By Chris McBeath

When I was a little girl, a policeman would come to our front door once a year. His appearance always brought a quiet hush to the dinner table; my parents would exchange a concerned look and we would all take our respective positions. My father disappeared into his study; my mother to the kitchen and me to stand ‘guard’. From my pint-sized vantage point, the English bobby was an imposing sight. Nevertheless, I would stand tiny toe to black polished boot, inspecting the law of the land, until my father emerged with his rifle. Back then, gun-owners never knew when to expect their annual licensing inspection.

These were the images that flashed before me as Wally Schneider, a diminutive woman with a hearty laugh, placed a 20 gauge shotgun into my arms. Wally is with the Paragon School of Shooting at the River Bend Sportsman’s Resort, North Carolina, and she was about to introduce me to her passion.

“I had always wanted to shoot” admits Wally, “but trying to learn from my husband caused such tension, I just gave up”. When Wally retired from teaching high-school math, however, time and opportunity came together and although she has only been shooting for barely eight years, she is already one of the few women in North America who is a certified NSCA Level II instructor.

Despite of my father’s love of the sport, I had never endeared myself to guns, much less held one before. The nearest I had ever come to the gamesmanship of shooting was on family picnics to Bisley, England’s prestigious home of the National Shooting Centre. But my memories are of the wind whipping across the flatlands and knocking the bread off egg salad sandwiches, of having to park myself obediently on the 12’ x 12’ car blanket lest I strayed in front of a bullet, and of rows of sharp-shooting bodies lying prostrate on the ground like chameleon-cloaked stick insects.

Dad had been an accomplished shooter – good enough to be considered for the England team, and his rifle was a badge of honor. Back in the sixties, he used a Service Rifle which, like the later model Target Rifle, involved prone single shot precision shooting using aperture iron sights at ’round bull’ targets at distances from 300 to 1000 yards, with each shot carefully scored and analyzed. Dad’s long distance vision proved invaluable; he was a crackshot at 1000 yards and left us a legacy of score books with pages of scores painstakingly recorded.

So with the warm Carolina sunshine fuelling my courage, and memories of my father heightening my senses, I found myself becoming an attentive student. Under Wally’s gentle tutorage, I learned to relax into every shot, to translate what I had fired, and even start factoring in speed, wind and my own novice ability. Or rather, inability.

For the longest time the clays swept past my aim, floating through the air like irreverent children. “Pull”, and the orange target wafted from soft focus to hard focus but to no avail. “Pull” and the object of my desire crossed my line of fire, whole and intact. “Pull”, and it flew a quartering path and still I continued to miss …. But it was the consistency of my miss that led Wally to discover the solution: a smaller weapon that fit more snugly into my shoulder, and a focusing technique that was right on target. “Pull”, and the clay scattered into smithereens. “Pull”, and the report pair dissolved. “Pull”, and the true pair met their maker.

As I tallied my scores, I remembered my father’s enthusiasm for the sport and although he died some fifteen years ago, my experience at River Bend gave me a precious gift. In itself, the resort has much to offer – spectacular golf, excellent hunting, quality skeet and clay courses and much more. For me, however, it brought my father back into my life in a most unexpected way. Dad, surely, was giving me a helping hand and letting me know that I am still very much, his daughter. So it is with affectionate pride that I wear my token badge of honor – a small bluish black bruise beneath my shoulder. A new markswoman has been born. Thanks, Dad, for the genes, and for the memories.

Where to stay:

Sitting on 550 acres in Fingerville, upstate South Carolina, River Bend Sportsman’s Resort is an upscale sporting resort for the whole family