Bang for the bucks

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An Arrowtown firm gives new meaning to shotgun weddings.

Break One Clay Target Sports recently took the laser version of clay-bird shooting to a vineyard wedding. This entertained guests while the bride and groom were being photographed.

“We had to stop in the end because people wouldn’t go back to the [wedding] breakfast,” said manager Blake Holden.

He, his wife Diana and two sons have transformed a small, hobby business into a promising tourist attraction.

Holden, long an enthusiastic clay-bird shooter, drove Wakatipu jetboats in the 1980s while Diana worked as a receptionist at Nugget Point resort. They then ran a service station at Clinton for 10 years before returning to Arrowtown. From there, they ran four Shell service stations in Central and South Otago.

The Holdens bought the clay-bird shooting venture from local chef Evan Johnston, who set it up as a part-time activity about 1979. Johnston catered chiefly for experienced shooters.

The new owners thought it would remain a hobby business but Diana twigged that the real potential lay in attracting people without firearms experience. Last year, the couple quit Shell to build the business.

Customers – well over 1000 in the first year – are wearing out $2500-apiece Italian shotguns within 12 months.

Break One offers traditional clay-bird shooting at Dooneholme deer farm. Ten traps throw clay targets that simulate bird flights or a rabbit running.

Family and friends provide an instructor for each seven shooters, one on the firing position at a time. Light, subsonic cartridge loads, tailored for each shooter, reduce recoil and noise. Instructors place the gun and control it at all times.

The Holdens have been surprised by how women enjoy the shooting. They now make up about half the customers and especially enjoy hitting more birds than their male partners.

The most satisfying customers for Blake Holden are those who have never held a gun, then hit a target.
He likens clay-bird sport to tennis and golf rather than to other competitive shooting.

“In tennis, you concentrate on the tennis ball, not the racquet. In golf, you concentrate on the ball, not the club. You concentrate on clay targets and not on the gun. You don’t aim a shotgun, you point it.”

Blake Holden has designed and set up clay-bird ranges around the South Island for well-off customers who prefer these to a private tennis court or swimming pool. The biggest had 15 traps. He offers training and management.

Break One also runs trap shooting on private properties, but the firm’s fastest-growing feature is laser shooting.

The Holdens believe they have the only setup in the South Island and one of just three in the country.

The double-barrel shotguns transmit an infra-red beam through the top barrel. When it hits a reflective plastic “bird” the lower barrel registers the bounced signal. Up to five competitors shoot at a single bird. Scores go on an electronic screen.

The biggest group catered for so far is 250 shooters.

Like many tourist attractions, Break One finds the going tougher in the economic downturn. However, as recovery comes and the conference and events market grows, it could be going great guns fairly quickly.