Fun With Guns on the Eastern Shore

Clay Targets Meet Their Maker on River Plantation

Posted March 20, 2009 at 2:11pm

It may be a sore subject on Capitol Hill, but the Second Amendment is alive and well on the Delmarva Peninsula.

For sportsmen looking for a fix or lay folks simply in search of a diversion, a 1,000-plus-acre tract where hunting dogs roam and shotgun blasts echo is an hour’s drive from Capitol Hill. Just beyond the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the massive site — known as the River Plantation — offers hunting, fishing, golf and even wedding facilities, not to mention a horse stable, commercial greenhouse and dairy farm.

In a region where golf and fishing options are a dime a dozen, however, the nearby complex’s real niche offering is of the gunpowder variety. From clay target shooting to bird hunting, there’s an opportunity for virtually every age group and skill level to at least sample the “right to bear arms.—

To the uninitiated, the scene is surreal, with hunting parties and their dogs wandering the compound’s fields, marshes and forests in search of farm-raised pheasants, quail and mallards that were brought to the site to meet their fate in the name of corporate team-building exercises.

Virtually everyone is assured to bag something. All they have to do is name the bird species.

The River Plantation also offers a rare glimpse into a world seldom seen, heard or smelled by non-hunters: the sight of loud orange clothing worn voluntarily, the sound of nonthreatening gunshots and the sulfurous odor of spent shotgun shells.

The plantation’s hunting operations, known as Pintail Point, also provide the most accessible entree into firearms recreation for outsiders: sporting clays.

Invented in England, sporting clays gained popularity there early last century. Sporting clays took off in America about 25 years ago.

Pintail Point opened its course in the early 1990s to meet the demand, which management says remains brisk.

These days, sporting clays at Pintail Point is essentially skeet-shooting on steroids and in a country club setting.

Thirsty? Forgot your jacket? In the market for a new shotgun? The well-provisioned clubhouse has you covered.

Wielding fine Italian-made shotguns, participants travel by golf cart through the course’s 22 stations. At each stop, an accompanying guide remotely controls traps that whiz saucer-sized clay disks in nearly every direction imaginable, mimicking rabbits and birds in the wild.

Your challenge? Aiming a shotgun on the clay and attempting to connect with as many as possible. For beginners, it’s awkward. Getting used to holding a shotgun takes a little time but the friendly staff members know all the tricks, and they are liberal with dispensing advice.

Besides, for the generation of adults weaned on video games, the learning curve isn’t very steep. Just remember: That’s live ammo in the chamber.

“It’s golf with a gun,— said Carol Johnson, sales manager at the River Plantation. “We have all of the guns, the shells, the ear protection. You can come in a tuxedo, and we’ll set you up.—

Although Pintail Point’s management is quick to offer tips, they’re reluctant to discuss any notable Congressional regulars. It’s a likely destination for at least a few members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, but higher-ups are mum on the Capitol Hill clientele that undoubtedly pull through the gates every year.

A review of campaign finance data since 2003 shows that political committees have not used campaign funds at their facilities, but it’s not impossible to imagine they paid out of pocket: Political committees alone have spent more than $41,000 on skeet-shooting-related activities during the past five years, according to CQ MoneyLine.

“People come here to get away from the concrete,— Johnson said.

Pintail Point is located at 511 Pintail Point Farm Lane in Queenstown, Md., off U.S. Route 50. The sporting clays course is open all year, seven days a week. The cost of the course is $50 per person and includes a guide, shotgun rental, shells, clays and a golf cart. Shooters may bring their own shotguns and shells, which reduces the price.