Shooting stars

Shooting stars

A man stands behind a woman pointing a gun at the clay in the air.

Photo by Chip Gross

For years, competitive shooter and professional shotgun shooting coach Dan Bailey of Mount Vernon dreamed of building and owning his own commercial clay-target shooting range. That dream came true in the summer of 2017 when he and his wife, Peggy, opened Eagle’s Nest Sporting Grounds, an 85-acre, state-of-the-art shooting facility located near Mount Gilead in central Ohio, served by Consolidated Cooperative.

“We offer three different courses for clay-target shooters,” says Bailey: “five-stand, sporting clays, and FITASC.” That’s pronounced Fee-task, and is the European equivalent of sporting clays.

Just how accomplished a shotgunner is Bailey? Among his many honors, he won the 2018 American FITASC National Championship last summer in Oklahoma by breaking an astounding 191 of 200 flying targets in one of the toughest clay-target sports in the world.

For their range manager, the Baileys hired fellow shooting competitor Christina Loudenslager, who hails from central Michigan. “I met Dan at a FITASC event,” Loudenslager says. “After watching him shoot, I knew I wanted him to mentor me.”

Bailey was reluctant to agree to the idea at first. “I wanted to make sure that Christina was serious about competitive shotgun shooting and had the drive required to be successful,” he says. “I needn’t have worried; she’s just as competitive as I am, and we are constantly pushing each other to be better shooters. She even beats me every once in a while.”

As with Bailey, Loudenslager has a long list of shotgunning competition wins under her belt. Suffice to say she is a four-time All-American FITASC Team member and three-time All-American Sporting Clay Team member. Loudenslager and Bailey both shoot 12-gauge, double-barrel, over-and-under, Italian-made Zoli shotguns.

It’s been said that amateurs in any sport practice until they get it right, whereas professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong. Bailey and Loudenslager have adopted that intense approach to their shooting practice.

When preparing for an upcoming competition, they force themselves to break five targets in a row — either singles or doubles — before moving on to the next shooting station. Also, they must break them in the same place every time along the target’s flight path.

“We do that to build consistency,” Bailey says. “At times, we may shoot several cases of shells per day to accomplish it.”

Once they’re satisfied, they then practice breaking targets in different locations along the target’s flight path, because during competition, they may or may not be able to break a target where they want.

“For instance, on certain shooting ranges, a tree or other obstacle may be in the way, or the sun may be in our eyes. We try to practice for every conceivable target contingency,” Loudenslager says.

Eagle’s Nest Sporting Grounds is semi-private, meaning that the club has regular members — about 100 and growing — but is also open to nonmembers, on a limited basis.

“Nonmembers may shoot up to three times per year, and don’t need to be accompanied by a member,” Bailey says. “All shotgun shooters are welcome, and we have targets for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced competitor.”