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Local clay shooters aim at tournament

Daily Commercial Staff Writer
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Two Lake County shooters will be among the 120 competitors today at the National Sporting Clays Association’s Summer Sparkler at the Quail Creek Plantation in Okeechobee.

Skip Freeze of Tavares and Leesburg’s Charles Riffe began shooting sporting clays a number of years ago and have enjoyed considerable success, although both admit winning is not what drives them.

“I started shooting sporting clays about five years ago because it was a new challenge,” Freeze said. “I’m a person who has always loved challenges.”

Riffe’s interest in the sport grew from his love for hunting and guns.

“A person can shoot sporting clays, year-round, while hunting is seasonal,” Riffe said.

According to the NSCA, the sport’s governing body, sporting clays is the closest to actual field shooting of all shotgun sports. The sport dates back to the early 1900s in England when live pigeons were used.

The sport took its present form when the birds were replaced by clay targets.

The targets vary in size and are designed to simulate hunting ducks, pheasants and rabbits.

“Because of this,” said Tony Monzingo, NSCA Director, “the sport has become extremely popular with hunters. We have more than 17,000 members nationwide.”

Each shooter at the Summer Sparkler will shoot at 100 targets, according to Maria Fanizzi, spokesperson with the Quail Creek Plantation. Winners will be determined in seven main classes.

In addition to the main classes, there will be several concurrent classes competing including super veteran, which consists of shooters 65 and older, and veteran, which is made up of shooters who are between 55 and 65.

“It is truly a sport where age means little,” said Riffe, 59. “Some of the best shooters are the older shooters.”

Freeze, 68, shoots in the AA Class. He is one step below Masters, the pinnacle of the sport.

Riffe, who has been a registered shooter for about 2 1/2 years, is B Class shooter, two steps below Freeze.

Both have won several tournaments since joining the NSCA. Freeze, in fact, traveled to Savannah, Ga., recently for the Georgia State Championship and won top honors in the 20-gauge AA Class.

“I don’t enter a tournament expecting to win,” Freeze said. “Winning is nice, but it all depends on how you shoot and how well you handle the elements, such as wind.”

Said Riffe, “I enjoy going to the tournaments because it’s just an enjoyable experience. Even if you don’t win, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a wholesome and a very safe sport. You’re more likely to get hurt playing softball than you are to get hurt shooting sporting clays.”

Shooting sporting clays is not expensive, Riffe said. While it is more costly than softball, he feels its costs are similar to those of a golfer who plays “several times a week.”

Competitors at the Summer Sparkler earn punches, which are similar to points. After a shooter obtains a predetermined number of punches, they are moved to new class. Freeze, for example, is tied for sixth in the national chase for the super veteran title.

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