Targeted fun

Published 12:08 am Sunday, November 24, 2013

Peter Bowyer, 14, helps Michael Barnes compare which target has been more accurately peppered with shot. (Matthew A. Ward/Suffolk News-Herald)

Peter Bowyer, 14, helps Michael Barnes compare which target has been more accurately peppered with shot. (Matthew A. Ward/Suffolk News-Herald)

Turkey-shoot tradition lives on

At a time of impassioned debate about guns and violence, it’s all about good, clean, safe fun for folks who meet outside Chuckatuck on Saturdays to shoot at targets for prizes.

The Chuckatuck Turkey Shoot runs October through March and is currently in its fourth season, said Lois Little, the “significant other” of Michael Barnes, who initiated the shoot that’s run by a group that refers to itself as the Chuckatuck Country Club.

The event usually attracts about a dozen participants, Little said, but sometimes considerably more. It starts about noon at a farm on Audubon Road, after Barnes gives a rundown on safety.

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“Do not load your gun until you’ve got it over the rail,” he says. “Do not remove your gun (from the rail) until you have fired. …”

Shooters squint down the barrels of their shotguns — 12-gauge, 20-gauge, 410-gauge for the kids, the odd 14-gauge — at targets on small cardboard squares attached some distance away to steel rods extending from a row of wooden posts.

“We have the potential to have 32 shooters at one time,” remarked Little. “They come up to the railing, and everybody loads over the railing.”

Whoever shoots closest to the crosshairs at the center of the bullseye is the winner.

When the coast is clear, sisters Layla, Hannah and Clarissa Atkins, daughters of property owner Sharon Atkins, run the targets out to the posts, returning them to Barnes at his scoring table after each round.

Sometimes it’s too close to call, and Barnes calls a reshoot.

“It’s a three-way shoot-off,” he said at one point on Saturday, unable to discern any difference between the tattered targets with his measuring caliper.

The shooters range from teens up to the gray of hair. Joe Pullen, 14, among the younger ones, says it’s his first time. He’s with his dad, Richard, and a group of about 10 youngsters from Open Door Church.

“It’s something that men would like to do,” Richard Pullen said. “We had a breakfast this morning, and it’s just a little more time to get to know each other … get a little dirty.”

After taking a non-winning shot, Tim Hammer, who’s been a hunter for a while but is new to shooting at targets, remarks, “I’d do better if they threw the target up (in the air). I’m more of a shoot-from-the-hip type of guy.”

Trophies are awarded at the end of a season, Barnes explained, including one for “somebody who keeps everybody laughing and joking.”

While turkey shoots were once much more common, Chuckatuck’s appears to be the only one remaining in Hampton Roads. According to, 16 other shoots exist in Virginia, many of those around Richmond.

“In this day and age, people are always fussing about gun control, gun control, gun control,” Barnes said. “If we didn’t have guns, we wouldn’t have been able to defeat the British and become America to begin with.”

Turkey shoots teach tradition and firearms safety, he said, adding that the disturbed individuals involved in mass shootings don’t learn about guns at turkey shoots.

“You hear about them lying in bed with thumbs playing those nasty videogames,” he said. “Those people didn’t go to turkey shoots. They didn’t get raised with gun safety. They didn’t know anything about guns until they got their hands on one for the first time, and they have no idea how terrible they can be in the wrong hands.”

But with a hotdog van parked, a grill and chili pot as well, fathers and mothers showing sons and daughters how to safely use the weapons in their hands, and with competitors strolling back to their trucks with turkeys and other prizes, that whole debate seemed far away.