Never Have I Ever… Learned to Shoot

Full disclosure: not everyone at the NSLM rides, hunts, plays polo, wingshoots, or fishes. We currently have nine full-time staff members. Of that nine, two are regular riders and sportswomen, and one is a part-time rider, having been much more active in her younger years (which, should be stated, was not too long ago). The remaining six of us enjoy learning about the various sports our mission encompasses and listening to others tell their stories and experiences but are not active participants.

Recently, a few NSLM staff tried some of the sports we “preserve, promote, and share” and with that, we created a series entitled “Never Have I Ever.” We want to tell you about our adventures, what we thought of them, and, most importantly, would we do them again? This is the second post in the series, by Michelle Guzman, George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian.

The road to the shooting grounds

Last October, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon shooting for the first time. For an especially appropriate team building activity, Executive Director Elizabeth von Hassell invited the staff to an afternoon of clay shooting. Elizabeth, Director of Development Reid O’Connor, Senior Collections Manager and Registrar Lauren Kraut, and I drove over to the shooting grounds owned by Isobel Ziluca, who would be our clay instructor for the afternoon.

I had never shot a gun before. I was very excited, but can’t lie, I was also quite anxious about the upcoming lesson. The day of the shoot was an exceptionally beautiful afternoon. Not only was the sky the perfect tone of blue, it was also comfortably warm! The Californian in me rejoiced.

We arrived at Crockett’s Shooting Club and met our instructor, Isobel Ziluca. I made the mistake of reading her profile on her website prior to the lesson: Isobel is a lifetime member and certified instructor with National Sporting Clays Association. She is also an AA Class competitive shooter and current 2020 All-American 12 gauge team (and 20, 28 and 410 gauge teams). She currently sits in the top 5 shooters of the North East. I was worried that my total novice status would irritate her to no end!

Isobel with Reid and Elizabeth

Isobel brought the shotguns over using a shooting cart, which looks like a very chic baby jogger. We took turns shooting round robin style. As Isobel handed me a Beretta, the shooting lesson began with gun safety first! As I held the shotgun, I immediately realized that the gun was much, much heavier than I thought it would be. After a couple of minutes on learning how to position my feet and keep balance, I held the shotgun up at an angle to target the clay, my arms withered, and with the butt of the gun against my face, I pulled the trigger. Miss!

Throughout the lesson, Isobel patiently taught me how to track the clay target, how I should be moving the gun (slightly!) in sync with its trajectory, to conclude with pulling the trigger. I have to confess; shooting was a lot more athletic than I thought it would be. The tension created from the proper stance, holding the gun properly, raising the arm, monitoring the target, taking aim, to the pulling of the trigger is a lot of muscle and mind work. I was completely fascinated by the process!

Lauren and Reid were pros compared to my poor showing! Isobel raised the stakes metaphorically by having Elizabeth shoot at two targets, which Elizabeth managed with a breeze! As we progressed through the lesson, we found it hilarious how we each had our own distinct shooting styles. Mine stood out the most. I literally wait a ludicrous amount of time before I pull the trigger! For one reason or the other, I kept waiting before shooting! I am generally a very patient person, however that afternoon patience was no virtue. Luckily, I managed to hit two targets that afternoon.

The real treat was watching Isobel demonstrate her amazing shooting skills. Now I understand why people lined up to watch Annie Oakley. It’s been a long time since I’ve let out a gasp, but that afternoon, watching Isobel take out multiple targets, one right after the other, was incredible. The accuracy was unbelievable!

Lauren, Isobel, and I

In all, I would definitely go shooting again! The afternoon was laid-back fun, the scenery was gorgeous and inspiring, and the instruction from Isobel was a lot of fun! The afternoon also allowed me to appreciate the sporting literature from the 19th century that I often flip through from the NSLM’s collections. I often thought that the writing was tedious, boring, and slow. However, having experienced an afternoon of shooting, I have come to realize that the authors, though not very successfully, were trying to convey the excitement and rush that come with the sport. A big thank you to Elizabeth for the fun afternoon out!

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