Perhaps it is a sign of aging but it seems I like old things – old dogs, old cars and in this case old shotguns. Nostalgia for the way things used to be just sneaks up like another birthday. I really appreciate the classic side by side shotguns made in the late 1890s through to just before World War II. There is something about this time in shotgun making that produced guns with a graceful lines and a timeless beauty. These are some of the reasons I love heading south to North Carolina each spring as the Deep River Shooting Grounds located outside Sanford, NC hosts the Spring Side by Side Championships. Adding to the trip is the LC Smith Collector’s Association versus the Parker Gun Collectors Association annual shoot-off.
The Deep River event attracts some of the finest shooters from around the country each spring. Shooters can from as far as California and Alaska. I went, not expecting to compete in any championship finals, but to share the experience with fellow members of the LC Smith Collectors Association. Shooters were welcomed with unseasonably hot April weather with temperatures into the low 90s. Thankfully much of the sporting clays courses are set in the woods with plenty of shade. Water stations were strategically located throughout the course so shooters could stay hydrated.
Mike and Cindy Yonker, from Ketchikan Alaska, likely traveled the greatest distance to the event. Mike Yonker explains, “This is my first time here. I am a LC Smith collector. I’ve heard and read about the camaraderie that happens here. It sounded like a lot of fun so we decided to make the trip. It’s great to have so much knowledge about the old shotguns in one place. My shooting was only average but we are having a great time. The temperatures are about thirty-degrees above our normal so I could use some cooler weather.” Cindy Yonker added, “I love being with my husband and doing things together. We hunt and fish together so it was natural to travel here to enjoy this venue together.”
I had a wonderful time shooting with various members of the LC Smith Collectors Association. The fine shotguns deserve to be taken out of the safe and used in the manner they were intended. I saw many late 1800s hammer guns still looking good and functioning flawlessly. This was the fourteenth year for the special LC Smith Collectors Association versus Parker Gun Collectors Association Challenge Cup.
Frank Finch, President of the LC Smith Collectors Association, comments, “After two days of preliminary qualifying we have an opportunity to shoot against the best ten guys with the Parker and LC Smith guns. We are happy to be here watching the fine shooters and guns trying to win. Of course, I’m a little bit prejudiced for the LC Smith Team. I’d love to see us take the Challenge Cup five years in a row. I wish our LC Smith Team all the best and, of course, to the Parker shooters also.”
It was a spirited competition with the top ten shooters from each organization vying for the honors of winning the cup. After a tough start in the early years, the LC Smith Team had won the cup the last four years. However this year the Parker Collectors Team emerged with a couple more broken targets than the LC Smith Team. Finch summed up the event, “I think the fellowship we have between the Parker and LC Smith organizations is great. Both are the finest early American Side by Side shotguns. We are all in this together enjoying the fine shotguns. Regardless of which brand you shoot, we are shooting an American heritage. It’s great to get the guns out where people can shoot and enjoy them. Congratulation to the Parker shooters on winning the Challenge Cup this year.”
Bill and Mary Kempffer own the Deep River Sporting Clays where the spring and fall championships are held. Bill Kempffer explains, “We’ve been in operation for twenty-nine years with this being the eighteenth year for the Southern Side X Side event. It is a lot of work but a labor of love for all of us at Deep River. We started it as a promotion and not as a profit center. Our mission statement was to build the sporting community and help others. Building the community for us is bringing together a group of people to celebrate the tradition of wing shooting with the double guns. We want to have a gathering of kindred spirits, much like a family reunion. Anytime we do well with the Southern Side x Side we donate the money to charity. We’ve been fortunate to help charities over the last eighteen years, including Habitat for Humanity and the NRA Youth Education Summit. We’ve contributed to tornado relief when our area experienced terrible damage. This year we are helping the Stevens Center which works with special needs children. We have been blessed with the support of so many organizations, vendors and shooters.”
It was certainly a celebration of the best the south has to offer with beautiful sporting clays courses plus great food and bbq. It is the land of courtesy, sir and ma’am, ladies with soft southern accents, sweet tea and straw hats. While the courses were challenging and the competition was tough it was always with courtesy in the best style of southern hospitality.
There are sporting clays shooting events for the vintage side by side shotguns held in Ohio. I often attend the Buckeye Vintagers Sporting Clays shoots held at the Cardinal Shooting Center just outside Marengo, Ohio. The Cardinal Center offers first class sporting clays courses laid out around the woods and fields. The shoots are organized by Buckeye Vintagers President Mark Douglas. More information can be found at www.vintagers.org/chapters. Remaining events for 2017 include June 25, July 16 and 30, August 13 and 27, September 10, October 1 and 15 and finally November 5. If you have a side by side shotgun, break it out and join the fun!
Larry S. Moore is a local resident and weekly outdoor columnist.