Around 7 oclock every Thursday evening in the fall, blasts echo out of a secluded hollow in the eastern tip of Centre County. No one here is jumping the gun on deer season.
A stand of pine trees, about 50 yards yonder, slowly dissolves into utter blackness. Nights in the suburbs of Woodward are darker and colder than elsewhere. Time and change seem afraid to stake their claims here.
About a dozen floodlights glare down on 16 rough-hewn boards at the far end of the festival grounds. They stand maybe 7 feet tall and 8 inches wide. Each board has three small paper squares stapled under a series of numbers. That totals 48, the number of people who can try their hand in this competition.
Whos burning down the building? yells Junior Orndorf, as he teases Julie Shaffer.
The smell of her world-class fries wafts out and draws you in to the food stand/judging station. A license on the wall authorizes those present to use b.s. in sticky situations or to impress friends and relatives.
Twenty-five or so people step up to register their lucky numbers.
We used to have as many as 40. The numbers have dropped, so were always looking for more to come out here, says Brian Stover. Everyones welcome.
This, by the way, is a turkey shoot, but turkeys are the prize, not the target.
Its not really a competition in the classic sense, either. Horseshoes, tractor-pulls, poker games and even pie-eating contests involve some sort of skill, strength or endurance.
Not here, Mister (or Missy). Theres no strategy or deviousness. The aim is to get one tiny piece of buckshot to hit dead center on a pre-printed X. Everyone here freely and good-naturedly admits its all a matter of luck.
Cmon, youre using a shotgun. Brake-action, pump-action or semi-automatic. You want accuracy? Go get a rifle.
Mike Huey first calls out the numbers, then asks, Twelve or 20-gauge? as he passes out shells. Its $1.50 a shot, with most folks paying 15 bucks each night for 10 rounds. We provide the shells, Mike says. That makes it fair. It all evens out: a 12-gauge may improve your chances with more BBs, but a 20-gauge has less kickback. Some knees are more resilient than others, as people of every age, shape and size step or ride up to the rope and fire.
After each round, four fellows swoop down and collect the targets. A fifth follows closely behind, stapling a fresh batch onto the boards.
Inside the stand, judges Ron Fetzer and Sam Moore hold the perforated targets up to the light. Calipers are nearby, if needed.
Once winners are declared, the sheets flutter to the trash barrel. Its not as if anyones going to frame them.
Small groups gather to laugh or to marvel at their good fortune before they pony up for another round.
Neither work nor school the next day matters. Only one thing counts here: having a good time.
Bruce Teeple, of Aaronsburg, is a freelance writer, local historian and community columnist for the Centre Daily Times. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.