Outdoors

Lake Miami a wonderful place to 'cast and blast'

The Nature Call: Monroe County park has lots of offer

Guns at rest on the skeet range. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
Guns at rest on the skeet range. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
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What do three red-headed woodpeckers, one peacock and a herd of bison have in common?

Lake Miami park in Monroe County hosted my “Cast and Blast.” I had a special package to pick up in Albia. The two-and-a-half hour drive there would have been profligate had I not included additional activities. Thankfully, the Iowa system of County Conservation Boards means you’re never far from really nice parks and natural areas.

Casting and blasting are two dandy pastimes in any season, but especially in the season of COVID-19. Physical distancing is implicit and fresh air inherent.

Dennis Anderson, the top outdoors writer from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, introduced me to the phrase “Cast and Blast.” His was applied to early autumn efforts of bass fishing by boat while being ready to trade rod and reel for a shotgun if a rail was spotted. Anderson probed slowly the interface between cattails and open water.

My version involved shorebound fishing during a broiling afternoon and then two rounds of skeet at the park’s new range.

The fishing was an exercise in exercise: arm action, a little walking and a lot of sweating. I almost had the whole impoundment to myself. My casual approach to fishing stemmed from two reasons. One, I was killing time until the range opened. Two, the scene was so serene that the commotion of hooking a largemouth may have disturbed the idyll. And three, all statements from anglers ought to be questioned for truthfulness.

The refrain I’ve heard from every shooting coach is that girls and women get better at the sports faster than boys and men. Read Proverbs 16:18 for elaboration.

I joined a group of five at the skeet range. Skeet was the game of my father and his ilk, so it’s mine, too. Trap was “that other one.” Seems like in Iowa the primacy is reversed.

Both games have state contests for high school students, let alone the myriad of local leagues that parallel the diversity of adult softball.

Our group of six wielded four of the five types of shotguns allowed for use. Only the rare 16 gauge was absent.

It had been probably 20 years or more since I shot a real round of skeet. The feeling returned quickly, as did my old form. I shot the worst in my group both times, so I felt right at home.

Skeet is a game of variation, the clay pigeons are mostly crossing shots. Sometimes there are two clays flying at the same time. The flow of skeet allows for generous friendly ribbing and chatter, like adult softball.

Trap is only done with a 12 gauge shotgun. The clays only fly away and only one at a time. The pace and intensity always seemed to me akin to a serious game of pool or scratch golf.

The young crew shooting trap at the adjacent range was dusting the clay pigeons. They were high school league alumnus who saved their jocularity for between rounds.

Two rounds later, that is 50 shots, I was satisfied. The packet was in my trunk, the heat and activity had sapped my energy and the angle of the sun meant it was time to go.

This year is the 100th anniversary of Iowa’s state parks. If our state parks were as well cared for like our county system, then I believe Iowa would still hold its title of best park system.

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Returning to the highway via a gravel road in northern Monroe County, I capped my exceptional day with exceptional wildlife — red-headed woodpeckers, a peacock and a herd of bison. An encore for Lake Miami park.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.

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