Clay Pigeons, Tree Scars & Cowboy Cauldrons

Back in early February I received an invitation from a dear friend to experience “golf with guns.” Not sure what that meant, my friend Dr. John Corino has an uncanny ability to seek out extraordinary experiences and live life to its fullest. Always quick to invite me on his special pilgrimages, John is a friend whom you can count on one hand, at the end of your life, as one of the most kind, dependable and generous. This outing was to Millbrook, NY and the destination was Sandanona.

Orvis Sandanona is a venue open 362 days a year and its main lodge was built during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. “Using its richly textured past as a foundation, Orvis Sandanona has built a thriving, modern sporting class shooting ground that is consistently ranked among the very best” ( This facility offers sporting clays, a school you can attend, private lessons with highly skilled instructors and just about anything you can think of regarding field and stream. “A place where the traditions of the field and hunt are held in the highest regard.” Education, safety, and fun are ever-present at the oldest permitted shotgun shooting club in the country.

After properly being fitted with my firearm, an Italian Caesar Guerini Summit Sporting 12 gauge, I was met by our “trapper” Kenny. A trapper is someone who accompanies you; concerned with educating, safety and ensuring your best possible shooting experience. Our game was set on the extensive Woodland Course, an 18-stand standard, listed in Esquire magazine’s top 10 list of courses in the United States. Fortunately for us, John rented a souped-up golf cart to haul all our gear around on a sub-freezing day. A day showcasing towering deciduous beauties encased and glistening with ice.

Kenny and I spoke keenly about his world, clay shooting, but quickly found we shared an affinity for trees. He pointed out that many of the larger trees in the forest, close to the shooting stands, had been labeled with placards by the Mary Flagler Cary Arboretum. A nonprofit arboretum operated by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Placards identifying native species, complete with common names, botanical names, and certain attributes. And each stand or station had its own unique name. “Chukar Gulch,” is a cantilevered stand where clay pigeons (targets) are thrust beneath you by your trapper and mechanical means. Two noteworthy trees at this station are Chestnut/Rock Oak, Quercus prinus, and Sugar maple, Acer saccharum. Rock oak leaves are similar to American chestnut, but with erratic acorn production. Chestnut Oak’s bark, the signboard noted, has three important uses; producing tannic acid used in the leather industry and is a source for both furniture building and fuel. Sugar maple, the other tree identified close to “Chukar Gulch,” had our trapper correctly identifying its botanical name, much to my surprise. Kenny exclaimed, “well I did have an environmental science class years ago… I guess some things just stick.” Sugar maple is the most abundant tree in the northern hardwood climax forest and its sap is the main source of maple syrup and maple sugar. And let’s not forget their remarkable fall color… a combination of oranges and reds. Outside “Jumping Jack Snipe” are two good sized conifers, Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus, and Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis. Close to “Pinewood Partridge” is another pair of trees, one a deciduous ornamental, the other a coniferous evergreen. Scarlet oak’s, Quercus coccinea, sign referenced the trees glossy, deeply lobed foliage that turns brilliant scarlet in autumn. The placard also astutely mentioned their acorns mature every two years and are a wonderful food source for wildlife. Red Pine, Pinus resinosa, is a TREE-mendous conifer nearby, showcasing scaly, orange-red bark, with large, irregular diamond-shaped plates. A standout for me, this strong vertical line erupted out of the snow almost saying, “hey, look at me!”

The forest is filled with all sorts of horticultural treasures, one could appreciate, dimpled along the white runway through the timber. Plant identification and concentrating on my aim, determined to score well against the formidable clay pigeons, tested my abilities. Important to me, aside from the Cowboy Cauldron warming stations, was avoiding the repetitious wounding, of certain trees, by many a shooters effort. Hopes of subjugating the propelled targets, left a handful of mature trees imperfect; their bark scarred, but healing. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” Henry David Thoreau. John takes these words to heart every day, truly alive and awake! And anyone fortunate enough to share in his adventures is far better off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *