Sparta, Illinois last July. Esposito had packed his car for an early morning workout the next day.  In the night, thieves struck.  “My teaching bag, my glasses, chokes, glasses - they stole everything,” he recalls, including his beloved Caesar Guerini Summit Sporting.

Friends came up with a loaner shotgun and other gear.  Esposito shot a couple rounds of five stand with the gun on a Wednesday, then had a two-hour Friday workout on sporting clays before leaving for Sparta. All Mike managed with his borrowed equipment was a 100-straight in the first day’s round.  On day two, he shot well enough to stave off a challenge from teammate and eventual RU champion Sean Hensley.

“I believe the more you compete, the better you get,” Mike insists. “You have to have experience under the pressure of competition” in order to see how well one’s target background and personal conditioning will hold up.  From a fitness standpoint, Esposito puts his own education to work planning a regimen to support his trigger time, one that includes high intensity interval training that he has dubbed “Four Minutes of Hell.”

“It’s 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off,” Esposito laughs.  “Step-ups, sprints, box jumps, kettle bell swings, anything I can think of. On top of whatever weight training I’m doing, I try to do fifteen minutes or so of yoga,” not only for the inherent flexibility training, but for the discipline of maintaining a quiet mind.

“I love this game because it take an immense amount of focus and the ability to stick to repetition,” Esposito says.  “You have to learn how to be all business in the box, then learn how to relax your mind (between stations).”

Under the tutelage of Dobson and NSCA Head Instructor Don Currie, Esposito has discovered the adrenaline kick of helping others shoot better.  When last we talked, Mike was excited over what he termed his “holistic” method of wingshooting instruction, of shaping tuition to improve what students naturally do well.  Only in passing did this self-effacing young man mention struggling to afford a replacement sporting gun on a grad student’s budget.

 I thought then of a passage highlighted in a dog-eared instructional manual now two decades out of print.   “It’s not what we have,” wrote Ed Scherer, “but what we enjoy that constitutes abundance.” Ed lived an abundant life. Husthwaite and Esposito are worthy heirs indeed.


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