Varney’s Clay Sports:
Great Place To Tune Up For The Bird Season
by V. Paul Reynolds

It’s an old joke. "What’s the difference between a partridge and a grouse? Well, sir, a partridge is always shot on the ground. A grouse, on the other hand, is always shot in the air."

Carried through to a logical conclusion, it follows, then, that partridge hunters and grouse hunters are not one and the same. There are patridge hunters, and then there are grouse hunters. At this time of the year, most patridge hunters are occupied with just about everything else but hunting. Oh, come October, the patridge pluckers will pick up a shotgun, a handful of No. 6s and drive the roads or check out a few overgrown orchards, but that’s two months away. Grouse hunters, however, are upland neurotics of a more ponderous stripe.

The true grouse addicts begin early. They’re already oiling and fondling the 20 gauge. Ordering boxes of shells and working dogs in the nearest covers. Many are trying to sharpen up their shooting eye with trips to gravel banks and skeet ranges: tuning up for grouse, so to speak.

In late August, while visiting Brad Varney at Varney’s Clay Sports in Richmond, I ran into a quartet of grouse hunters from the Scarborough area who believe in sharpening up their skills with a birdgun. After Brad made the introductions, I joined the shooters, a friendly and good-natured bunch of guys: Jim Purington, Randy Heath, Dave Merrill, Mike Vasile and Steve Brann.

As Brad Varney explained, these fellows visit his skeet range every Monday after work. In anticipation of their Maine rabbit and grouse hunts, as well as an annual pheasant pilgrimage to Iowa, Purington and company spend weeks honing their shooting skills at Varney’s range. While Varney showed me around, the Scarborough group hammered away at the orange skeet targets. Then, we were all off to do what Purington and his buds like best: shooting at the sporting clays.

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Unlike the more structured skeet range, the Sporting Clays give the hunter a shooting experience that closely resembles the real thing. At Varney’s, the various shooting stations are scattered about in hemlock groves and fir thickets. Brad Varney has done a masterful job constructing path ways, concealing the traps for the clay targets, and creatively clearing shooting lanes out in front of the shooting stations.

What fun! Each shooting station is planned with a purpose. At one, the clay targets come sailing by you like a grouse scaling away down a tote road. At another station, a white "rabbit clay" scoots down an embankment followed by an airborne orange clay passing from left to right in front of a old, gnarled snag. At still another station, a pair of mini-clays explode straight up and hover momentarily like a brace of skittish woodcock.

In fact, Brad Varney, a clam-digger by trade who boasts a houseful of trophies won in a lifetime of competition shooting, has put together at Varney’s Clay Sports a polished, professional operation that is reasonably priced and well thought out. Foremost in his mind is safety and a fun experience for all participants. He strikes me as a patient, effective instructor as well. Varney Clay Sports is located in Richmond off Rt. 201 on the Langdon Rd.

According to Purington, it’s Brad Varney and his well-run range that bring the Scarborough hunter and his group back week after week. "We have fun together, but we do compete," says Purington. From what I saw, they are all capable shooters. When the smoke cleared, top dog was Steve Brann who tallied a 44 out of a possible perfect 50. Randy Heath shot second with a respectable 38. Purington, who has been the group’s top marksmen week after week, did not have his finest hour. What Purington did not know was that he was secretly victimized by his loyal comrades who changed the choke setting on his gun to "full" when he was out of eyeshot. Poor guy!

"When are you going to break the news to Jim," I whispered, after the scores had been posted.

"Maybe never," replied one of the men, with a smile and a shrug.

My hunch, born of some personal experience with practical jokesters, is that Jim Purington will one day be told the truth. But it will have to be at just the right moment. Meanwhile, grouse hunters get on it. There is much to be done before the 2000 grouse season opens Oct 1.

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