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DECATUR — Though the day was bright, cloudless, and not too cold, skeet shooter Mike Turner said rougher weather wouldn’t have deterred the nearly 200 shotgun enthusiasts who returned Sunday to the Decatur Gun Club for the first meeting of the Winter Skeet League in 2011.

“I think there’s only been four times, in all the time I’ve shot here, when we didn’t have it,” Turner said. “Three times the snow was so deep we couldn’t get here, and the other, the wind chill was 60 below and the machines wouldn’t work.”

Turner, who also teaches gun safety courses with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said he’s a year-round shooting enthusiast. He’s been shooting skeet at the gun club since 1972.

Turner said skeet shooting is a particularly fun pastime for gun enthusiasts because it provides so much time for socializing. A seven-person team will take turns firing while the rest talk or heckle their teammates. It’s also a sport equally suited to allowing young people, men and women to compete on the same teams.

“It’s the camaraderie,” Turner said. “Unlike other sports where you need to be quiet, you can talk and harass each other.”

As teams fired their guns outside, others waited in the warmth of the club house with snacks, coffee, and a roaring fire.

Club president Shirley Leevy said 22 teams split into two leagues take their turns firing off at the moving targets, all culminating in a “World Series” championship match between the two best teams at the end of the season. The weekly event has been going on for decades, she said, and Sunday’s crowd looked ready to get another year started off.

“Even though it’s cold, it’s a gorgeous day to be shooting,” Leevy said. “They’re raring to go, and for a lot of them, this is the only league they will shoot in.”

Jeff Shonkwiler, another longtime shooter, said the sport is particularly well-suited to families. Shonkwiler shot skeet until 1995, when his children got involved in sports teams and his job got more demanding, but returned three years ago after he retired and his children became adults. Now, he said, his son is trying to improve his own skeet shooting skills.

“This game is 25 percent fundamentals and 75 percent mental,” he said. “The mental is the hardest part to master.”

Leevy said the Decatur Gun Club is hoping to accommodate pistol shooters soon, something it has not done for many, many years. Those interested in joining the Winter Skeet League can call the club on Saturday and Sunday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. at 877-0400.


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