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Published on: Dec. 22, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

later, Joel Vance still is paying.

World-famed shooting instructors have hung over my shoulder like major league umpires and their conclusion is, "Hmmm, you should be hitting them." Then they edge away as if fearful something might rub off.

My shotgun ineptitude really belly flops into the septic tank of shooting with targets that have feathers. Normally, I can hit a respectable number of trap, skeet or sporting clays targets. By "respectable," I mean enough that I'm average if the rest of the field never picked up a shotgun before.

Sometimes, however, the virus flares up and encompasses anything I might shoot at. Sometimes it's so virulent that if I touched off a round at the broad side of a barn, I'd riddle the chicken house next door.

Once I shot trap among my peers. It was a situation fraught with built-in peril. Leprechauns love to wait until you have an audience. It's the way leprechauns are.

I hefted an over/under 12-gauge and found it sweet and compliant, warm and soft in my hands, a dream date. We walked to the shooting line together, arm in arm, and prepared to dance. I missed the first shot, but shucks, everyone is entitled to start slowly. The target puller and I chuckled over this obvious aberration.

I shot and shot and nothing broke. The sky was black with lead pellets, save for a cone of safety through which flew White Flyer after White Flyer. Other shooters stood, their mouths agape, for they had never before witnessed complete shooting ineptitude. Doddering bag ladies with cataracts and arthritic fingers scarcely able to clutch a shotgun could have broken more targets.

Toddlers shooting from the hip would have beaten me. Winos from dank alleys so blitzed they saw six or eight birds going out instead of one, still would have broken more.

Each "pull!" I shouted was followed quickly by someone saying "Lost!" or "Miss!" I forget which, but soon they started chanting, "Idiot!" and "Dummy!"

The shooting range instructor, a kindly type loaned me a gun with choke tubes. He kept installing looser and looser chokes until the next step was to screw in a great horn, like a blunderbuss. It made no difference. I couldn't have hit the ground with my hat. I know because I took it off and threw it down and tried to stomp on it and missed and sprained my ankle.

If I were consistently awful, I'd probably take

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