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Skeet shooting in Ridge

Shooting Instructor Alvin Marelli observes the aiming technique

Shooting Instructor Alvin Marelli observes the aiming technique of his student Taylor Anselm as she practices shooting skeet at the Long Island Shooting Range of Brookhaven, in Ridge. (Feb. 19, 2012) Credit: Photo by Daniel Brennan

It's barely 9 a.m. on Sunday, and the parking lot of the Long Island Shooting Range of Brookhaven is already half full. The boom of gunfire is incessant. There are groups of shooters at nearly every station.

"Pull!" yells George Xanthaky of Centerport.

A small, orange disc made of clay goes flying through the air at about 50 miles an hour. The gun cracks, and the target shatters. The skeet shooting goes on another hour or so, with Xanthaky connecting much more often than not.

Three years ago, Xanthaky, 50, was just a guy looking for a way to offset the pressures of being an insurance broker. "I was driving by the range one day and thought it might be a good way to unwind," he says.

But now, he's a bona fide skeet shooter -- just like his father was -- and visits the range several times a week when he's training for tournaments. "You're constantly analyzing yourself and trying to get better," he says.

GETTING STARTED

Skeet shooting is far simpler than it seems, assures Al Marelli, 80, of Port Jefferson, who works as an instructor at the range. "If you can see fairly well and hold a gun," you can learn to hit a moving target, he says. "It becomes an instinctual thing."

The range is outfitted with skeet, trap and target shooting stations -- a small shop sells ammunition; loaner shotguns are available. Eye and ear protection are mandatory, and a staffer stays with shooters to operate the target machine and keep a watchful eye.

Although a permit isn't required to fire a shotgun at the range, first-timers are encouraged to take a lesson or two, manager Joe Falcone says. "We just want you to learn all about gun safety."

A SOCIAL EXPERIENCE

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that brought Christine Anselm, 44, and her two teenage daughters to the range on a Sunday afternoon. "I want them to be confident that they can do anything," says Anselm, of Northport.

They met Marelli at the range for a lesson that started with gun safety. "Does anyone ever hit one?" asks Anselm of the palm-size discs as she practices her stance with a loaner shotgun. After about 10 tries, Anselm does indeed connect. "Smackaroey!" she says as the target crumbles to pieces. She ends the 25-disc round with fewer than 10 hits, but is visibly pleased with her novice efforts.

Not to be outdone is her daughter Taylor, 18, who -- after three misses in a row -- becomes an ace, hitting nearly every remaining shot. Lauren, 13, also does well, hitting more than half.

Mike Kalakowski, 58, of Setauket easily understands their excitement.

"Shooting skeet is a very social thing," says the retired Navy SEAL, 58. "You come shoot for a few hours, and then all go get lunch, then come back and shoot some more."

He said it is not uncommon to see spectators lined up along the fence. "If you stand there long enough," Kalakowski says, "we're going to invite you to come shoot."

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