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Springing Teals, Single Malts, Crossers and Cigars!

The Rocky Mountain Vintagers 2013 Game Feast at Quail Run

by Michael Sabbeth

The annual Rocky Mountain Vintagers Game Feast and Sporting Clays shoot at the Quail Run Sporting Clays Club is always one of our club’s premier events. Scheduled just a few days before the beginning of dove season, the Game Feast offers a collegial opportunity to polish shooting skills before taking to the field in addition to celebrating the art of fine guns and the pleasures of fine food and drink in a non-competitive environment.

Because my skill in the culinary arts far surpasses my skill on the clay target courses—it is easier for me to prepare a pheasant in green peppercorn sauce than to consistently hit rabbits and springing teal targets with a shotgun blast, and the pheasant tastes better anyway—I look forward to the annual Game Feast with heightened enthusiasm. This year, however, my enthusiasm for the event was heightened because Vintagers President Bob Nikkel graciously invited Larry Sanford to be our guest.

Larry lost his left arm and suffered other injuries as a consequence of an accident incurred while working with high voltage electrical wires. During the Vintagers event I observed Larry’s vibrant humor, understated display of mental toughness and considerable shooting skill.

I met Larry during the Fourth of July weekend in 2010 when I volunteered to assist at the National 30th Veterans Wheelchair Games, named “Games with Heart…At Mile High.” The Games are presented each year by the Department of Veterans Affairs in partnership with the Paralyzed Veterans Association. The trap shooting competition of the Games, where I volunteered, was held at Doug Hamilton’s Family Shooting Center at Cherry Creek State Park, Denver.

The Rocky Mountain Vintagers is a chapter of the Order of Edwardian Gunners, which was founded in 1994 by Ray Poudrier and a few friends to use, appreciate and collect side-by-side shotguns and rifles. The Edwardian Gunners refers to the period in England of approximately 1880 through 1914, a period devoted to technological advances of sporting arms and the allure of driven bird shooting by royalty and the upper class. The Rocky Mountain Vintagers chapter was founded about a dozen years ago. We participate in clay target shooting events at many of the ranges in Colorado and annually hold events in Wyoming, New Mexico and Nebraska. The emphasis at our gatherings is on classic guns, Vintage attire, fine dining and good fellowship.

“Good company and good conversation are the very sinews of virtue.” Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, 1653.

The superb Quail Run facility boasts twenty sporting clay stations, skeet and trap fields and a wickedly challenging five-stand course. Adding to this cornucopia of target shooting venues, three years ago proprietor Jerry William built several pistol ranges. Taking advantage of this new shooting venue, Bruce Koranski, our then Vintagers president, creatively added a 1911style pistol competition to the Game Feast activities.

Three days before the shoot I received a Dan Wesson Heritage RZ-45 from Zachary Hein at CZ-USA.. I loaded up a magazine and began shooting. Every shot hit the bullseye. Due to the pistol’s superb balance, the recoil was surprisingly mild. The pistol has a tactical fixed rear sight and a tritium front sight. The tight tolerances and the stiff action will require several hundred rounds to smooth the slide. Larry had never shot a .45 so I and several Vintagers let him use our pistols, loading the magazines for him and cycling the slides. Larry handled the pistol confidently and shot with enviable accuracy, placing all shots in or tip toeing near the bulls eye about eight yards downrange.

After an hour or so shooting targets that don’t move, we went to the clubhouse, had some snacks and selected our squads. Larry was on my squad, along with Rob Anderson and Blake Scott.

Rob has had an impact on my life for several reasons. He had been the physical education instructor at Cherry Hills Village Elementary School for each of my children. He also taught a fly fishing class to my son, Erik, which got me involved in that fiendish pastime. For me, fly fishing has become a wicked conflict, enabling me to not catch fish in much of Colorado. Rob was shooting an AyA 12-gauge shotgun customized by Dale Tate.

