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“Somehow the sound of a shotgun tends to cheer one up,” wrote author-sportsman Robert Ruark, and, if so, there should be lots of good cheer in these parts come autumn each year. For autumn, with its gridiron action, is also meat shoot season. The term may conjure a bunch of yahoos shooting at a frightened turkey, but the meat shoot is actually an old-time shooting match, a social gathering in a country setting where the shotgun reigns king. One buys a chance to shoot at a small, cardboard target some 25 yards away. To hit the target at all requires skill, but to place a tiny shot-pellet in the cross-hairs is largely luck. And when the shot-peppered targets are collected and carefully studied, whoever has come closest wins the prize be it bacon or ham or even cash.
Meat shoots occur in October and November, ending not un-coincidentally with the onset of deer hunting season. Other than handmade signs posted in the area, they are not advertised. Yet, strike out in any direction from St. Louis on a Sunday afternoon, and within 40 miles you’ll find one in progress, on the grounds of churches, rod and gun clubs, and VFW Halls. Rules vary. For instance, contestants may line up and fire all at once or, more often, one at a time. While waiting one’s turn there’s plenty to offer — beer, chili, good fellowship. Shells are provided. My shootin’ iron, handed down from L.D. Stage, born in 1895, takes a 16-gauge shell. Never mind that I’m up against modern, tricked-out 12-gauges with barrels a foot longer than grandpa’s blunderbuss, it is the act of walking up to the line, taking aim, firing, and seeing that target jerk back that sends a thrill through my being.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
A journalist and photographer since 1982, Wm. Stage has plumbed the life stories of thousands of people. He has taught photojournalism at Saint Louis University's School for Professional Studies [1990-96] and he is an alumnus of the Photojournalism Workshop, offered by University of Missouri - Columbia's School of Journalism and held in a different Missouri town every year since 1946. He is the author of six non-fiction books including Have A Weird Day: Reflections and Ruminations on the St. Louis Experience. He lives with his dog, Jack, in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis.