REFLECTION: RALPH BARTHOLDT — Busting clays, taking names and gabbing a bit with folks at Cd’A Skeet and Trap

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If you visit the Coeur d’Alene Skeet and Trap Club, which optimally for many people is located north of Coeur d’Alene in Hayden, and if you go before noon on a Wednesday, it’s best to shut up and observe.

Otherwise you’ll end up talking with a lot of people who like to talk, and you could forget where you put your box of shells, or your shotgun for that matter, and you’ll be walking aimlessly around in the dark, asking people, “Say again?”

If that happens, I have advice.

Remove the smoke-colored safety glasses from your nose and take from your ear canals the orange, foam doohickeys that are meant to block out shotgun sounds. Then you’ll at least have a fair chance of getting to your station, up at the shooting line, with your gear in hand when your name is called.

I had the good fortune of being side-tracked right out of the box.

There was a man with a logo on his ball cap that looked like an X-ray of a fish, if a fish had solid bones. He wore shooting gear — the deep-pocketed vest with the shoulder pads meant to carry shells — but the hat bespoke angling, so naturally talk turned to rivers.

He hadn’t fished much this season, if at all, come to think of it, he said.

And while he mulled the veracity of that statement and maybe wondered where time had gone, I admitted my fishing so far had been spotty at best.

So, we had that in common.

September though! He proclaimed with a quiet enthusiasm that I immediately latched onto.

September is the best time to fish.

We agreed, and that was a common thread too.

“You don’t want to get to know him,” whispered another man who had been listening to our conversation.

He may have been right, because somewhere between talk of the St. Joe and the Clark Fork rivers, I had misplaced my 2-pound box of 20-gauge shells.

By this time, Jim, who had invited me to the trap range without knowing it meant baby-sitting, came in with his break-open shotgun over a shoulder like a golf pro (had the gun been a driver) and cleared his throat gently. Given Jim’s former life as a jarhead (that was years ago he assured me) and his tattoos, what he really meant to blurt was, “Sally, we’re up!”

I’m glad the years have mellowed Jim, and given him a lower voice, because it prevented me from hearing his sniggers as I missed one clay after another.

My boy, who is barely a teenager, was given a compliment by Tahnee, the manager, for keeping his poise while his dad lit up the sky with what appeared to be random constellations of lead.

He nodded and said, “Thank you,” holding at an angle his Mossberg youth model gun, which matched my old man model Mossberg and his mom’s lady Mossberg.

We’re a Mossberg family. Mostly because that brand of gun can be had for a pittance at Walmart. They shoot good too, and if you drop them, the dings aren’t too noticeable and no one whimpers for the damage to the walnut finish because the stocks are made of vinyl.

Jim’s gun speaks a foreign language.

It is more or less a Jaguar compared to my ’78 Honda Civic. It bespeaks ageless grace and the steadfast pragmatism of a Swiss timepiece.

When he clocks a clay target it disintegrates into the sky like a puff of pepper, and the empty casing pops out of the breach with a string of aromatic smoke as if from a pipe.

Jim used to hunt over spaniels in tall, and cut, rice fields in other parts of the nation, he said, and misses that.

My dog retrieves the newspaper from the driveway, I said.

He was impressed.

Jim said he would take my son out shooting again to Coeur d’Alene Skeet and Trap, anytime. My son said, “Thank you.” It means of course that I will have to tag along, which is a good thing because I think I left my gun case there.

• • •

Ralph Bartholdt can be reached at

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