This time every year I get to participate in Aiming for a Cure, a local celebrity preserve hunt/sporting clays shoot that benefits our hospital’s pediatric oncology patients. It’s a great event for a very good cause. I look forward to it every March.

I took a survey of the gun rack at the lodge where we all milled around before hunting or shooting clays. Semiautomatics far outnumbered O/Us and Benellis were the most numerous brand by far. This was mostly a hunting–as opposed to target shooting–crowd, but I was still struck by the number of Benellis, every one of which had a synthetic stock. In my group there were two O/Us and four Benellis: two SBEs, an M1 and a Vinci. Maybe Benellis are only popular in eastern Iowa, but I suspect it’s the case all over.

Among the other semiautos, there was such a scattering I’m not sure I could pick a runner up in popularity. There were a few Berettas, a Browning Maxus, an SX3 and a couple of 11-87s. One of the Berettas belonged to Haley Dunn, Iowa’s best international shooter. Having switched from international skeet to sporting clays and teaching, Haley, who shot skeet with a Beretta DT10 O/U, was shooting her new sporting gun, a Beretta A400.

She loves it. She can shoot heavy, target-crushing loads without undue recoil, and it will go many, many rounds between cleanings. She said, “When my students start getting serious about clays and want to spend $10,000 or more on a high end O/U, then have it stocked for a few thousand more, I tell them to buy a semiauto instead and use the shim kit to get it close to a good fit. They can spend the money they save on ammo, targets and coaching.” That is sensible advice.

Rather than shooting clays with a hunting semiauto like most of the participants, I look at the event as an opportunity to take my O/U target gun into the field for its annual two days of bloodletting. If it weren’t so heavy, I would hunt with it. It’s nearly impossible to miss birds in open country with a smooth, steady 8 ¾ pound, 32-inch barreled shotgun.

That said, I had a spectacular miss on a long, low crosser. I put the muzzle way in front of the pheasant, and wasn’t terribly surprised to miss. I was very surprised when the pheasant flew ten more yards and crashed squarely into the trunk of a small tree, killing itself. After the hunt the guide joked, “We’re doing it wrong. We all shoot lead, Phil shoots trees in front of them.”

“It’s better for the environment that way,” I said.