I was more than pleased to get an invitation to the Lyle Finch Memorial Classic Claybird Classic at Mackinaw, Illinois. I traveled to Illinois with CZ-USA shotgun product manager and exhibition shooter Dave Miller. Miller, you may remember, set a Guinness Book of World Records last year for the most clay targets broken in one hour, a mere 3,653. Dave Miller is the most enthusiastic shotgunner I have ever known, and I knew this event would be right up his alley.
For 15 years, the Lyle Finch Claybird Classic has drawn shotgunners from all over the Midwest with one goal: raising money to support the Easterseals Foundation. Easterseals provides exceptional services, education and advocacy to people living with autism and other disabilities. Easterseals has been helping individuals with disabilities and special needs, and their families, live better lives for more than 90 years. From child development centers to physical rehabilitation and job training for people with disabilities, Easterseals offers a variety of services to help people with disabilities address life's challenges and achieve personal goals.
“It all started 15 years ago with a small group of people who enjoyed hunting and target sports, and who wanted to honor the memory of Lyle Finch,” says Steve Thompson, President and CEO of Easterseals Central Illinois. “Lyle was known as a devoted husband, loving father, successful businessman, loyal friend and avid outdoorsman,” continues Thompson. “From that day forward, enjoying a great day in the outdoors while raising money to support the Easter Seals Endowment has proven to be a powerful combination!”
From the beginning, the Lyle Finch Memorial Claybird Classic has been about building lasting relationships while making a lasting impact in the lives of kids with disabilities.
I found out one thing, these folks in Illinois know how to throw a party. The action started with a magnum buffet lunch and quickly moved out on the field for a thorough safety briefing for the Sporting Clays event. After that, Dave Miller took center stage with an exhibition shoot.
If you have not seen Mr. Miller do his thing with a shotgun, you owe it to yourself to attend one of his events. After shooting clays from various positions, including the shotgun held behind his back, over his head and others, he finishes up by literally making salad with a shotgun. Various fruits and vegetables are hurled into the air and explode upon receiving a load of 7½ shot. Much of the salad lands on and among the crowd…and they love it.
After Mr. Miller’s demonstration the shooters quickly moved to the Sporting Clays range. Even though everyone was here for the worthy cause of raising money for Easterseals, I could tell these guys and gals had some good old-fashioned competition going on! (I was also glad I was not shooting that day so I would not embarrass myself.)
This was mid-September and the temperature seemed almost as hot as the shotgun barrels. The action was fast and furious and the course, laid out on the grounds of the Oakridge Sportsman’s Club, was certainly challenging. When the smoke cleared and more than 200 shooters had shot 100 rounds apiece, everyone seemed ready to head to the main tent and relax.
A social hour started, soon followed by an auction with a wide array of items including (and I am not making this up) 30 minutes on a D-11 Caterpillar bulldozer—an item that brought $2,750! The crowd of over 300 had a good time recounting their scores on the Sporting Clays range while laughing with friends and bidding on everything from the bulldozer ride to wildlife carvings and an ice cream party for 40 from a local caterer.
Time and again I am reminded of something whenever I find myself around a crowd of shooters: People who enjoy firearms, hunting and competitive shooting sports are some of the nicest people you are ever going to meet. Lots of shotguns going boom, lots and lots of good food, lots of wonderful people raising money for a wonderful cause, it doesn’t get much better.