A couple of jokes are told. A gun then fires in the distance.
Again, some friends share idle chatter and catch up on loved ones and friends from church. All then falls silent as a hunter takes aim, stands looking at the range and fires away.
It’s the first Saturday of February. Trees stand bare in the distance while a group of shooters warm up for a monthly shooting tournament in Clay County.
The conversations grow more infrequent as the practice rounds wrap up and shooters get set to compete. The competition in question is the monthly helice tournament at Prairie Wildlife, a world-class conservation and sporting estate in Clay County.
Helice is similar to skeet shooting. On steroids.
Participants stand 27 meters from five launchers, which are arranged in a semi-circle around the shooting post. Twenty meters behind the launchers is a fence. The goal is to shoot targets before they drop over the fence.
The launchers go off in random order and in random directions, so the shooter has no idea where the next bird will fly. The targets have a cap affixed to a propeller and spin at 5,000 RPM, fluttering unpredictably. When hit by shotgun pellets, the two parts separate and points are earned.
Helice gained popularity in Europe and is growing in the U.S. Prairie Wildlife’s helice range was opened last March and was Mississippi’s first. A second Prairie Wildlife range is planned and will be ready for a regional competition in April.
“It’s the thrill of the hunt without killing any live animals,” Prairie Wildlife shooting instructor Xavier Fairley said. “We had been looking at the logistics of adding helice for quite some time, before it became a reality. We knew once we got things going, it would be a success. Few helice ranges are this nice.”
The comradery and the quality of the facility are what bring out-of-state residents like Birmingham’s David Holcomb and Hoover, Alabama’s Damion Kissinger back consistently.
“I probably participate in one or two shoots a month,” Kissinger said. “It’s something different. It’s the thrill of hunting in a different way. The unpredictability is what makes it so exciting. You never know which target is going to fire and in which direction.”
“We are friends but don’t misunderstand, this is a competition,” Cedar Bluff’s Ricky Blake quipped before stepping up to the shooting post.
He shoulders his shotgun and one at a time waits for the target to fly. Each time he slowly follows the flight of the target before pulling the trigger.
In this round, he goes five-for-five. Fist pumps and applause from the other competitors follow.
“We have some real skilled outdoorsmen out here,” said Al Cabaniss of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “All of us think we are pretty good.”