For more than 25 years shooters have gathered on September Sundays at the Father Berry Council Knights of Columbus at 2527 English Road in Pacific to see who is the best shot.
Although there is a certain amount of luck involved in shooting shotgun pellets at paper targets, most of the meat shoot competitors are counting on their aim to bring home the bacon.
This past Sunday, Sept. 15, council volunteers saw one of the best turnouts for a meat shoot in recent memory. Shooting started at noon and by 12:30 p.m. more than 30 men, women and children were milling around behind the firing line waiting for their chance to shoot at one of the 15 targets attached to two-by-four posts about 20 yards away.
For each round, shooters bought one shell, which they shot competing against 14 other shooters. Most of the shooters used 12-gauge shotguns, but many had modified barrels, extending them 6 to 10 inches longer than standard.
To keep everybody at the same advantage, Jeff Hayden, event chair, measured the barrel opening of competition guns to make sure all were within legal limits.
The annual fund-raiser draws good shots from the area, mostly families.
The youngest shooter, for the second year in a row, was 8-year-old Rhyan Murphy, whose parents Tim and Christine also were there to shoot. Rhyan was allowed to use a lighter weight .410 to avoid the large kick of a 12-gauge.
Rhyan and his parents practice at home in Catawissa where Tim fashions a set up similar to the meat shoot, stapling paper targets on a two-by-four post approximately 20 yards away.
It was uncertain how long the shooting would go on, but organizers said they hoped to get in 30 rounds.
“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t do 40 rounds,” John Painter said. “That’ll take us pretty close to dusk. We’ll go as long as there are shooters.”
There appeared to be no shortage of shooters as new competitors kept arriving.
“You gave up bow hunting for this?” Billy Murphy asked Rusty Caldwell, who was already signed up for 15 rounds when he arrived at 12:45 p.m.
Caldwell said he could do two things in one day.
“I was out before dawn,” he said. “I passed up a chance to shoot at two does, but I didn’t want to do that. I was looking for turkeys. So I never fired a shot. At 10:30 a.m. I quit to come over here.”
One observer described Caldwell’s shooting position as “military.” He sits on the ground and places his elbow on his knee.
“He wins a lot,” said Billy Murphy.
For individuals who like to shoot, this annual paper target competition is not so much about going out and bagging food to feed your family as it is a chance to be outdoors, compare guns and just have a good time.
“It’s a chance to shoot,” said Rich Conrad, who came with a custom barrel Model 97 Winchester that was manufactured in 1949. He had lengthened the barrel by 10 inches.
“The judge’s rule is final,” he said. “If you came here hoping to get something to eat just go down to the hall and get a free hot dog.”
Conrad described the fall meat shoot season as providential for avid shooters.
“This is close to heaven for some of us,” he said, “five weeks of shoots at the KofC followed by four weeks at St. James Catawissa.”
Ray Herbst, who uses a quick kneel-fire-stand strategy, says he loves to shoot, but if he takes too long to aim he starts to shake.
“As soon as I get a bead I fire,” he said.
The strategy seems to work in his favor. Herbst, who shoots every weekend in the fall and winter with a 12-gauge Winchester with an extended barrel and choke tube, won three of his first six shoots.
Fourteen-year-old Cameron Burgess never thought about winning any meat. He lives in the woods, loves to hunt and just wanted to shoot with the Knights. He came ready to compete in a meat shoot in his first ever meat shoot and planned to shoot four rounds for the afternoon.
“I like shooting,” Burgess said. “We live in the woods and I just like the outdoors.”
Meat shoots are at least a 25-year tradition for the Father Berry Council, according to Murphy, one of the longest standing members of the council.
“We’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember,” he said. “It started a long way back.”
The events are a combination family day out and fund-raiser for the council.
“We’ll make a modest profit,” said Bruce Johnson, Father Berry Council grand knight. “All of it will go to local charities, like Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, the Agape House food pantry and St. Bridget Elementary School.
“We’re all about supporting the community,” Johnson noted.
Father Jim Holbrook, St. Bridget of Kildare parochial administrator, who competed in the first shoot the previous week, returned with his 12-gauge Noble for a second try.
Father Holbrook was ordained three years ago and assigned to St. Paul in Fenton. This is his first parish where he will administer parish activities.
“I hunt, so when the Knights invited me come to the shoot I was pleased,” Father Holbrook said. “I’m new at St. Bridget’s and becoming part of the community is important.”
The normal four-week of shoots will be extended to a fifth week this year, Hayden said.
“We always go until the first weekend in October,” Hayden said. “As it turns out we’ll have five shoots this year.”