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Gunning for the arts

Hunters show support for Averitt Center at CulturalClays competition

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Surrounded by oak trees high on a river bluff, the sportsman hefts his gun to his shoulder. Peering down the barrel, he yells "Pull!" and fires a split second later.
    The target, a bright orange clay disc, shatters in the air before falling to the earth in a shower of flame-colored splinters.   
    The gunman was state Rep. Bob Lane, who was out in the woods Friday afternoon at Scarborough Bluff in Jenkins County, showing his support of Statesboro's Averitt Center for the Arts.
    Lane and many others entered the CulturalClays competition not only to help raise funds for the arts center, but to have fun as well.
    "This was my fourth time" shooting sporting clays, he said, "but I've been hunting all my life, from the time I could carry a stick."
    Lane pointed out that sporting clays competition differs from skeet shooting in that the environment in which a shootist takes aim at a clay target is different. In sporting clays shooting, a gunman is exposed to different stations where the targets are ejected in different directions and provides a variety of shooting opportunities, he said. Skeet shooting is more predictable and less challenging.
    With sporting clays, "Each shot is different," he said.
    Illustrating his point, another gunman readied himself at the station. At his order to "Pull!" an attendant fired an orange target into the air from his right, sending the clay disc in a horizontal arc. The next target came from a different location mere seconds later, shooting straight up in front of the hunter.
    Each of the seven stations at the CulturalClays tournament offered a different experience.
    While Lane may be relatively new to the sporting clays scene, Tom Uhren has been shooting sporting clays and skeet for 24 years.
    "I enjoy it as a hobby," he said. "It is challenging in that you get a variety of different shots. No two are necessarily the same. It is good practice for hand-eye coordination."
    He signed up for the event after an invitation to be on friend Chip Mobley's team. "It's for a good benefit and it's good company."
    Each team of four paid $400 to participate, which included a wild game supper the night before. Spouses of the participants were admitted to the dinner for a reduced rate, and others paid $50 to dine. The funds were to support the Averitt Center for the Arts, said Delia Mobley, chairman of the Friends of the Arts Committee, which sponsored the event.
    "This is the largest fund raiser event we've had as far as money," she said.
    The event draws a wide variety of people, including those who may not always get involved with the arts center, Lane said.
    "I really like it. It's great and gets a different type of person. There are a lot of people who are outdoors, environmentalists, who enjoy the arts and want to do something for the arts center but don't often get the opportunity to do  so."
    As participants arrived, they were escorted across railroad tracks into a scenic tract of land along the Ogeechee River, owned by the Arthur Howard family. After signing up, they walked along acorn-scattered paths to each station.
    Mark Anderson was among many participants who cracked jokes about shooting the dangerous beasts called skeet.
    "I haven't found out how to cook them right yet," he said. "I just came along for the fun."
    Not all team members were men. Staci Kennedy joined Jennifer Bohlke, Stephanie Howell and Gail Ansley for a round of shooting.
    "It is fun to be in competition," she said. "Women don't do a lot of sports like this. We just had a good time."
    "This is the perfect event for people who want to contribute and don't have to dress up in black tie," said Mobley, who was driving around in a motorized mule dressed in camouflage jeans.
    Stephanie Dittmer, developmental consultant for the Averitt Center for the Arts, appeared to be having just as much fun driving another mule.
    "It makes me want to learn to shoot, and I've never held a gun in my life," she said.
    Mobley said the event drew about 200 participants, which exceeded expectations. And planning has already begun for next year's CulturalClays event, she said.

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