Sporting clays came to America in the early 80s. I remember my first round at a “press day” at the Minnesota Horse & Hunt Club when I started at North American Hunter magazine. It was easy to see why it was called “hunting without feathers.”
Last week I checked out a new game, simply called “rifle golf,” at the only rifle golf course in the world. It’s a place called Spirit Ridge, not far outside of Tremonton, Utah, which is just more than an hour north of Salt Lake City. After touring the course and watching a first-of-its-kind tournament called the Vortex Extreme Invitational, I’m ready to proclaim rifle golf as the closest thing to big game hunting—without gut piles!
Jeff Peterson and his family invented rifle golf 6 years ago, and I’m guessing it will some day equal sporting clays popularity—at least in the Western United States. As a tool to hone big game hunting skills, rifle golf combines glassing, ranging, doping the wind, familiarity with your gun and ammo—and most importantly, the right mental attitude to hit the vitals on the life-sized, interactive big game silhouettes that range from 200 to 1,200 yards out.
Spirit Ridge is set up with dozens of targets at three different shooting stations. In every-day play, shooters are accompanied by a “guide,” who could just as well be called a caddie. The course plays at about 6 miles (no exaggeration), so carts aka ATVs or UTVs are encouraged, if not mandatory. Bring your own or rent from Spirit Ridge.
The Vortex Extreme Invitational added an additional twist and element of realism. Competing teams of two “hunters” were each required to walk the course, and part of their score was based on time of travel. The hike from the start to the first station was right at 3 miles, of which 90 percent was uphill. The shooters arrived sweaty and winded to glass the game (targets), range them and make their first shots. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty comparable to a lot of big-country hunts that I’ve done.
Whether you ride or walk the course, rifle golf is not easy. I watched accomplished marksmen, and even trained, retired military experts miss shots. Through the spotting scope you could tell shots were coming very close … but close doesn’t count in rifle golf. To score, you must deliver the bullets accurately enough to ring the steel gongs hanging behind the vital zones of the life-sized animal silhouette targets. Critters included coyotes and mountain lions on the small end, to moose and buffalo on the big side.
NAHC members will be happy to hear the Club’s working on discount programs with Spirit Ridge, which would allow members to be among the first to play gun golf to prepare for upcoming hunting seasons. Stay tuned for details.