by Ed Carroll
Despite the late-November chill, pre-dawn disorientation in unknown terrain, and staggering about in boot-sucking mud, a duck blind surrounded by vast marshes is a privileged place to greet first light. Especially with the constant chatter of ducks over the horizon and a Thermos cap of coffee cradled in your hands.
My guide had spread floating mallard decoys in front of our blind and placed a spinning-wing deke on a pole and was settling in with his retriever, arranging his calls. There were just a few minutes to anticipate the daylight and the ducks that seemed sure to come.
Any given Sunday during the competition season, my guide that morning is consistently among the top sporting clays shooters in the world. Last year Anthony Matarese Jr. won the World Sporting Clays Championship, was runner-up in the National Championship and took bronze in the World FITASC Championship. The marsh is his backyard: more specifically the vast fringes of southern New Jersey’s Salem River, which feeds the nearby Delaware. We were in a wild landscape about eight miles from Wilmington, Delaware, and a half-hour from Philadelphia.
That’s a lot of people within range of the Matarese family business: M&M Hunting and Sporting Clays. Started more than 60 years ago as a waterfowling operation by Anthony Sr., the business now encompasses 1,400 acres and involves Anthony Jr.’s father, mother and brother.
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M&M is one of the largest breeders of mallards in the US, supplying ducks to the top clubs and preserves east of the Mississippi. Released and habituated ducks comprised most of the hundreds of birds we saw during my hunt, and M&M prides itself on offering great dawn and dusk shooting for fast-flying mallards over decoys.
There are also hundreds of acres dedicated to upland hunting, with row crops interspersed with trails, tangled meadows, brush-choked creeks and forest cover. Quality habitat allows for the release of young pheasants and chukar that quickly become wary and wild. My upland guide, Keith, was practically raised on the property, having been hired right out of high school. On my first morning’s hunt (I hunted ducks the second morning) Keith’s German shorthair was keen to the task, tracking running pheasants through blocks of corn and pinning chukar when they were caught in the open. My bag for a few hours was seven birds—certainly an “enhanced” experience but still plenty challenging.
After the upland warm-up and lunch in the clubhouse, Anthony Jr. took me for a tour of the ground’s two sporting clays courses—one for novices and other for advanced shooters. I also received a couple of hours of instruction. Anthony started competing at 10 and teaching at 14; and though he’s not yet 35, he is probably the most successful American sporting clays shooter ever. With him evaluating faults and reinforcing basic corrections for my self-taught bad habits, I was downright competent on the novice course and humbled but sometimes heroic on the advanced course.
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Anthony Jr. is the chief instructor and founder of A.I.M (his initials) Shooting School, with two associate instructors practicing a common method. Diane Sorantino is an élite competitor with 40 years’ experience and is capable of teaching Master Class shooters. Dan Krumm is an experienced recreational clays shooter and a student of Anthony’s who teaches novice and recreational shooters.
After an amazing multi-course dinner at a local Italian restaurant, I settled into another superlative of the M&M experience: a lovingly restored farmhouse-turned-lodge on an adjoining property. Lodge accommodations are available through many different options—from membership access to a group stay to individual rooms booked for hunt dates, training sessions or competitions.
Despite the coached confidence from the first day, it was no surprise that waking at oh-dark-thirty to shoot at speeding, decoying ducks was an exercise in frustration. I asked Anthony to help out, and when I’d wing or whiff on an incomer, he would drop it dead in one incredibly quick and smooth move, faster than I could think.
On decoying ducks, my flounders were child’s play for a world champion raised on shotgunning.
For more information: M&M Hunting and Sporting Clays, 856-935-1230.