On the Golden Ranch plantation grounds, in Gheens, on Saturday, dozens of contestants awaited turns at shooting clay discs for a cause. They had driven their big pick-ups to a field on the grounds for the 19th annual Houma Oilman’s Sporting Clay Invitational.
They paid $3,000, $2,000, or $1,000 for the privilege.
"It's fun, it's a release, it's entertainment. If I've had a busy or a bad day I grab my gun, go down to the range and run off a hundred shots," said Billy Brown, of Dynasty Energy Services. "Oil field people are just a different breed of people."
Brown, who was a past secretary of the event, was competing as one of a 5-member team named after the company he works for against other similarly named teams for various prizes.
Prizes were divvied between team members. Such prizes included: shotguns, rifles, Nikon scopes, deer cameras, led flashlights and earphones.
Golden Ranch owner Benny Cenac makes the place available to the organization in order to benefit various local charities.
Kory Martinez, president of the event since its founding, said the contest is intended to be fun, but there is a serious side he acknowledge to all of it.
“You see some fun going on but there’s a lot of money behind it that helps a lot of people,” Martinez said. “It takes all the good people around here to make it happen.”
Various members of the oilfield competed against one another, while money raised from the event is donated to local charities after covering the expenditures of the event itself.
Martinez said he thinks they’ve raised about 1.2 million to date towards local charities.
Charities in the past have included: Wounded War Heroes, Louis Infant Crisis Center, Terrebonne Children Advocacy, The Haven, Bunk House Shelter, Little Calliou Fire Dept., Troop C Grant-A-Wish, and also direct help to area residents with serious health challenges.
Martinez began the event after taking part in a clay shooting competition in Lake Charles in 1999. He spoke proudly of how he was the first to bring the sport to Houma.
“I did it because I loved the sport,” Martinez said. “It was good to me, so I gave something back.”
When asked why he was not competing, his tone grew mournful. He told how, in March of last year, he was rear ended, and it injured his arm, “It’s freaky. I thought I was good man,” he said. “My left arm goes numb and I’m afraid I’ll drop the gun.”
After a pause the moment had passed, “But hey, there’s a chance they might be able to fix it. That’s what we hope anyway,” he said this pointing to his nearby friends firing on the range.
Just before the event, which started at 10am, the sun came out and Martinez was busy bouncing from one location to another ensuring that enough people were where they needed to be, and that people were safe.
This included giving safety briefings and loading personnel on his golf cart thereby shuttling them to shooting stations to monitor the competition, “You can see I run a tight ship here,” said Martinez. “No one else wants the job.”
There was even a police officer at the entrance to the shooting area: “We’re dealing with guns,” Martinez said, “We don’t want anybody in here that don’t belong in here. “
Over its 19 years, the event has never had a gun related injury, said Martinez.
The shooting stations were marked off and set up much like a golf course. Competitors traveled along rock paths in golf carts to each station.
At said stations, small covered areas were provided for shooters to stand within, pointing their guns out one side. These areas formed a ring around a large field, each pointing outward and away from one another and with quite generous amount of space in between.
Each of the 16 sites that made up the main event also had two machines which reached to the height of a full-grown adult’s waist and fired orange clay frisbees known as skeets.
These contraptions were placed at different distances and fired the skeets in varying patterns to challenge the shooter’s accuracy and timing.
“It’s a challenge, it’s enjoyable, it’s not as easy as it looks, and it’s fun,” said Joey Rodriguez over earplugs and the bangs of shotguns. As he spoke, the familiar smell of gunpowder wafted by from the nearby shooters.
Rodriguez, who runs offshore topside-construction for Chet Morrison Contractors, said he and his sales representative, Rick Bucher, formed a team with their customers. Both stated that it’s a fun way to show customer appreciation.
“It’s right before some of the other shooting seasons are starting to happen,” said Rick Bucher. “Everybody looks forward to this shoot, it’s one of the biggest shoots in the state.”
This year there were 32 teams total, less than previous years which could be as much as 80, said George Blanchard, of the Harvey based Dean Equipment, “We get one or two more good years and people will start spending the way they used to.”
Dean Equipment is one of the biggest sponsors each year, according to Martinez
“We are proud to be a sponsor of this event,” said Blanchard. “We follow up on where the money goes, and this is the best event.”
Brown, was kind enough to explain a nearby gun often used by competitors, the 686 Berretta.
He immediately cracked the barrel to ensure the gun was unloaded and began to explain how it was an “over-under.” This meant that it had two tubes, one above the other, and with the flip of a switch could swap between firing each shell.
With this same gun, Brown further showed an accessory known as a choke that went inside the very end of the barrel. This would allow shooters to modify the spread of the pellets as they are exited from the end of the barrel.
The reason behind this control is for shooters to have better accuracy at different distances.
While this model was a Berretta, Brown preferred the “Browning” which he said was a heavier gun. He explained that when following the intended target, a heavier gun keeps him from “overswinging” and missing his mark.
Throughout the event this gun was a common sight, barrel cracked and slung over many a competitor’s shoulder, barrel held in hand and stock behind them.
The venue for this event holds a significant meaning carried on the arch that towers over the entrance.
The shooting range is named The Lanny Ledet Memorial Park, after a former manager of Golden Ranch who was a clay shooting enthusiast. The year the area was sectioned off for clay shooting, 2012, Ledet was killed in a helicopter crash. The area carries the name in his memory.