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A shotgun start at Sea Island

By JOHN STEINBREDER
Golfweek Contributor

SEA ISLAND, Ga. — Class was about to begin, and my teacher told me to put in my earplugs.

But the pieces of foam rubber weren’t to drown out a long-winded professor. Rather, they would serve as protection from the reports of the Caesar Guerini 20-gauge that
I held. This was the Sea Island Shooting School in south Georgia, and the day’s first lesson was about to start.

“Let’s see how you do with a few targets,” said instructor Jon Kent as we stood on one of the school’s two skeet fields. And then he pushed the button on a remote control, sending a clay pigeon roughly the size of a CD across the marsh at 45 miles per hour.

I swung my gun quickly and broke the bird. Then, I hit the next two. “You have done this before,” Kent said.

Well, yes I have. In fact, I’ve hunted birds and shot targets most of my life. But 75 percent of the people who come here have never picked up a gun before arriving at the school, which opened in 1929 and is located on the causeway that connects Sea Island, where the newly rebuilt Cloister hotel stands, with St. Simons Island.

Sea Island Resort’s three golf courses, located on St. Simons, attract more attention than the shooting school, and not without reason. Two of the courses, Seaside and Plantation, are ranked second and 10th, respectively, on Golfweek’s Best list of Georgia public-access courses, and Seaside is No. 82 on the top 100 Modern course list (those built since 1960).

But if resort guests want a break from golf, they’ll find that Kent and the school’s three other certified shooting instructors deliver an educational and fun experience for students of all ages and abilities.

Kent had me run through the skeet field’s eight stations, trying shots of varying angles and degrees of difficulty. Like any good instructor, Kent didn’t try to change my technique but rather looked for subtle ways to improve my percentages.

“I teach a very instinctive mode of shooting,” he explained, as he urged me to focus more on the target as it burst from the towers and less on aiming down the barrel on my gun. I did so, and suddenly went on a hot streak, breaking 10 birds in a row.

Next, Kent led me to an adjoining field, where a five-stand (or compact) sporting clays course was set up. (The school, which is open year-round, also has a 16-yard trap field and a full 10-stand sporting clays course.) Each station on the compact course simulated a different hunting scenario; one, for example, mimicked a duck springing from the water, while another emulated a rabbit scampering across a field.

After we worked our way through each station, with Kent advising me on the different ways the biodegradable targets will fly (or in the case of the rabbit, roll), he started sending off the targets in various combinations and directions. The idea was to create a “flurry” that he likened to the confusion of an Argentine dove shoot when thousands of birds dart above and around a sunflower field.

I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt after chasing down as many targets as I could in the frenzy Kent created.

“This is what (Sea Island Co. CEO) Bill Jones likes to do when he comes down here,” Kent said. “And (St. Simons resident) Davis Love, too.”

Kent also has programs for resort guests who are new to the sport. One involves shooting at balloon targets with air guns to build experience and confidence, and others entail beginner group sessions on the skeet, trap or sporting-clay fields, with a heavy emphasis on gun safety.

“A lot of guests come here from the city and have never had the exposure to firearms that many of us growing up in the country have had,” said Kent, a fourth-generation resident of St. Simons Island. “So we have the opportunity to show people what guns really are meant to be used for, and how to have fun with them.”

So much fun, in fact, that Kent’s students will want to hear his every word.

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