Arms crossed and her face creased with a small frown, Rachel Welch, 13, watches from behind amber safety glasses as her father, older sister and mother, in turn, lift shotguns toward the sky and take aim at the bright-orange targets spinning across their field of vision at the Pinetucky Gun Club's skeet range south of Augusta.
Her demeanor isn't petulant, but her body language speaks of only a passing interest in the proceedings. After her mother completes her turn and opens the action on her shotgun, Rachel's father, Bruce Welch, motions for his younger daughter to step in front of him.
He hands her the shotgun and patiently demonstrates the technique for loading two 12-gauge shells. Rachel fumbles a little and sighs.
Then, with her father's help, she lifts the barrel of the gun and quietly demands the release of her target.
Allowing her father to help guide the barrel across the field of fire, Rachel pulls the trigger, watching as her target evaporates in a rain of tangerine shrapnel.
"Nice shot," her father enthuses. "Real nice."
Rachel can't help but smile.
"She's been hesitant," Mr. Welch admitted. "But I think she's coming around."
Rachel's assassination of a single clay target represents just one of the estimated 12,000 5,000 target clays that will be tossed into the line of fire in a given week. Stephen Meldrum, the manager at Pinetucky, said it's the epiphany that transforms many casual shooters into true-blue clay shooting enthusiasts.
"The way you approach shotgunning is totally different from rifle or pistol," he explained. "A shotgun swing is a lot like a golf swing. It depends on a smooth swing, contact and follow-through. If you don't have those, generally you're going to miss the target."
Subdivided into a variety of sports, clay shooting involves more than merely: ready-aim-fire. Skeet shooting involves tracking targets as they follow a mostly predictable flight plan. Trap shooting sends targets away from the shooter in random directions inside a 45-degree span. Sporting clays involve shooting at a variety of targets set to replicate the behaviors of game animals. Five stand involves shooters firing from five positions at clays thrown from six locations.
"People gravitate," said Stewart Garrett, a regular shooter at Pinetucky. "I mean, they'll shoot in some of the other sports, but everyone seems to gravitate one way or the other. I mean, I consider myself a sporting clay shooter, but I'll come out and shoot skeet, too."
Bill Chapman, of Aiken, shoots at the Carolina Star Gun Club in Windsor. Seated at a well-worn picnic table, he explains that for him, gun, shell and target make up only a small part of the clay-shooting equation. He said a facility that feels comfortable can become a sort of second home for shooters.
"That's the key," Mr. Chapman said. "It can be safety or the variety of activities or the staff or even the bathrooms, but you have to feel comfortable if you're going to have any fun. And this is a sport that if it isn't fun, you aren't going to keep doing it."
Louis Cameron, of Aiken, one of Mr. Chapman's regular shooting companions, said that safety was always key.
"That's what you look for, first and foremost," he said. "If management is unsafe, if a facility is unsafe, well, I don't know of any good shooter that will shoot there. I know that I'll walk off."
Like many sports, there's an etiquette involved in clay shooting, much of it derived from the issues of safety involved in handling loaded firearms.
"There's a limit - two, to how many shells you can load at one time," Mr. Meldrum said. "Also, any time you are not at a firing station, the gun needs to be broke open or have the action open to show that it's unloaded."
More interested as the family progresses around the semicircular circuit at Pinetucky, Rachel begins to look and feel more comfortable with the shotgun. Her father said coming to the range has been a learning experience for all of them.
The family began making the trek from their home in Gibson, Ga., to Pinetucky to prepare their eldest daughter, Leah, for a tryout on the Glascock County High School shooting team, but the Welches have discovered that making the team is secondary to making time to spend together.
"That's been nice," Leah said.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org