COLUMBIA — Larry Mitchell is going to lose.
The 67-year-old Vietnam veteran will be the first one to tell you. Still, he made the 40-mile trip from Mexico, Mo., to Columbia to take part in the sporting clays competition at the Show-Me State Games on Saturday. Already assured of defeat, he lumbers toward the forest behind the Prairie Grove Shotgun Sports complex, shotgun in hand.
"A clay bird goes up, you shoot it, nobody's hurt," Mitchell said, succinctly summing up the event's general objective. "It's a really good sport."
Mitchell picked up sporting clays last year, handling a gun for one of the first times since his military service more than three decades ago. A diagnosis of oral cancer didn't derail his newly-found passion for the sport, and after the tumor was removed from his jaw he returned to the field as soon as he could.
"I've had a good life," he said. "I'm going to live it to the fullest."
Jim Turner might have loftier expectations.
A shotgun instructor for Missouri 4-H, the 49-year-old claimed the top spot in Class B for sporting clays in the 2010 Show-Me State Games. Traveling with a contingent of shooters from Lewis County — one of whom claimed one of five spots on the state's 4-H shotgun team — Turner's doesn't boast about his skill in the event, instead he chooses to channel his coaching side.
"I like to see people do better," Turner said. "They don't have to win. They just have to shoot better than what their personal best is."
He holds a great deal of respect for the Show-Me State Games, saying that they make the participants "feel welcome." He appreciates that the event doesn't turn away inexperienced shooters, instead offering a course that allows even beginners to turn in a respectable score. Then again, he didn't expect that to completely even the playing field.
"Just because you're older, doesn't mean you're at a disadvantage in this game," Turner said, laughing. "Experience counts for a lot."
Joseph Stevens doesn't know what to expect.
Like Mitchell, it's his first time participating in the Show-Me State Games, and he's only got a year of experience shooting sporting clays, but the similarities are harder to recognize in person. The 13-year-old's baggy athletic shorts and sleeveless shirt stand in stark contrast to the elder man's tucked-in polo shirt.
Stevens was introduced to the sport through his classmates, a group that participates in shooting events where Stevens lives in Ashland. He brought his six years of hunting experience to trap and skeet shooting events, which allowed him to turn in practice rounds that he said were pretty good ("for a first timer," at least).
He says sporting clays is his favorite event because of its similarities to hunting.
"It's more fun," Stevens said. "In trap, it's all coming from the same place, but in sporting clays they (the targets) can come up from anywhere."
Turner hit 39 of 50 targets, placing him ninth in Class D. Mitchell hit 32, good enough for fifth in Class E. Stevens hit 25, which earned him the gold medal for Youth (age 16-and-under) in Class D. Regardless of their results — and their expectations going in — all three shooters maintain the same appreciation for the sport.
"I'm getting my grandchildren into it now," Mitchell said. "It really is a nice sport."