At mid-morning Sunday, a rabbit skittered across a snowy field in Pasadena, followed shortly by another, perhaps 10 yards out, but 18 yards on the diagonal. Two quick shots, and the rabbits broke apart in pieces.
The rabbits were clay targets, and the field was a new sporting clays range at Stoney Creek Hunting and Fishing Association in Pasadena.
"Those rabbits are a little slow from the snow -- otherwise you never would have got two," one of a half-dozen club members gathered behind the shooter's cage said and laughed. "You know you never would have hit both in the field."
Maybe so, maybe not. But then that is the whole point of sporting clays -- to simulate small-game, bird and waterfowl hunting -- and a duck hunter might do better on some stations of the course than a birder. But then just wait for the birder to get his chance.
The Stoney Creek range off Fort Smallwood Road is a mini-course, with five stations and five shots at each.
In the configuration used Sunday, the first station was set to simulate rabbits crossing on a slight diagonal in front of the shooting cage. The second station was a raised platform with the clay birds rising vertically before the shooter.
At the third station, clays were sent out from a launcher well above and behind the shooters, who were stationed in a jon boat, their necks craned back to pick up the ducks as quickly as possible.
At the fourth station, the clays are sent straight at the shooter, and at the fifth, the targets are sent out and away from the shooter, quartering down the range.
"The toughest station for me," said Terry Daniel, an experienced waterfowler, "is the tower at the end; that's a tough station for everybody.
"The birds are going away from you while they come across, and the lead and the hold is totally different. It is like nothing I have ever experienced before."
If one has never shot clays -- as I hadn't -- every station can be tough.
"It is close to real bird hunting and some of the targets are probably harder than real birds," said Bud Givens, who has shot several clay courses on the Eastern Shore. "Pheasants, for example, are pretty easy real birds, and about the only easy target on the course is the coming-in bird.
"The rest of them can be pretty tricky and that makes it good practice for real birds."
Stoney Creek is banking on people learning that it is good practice, because there are plans to expand the course to 50 targets this spring. Presently, however, the course is open only on the first Sunday of each month.
The only other sporting clays range on the Western Shore is the Prince George's Shooting Center in Prince George's County. There are seven or eight such facilities on the Eastern Shore.
"I have shot four or five sporting clays ranges, and all the birds are about the same as these birds," said George McCauley, Stoney Creek's sporting clays chairman. "The only difference is that [elsewhere] a lot of the shots are in the woods and here it is not quite as much like a real birds coming out of the trees."
The open clays course is, perhaps, more beneficial to beginners because on wooded courses the best shooting lanes are limited to areas between trees or undergrowth.
McCauley said that Jerry McClure, an instructor at the Fair Hill Shooting Center on the Shore, hit only 13 of 25 targets on his first go-round at Stoney Creek. "I think his high here was 21," McCauley said.
The course can be somewhat intimidating. Take, for example, the duck clays launched from the tower behind the shooters station in the jon boat.
"The height of the tower does make it harder, and those birds are deceptively slow," said Givens. "They look like they are faster than they are and that screws you up -- the height and the speed.
"I have shot a few real ducks that high, back in the old days when they had shot that would make your shots count."
Robert Smith, another club member on hand and whose preference runs to bird hunting and competitive shooting, said the Stoney Creek course is what you make it.
"I think if you put them on par, if you have a course that is in the woods, it is a little tougher because there is limited space to hit the birds. But I like this too; it is a fun game."
From the practical side, take it from Terry Daniel's 11-year-old son, John.
"I think if it wasn't for [practice] at that last station," John said of the tower shot that quarters away down range, "I wouldn't have gotten my duck this year."
The public is welcome to shoot the course at Stoney Creek on the first Sunday of each month, and there are plans to open the course every Sunday some time in the future. Shooters should provide their own shotguns, which must be capable of holding at least two shells, and shells. The cost of one round on the 25-shot course is $7, with two rounds at $6 each and three or more at $5 each. For more information, call Henry Young at 255-3583 or Bud Givens at 969-1860.