Blake had recently graduated from Hillsdale College in Michigan. Noted for its high academic standards and unswerving focus on teaching the Constitution, the writings of the Founding Fathers and classical literature, Hillsdale is unique in that it accepts no federal funding and, thus, escapes the Lilliputian federal rules and regulations that force other institutions to bend to the whim of political correctness and social engineering. Blake was a superstar on Hillsdale’s trap club, having Hancock hammergun and a new 12 gauge A400 Xplor UNICO loaned to me by Beretta. The Vintagers is a side-by-side shotgun club but the custom was waived to accommodate Larry. He fired several of our side-by-side shotguns but even shooters built like NFL linebackers will find recoil to be punishing, snapping their necks and heads like balloons in the wind. Larry appeared much more comfortable shooting the Beretta gas-operated semi-automatic gun. Having shot several 100-straight in competition. Blake was shooting his Beretta Teknys Gold semi-automatic shotgun.

I brought two shotguns; my elegant Watson & The Beretta Unico Kick-Off® system is the only recoil reduction system that uses two hydraulic dampeners very similar to those in automobile suspensions. Along with the new design of the internal dimensions of the Optima Bore barrel, the shotgun reduces recoil more than any other I have fired. In all the shoots with Wounded Warriors and Paralyzed Veterans in which I participate, I bring a Beretta gas-operated semi-auto shotgun. The guns are always welcome by the participants. Larry smiled as he exclaimed that the recoil “was no problem” and, please take note, Larry was holding and swinging the gun with one arm!

As is always the case at Quail Run, the targets were fair although few were easy, which meant I hit most of them, although, to be honest, at my skill level it’s tough to miss them all! Sunlight glinting off the external hammers of my Watson & Hancock caused me to think of King George V’s comment, "A gun without hammers looks like a spaniel without ears."

I do not overstate the case and am not fawning when I write that Larry’s shooting was stunning. He hit report pairs and true pairs consistently and, at times, seemingly as effortlessly as the best shots in the club. Not only did he exhibit an impressive technical performance but he exuded a joyous spirit that illustrated the transcendence of the human soul over adversity. I thought of Churchill’s inspiring words, “Never surrender.” Larry did not surrender to his fate. Larry shared with us aspects of his therapy subsequent to his horrific burn accident. It included a finger straightening exercise which incrementally increased the range of motion of his right forefinger. “It took three years but I wasn’t going to let the doctors cut off my trigger finger. It still had blood flow and I was determined to keep it.” His perseverance and mental toughness were ably rewarded this day.

In the middle of the shoot the slightest and gentlest drizzle of rain escaped the graying sky but only for a few moments. Sunshine quickly returned like a welcome guest. Mixed fragrances of damp earth, foliage, a hint of gunpowder and the luscious scent of bridle leather from my speed bag constructed by Jim Wear tickled my nostrils. This was another gorgeous Colorado later summer day. Some beautiful shotguns graced the course, including a soul-churning 1887 Stephen Grant side-lever 20 bore with Damascus barrels and subtle English scroll and a gorgeously restored Holland & Holland Royale. Marveling at the precision of the craftsmanship, Larry said with a voice drenched in enthusiasm, “You can’t help but respect the heritage of the gun making art. This is a whole new world for me.” President Bob Nikkel added, “We are the current curators of these firearms; they belong to future generations.”

Dinner on the clubhouse porch was graced by an iridescent sunset and calm air. Bob Nikkel served a platter of pheasant and sharptail Hungarian partridge he had hunted in Montana. The game birds were marinated in olive and balsamic oils, a hint of seasoning and a deliciously creative splash of maple syrup. Bruce Koranski served deer sausage with jalapeno pepper and cheese and I contributed my world-renowned Caesar Salad. We drank from a selection of several single malts, an Australian sauvignon blanc and delicious beer.

Toward the end of the dinner, I cut open one of my shotgun reloaded cartridges, poured out the Hodgdon 7625 powder into my hand and sprinkled a few flakes on Larry as part of a ritual dictated by Man and Nature making Larry an honorary member of the Rocky Mountain Vintagers. Our 2013 Game Feast was a delightful event made all the more meaningful because Larry joined us in fellowship and celebration.

I invite all readers to participate in our events. You will have a marvelous time and meet extraordinary people.

For more information

Quail Run Sporting Clays:

Rocky Mountain Vintagers:

Order of Edwardian Gunners:

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