Twenty-five years ago Bill Kempffer quit a high paying career to work harder and earn less money.
A broker for Merrill-Lynch in Raleigh, Kempffer traded his last stock soon after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Hunting Without the Blood and Guts.”
“It was about four guys shooting quail, pheasants, ducks, geese, rabbits, squirrels – all in the same afternoon,” he said. “They were shooting sporting clays.
Intrigued, Kempffer went on the hunt to learn more. He found 60 ranges in the United States, one in North Carolina. Armed with rules and regulations from the clay sporting association, Kempffer and his wife Mary, then an MBA student at Duke, started designing their business plan and looking for land near Wake County.
In a sense Kempffer was headed back home. He’d grown up on farms in South Carolina and Missouri as an avid bird hunter and dog lover. His father had built a trap range and Kempffer started throwing clay targets in 1954. When Kempffer was in the fourth grade his father presented him with a Stevens side by side, triggering a love affair with double barrels that has endured to this day.
After 16 years as a broker and a five-year stint as a Marine Corp helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Kempffer was looking for a career change.
He fell in love with clay shooting and the respite from daily life his range brought shooters.
“Nowadays it’s hard to find countryside not already taken up by deer hunters,” he said. “There is little opportunity left for small game and bird hunting. The land is just not there.”
So the Kempffers started their sporting clay range and shooting school on 65 acres in Lee County, about 30 minutes southeast of Raleigh.
“I love my work teaching people how to shoot and fitting some for custom shotguns,” he said.
Kempffer is a Level 3 shooting instructor which requires years of experience and certification. He also is chairman of the range committee for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group.
One of his favorite accomplishments is the Southern Side By Side Show and competition held at his range annually. Vendors from many parts of the world display their sporting wares in 27,000 square feet of tent space.
So what have years of experience taught Kempffer about shooting a shotgun?
“Ninety-five percent of good wing-shooting is focus and eye-to-hand coordination,” he said. “There are few good shooters because most have a history shooting rifles, handguns and BBs. They have an aim mindset and try to use a shotgun like a rifle and don’t take time to learn how to shoot at something moving.”
Kempffer’s years of observation also have resulted in a shooting mantra of sorts: “You never miss anything that you point at, but you miss many things you aim at.”
He uses the analogy of a baseball glove to make a point.
“Do you catch with the glove or your hand? You catch with your hand. The glove facilitates ball catching like a shotgun facilitates the shot … the best shotgun in the world can’t do a thing without your hands.
“You throw the ball with your eyes on the target, not your hands. You have got to trust your hands. A good coach will work with you until you have faith in your hands.”
Kempffer says when you watch professional baseball and football players throw the ball, you will see they practice and have a feel for the ball.
“Like a quarterback throwing a pass,” Kempffer said. “He doesn’t say I’ve got to be so many feet in front of the receiver. He knows by instinct and practice.”
Most wing-shooters fail to practice and fail to find a real feel for the shotgun and fail to learn how to swing the gun, according to Kempffer.
“A shooter should handle his shotgun as much as possible,” he said. “Practice mounting and handling and bringing the stock to your cheek. You’ve got to have a feel for the gun. Make it your friend. Use both hands as a unit with the left doing most of the work, if you are a right handed shooter. And shoot with your hands not the gun. Be comfortable and shoot where you look.”
Kempffer is an advocate of custom shotguns tailored for a particular shooter. This is a two-hour process costing $200 using a try-gun to determine such measurements as drop, length, cast, pitch, radius and trigger pull.
“It’s like measuring for a pair of shoes or taking measurements for a suit,” he said. ‘You don’t just buy them out of the box.”
Kempffer says the cost of a custom shotgun will start at about $4,300 and can run as high as several hundred thousand dollars.
Kempffer sees the clay shooting sports growing especially among families, women and children.
He warns against putting a shotgun with a youngster before he can physically handle it.
“If they don’t have a chance for success I don’t put them through it,” he said. “Never subject a child to shooting just so they’ll learn what it feels like. They’ve got to be able to hold the gun and swing it side to side from corner to corner.”
Kempffer says a youth model 20 or 28 gauge is best for the beginning youngster.
“It is not true that lighter is better,” he said. “A 410 is an expert’s gun.”
So what is Kempffer favorite shotgun?
“I like them all,” he said. “But I’m very fond of a side by side. It just feels good in my hands, especially a 20 gauge.”