The Road From Politics to Competitive Shooting

By Beacon Staff

Michael Taylor, a former state senator and Republican challenger to Max Baucus for the U.S. Senate, has been happily retired from politics since 2005. He’s had more time to pursue his love of clay shooting, unfortunate news for competitors.

Taylor, for his age group, is arguably the best sporting clay shooter in the world.

In July, Taylor, won the super-veteran division at the 32nd World FITASC Sporting Championships in Laterina, Italy, and narrowly missed out on his second straight World Cup title. The World Cup is awarded to shooters who have the most points in their division, accumulated from their top three FITASC-approved competitions. Taylor finished second by a half point.

Taylor hit 178 out of 200 clay targets, besting shooters from 28 countries. Along with his individual super-vet title, Taylor also won the top team prize along with Bob Davis from Illinois and Floyd Hartlage from Kentucky. Shooters in the super-vet division are at least 55 years old.

Taylor, a lifelong hunter who has been shooting competitively for the last 11 years, said he’s done with politics, but he may have politics to thank for getting him into sporting clays.

“The range had just opened up in Polson,” Taylor recently recalled, “and my campaign manager said, ‘Maybe you should try it out. It’ll be a good way to take out your frustrations on the clay.’”

Gold medals for team shooting, left, and for individual shooting are seen draped over Michael Taylor’s Beretta 391 shotgun. Taylor won the top honors in his division during the 32nd World FITASC Sporting Championships in Italy.

His first performance at Big Sky Sporting Clays in Polson was less than remarkable, despite the skills he had honed through years of hunting. Taylor hit 44 out of 100 clay targets, or “birds.”

“I thought, geez, that’s terrible,” he said. “I can do better than that.”

From then on, Taylor was an avid shooter, partly fueled by the desire to improve and partly out of a less tangible motivation that propels aficionados of all undertakings. Today, in competition, he regularly knocks down 88 targets. In practice, he can hit in the mid-90s.

“For me, it was kind of addictive,” Taylor said. “I liked it; it was a challenge.”

Taylor, the husband of Rep. Janna Taylor, R-Dayton, lives outside of Rollins, between Kalispell and Polson. He was a Republican state senator from 1997-2005. In 2002, he challenged Baucus for his U.S. Senate seat but dropped out of the race.

Taylor participates in sporting clays, one of three forms of competitive clay pigeon shooting, and the hardest. Sometimes called “golf with a shotgun,” sporting clay competition involves different shooting stations spread out along a course.

Unlike skeet and trap shooting, participants in sporting clays don’t know where the clay targets will be coming from. They must react in the blink of an eye. The targets are different sizes and travel at varying trajectories, elevations and speeds. These traits make sporting clay competition the most similar to real-life bird hunting.

On top of those challenges, Taylor said FITASC rules require the shooter, while waiting for the targets, to remain motionless with the stock of his rifle touching his body and below a certain height. When a target pops out, the shooter’s reaction must be that of instinct and muscle memory.

As shooters age, Taylor said, their eye-hand coordination slows and their eyes weaken, adding more difficulties to the rapid-response sport. And, he added, the sport requires stamina.

“If your eyes go, you’re done,” he said. “And you have to be in shape to maintain the focus and intensity that’s necessary. That’s the difference between the old guys and the young guys.”

Taylor shoots a 12-gauge Beretta semiautomatic 391. His stocks are custom-crafted at S & S Plus in Polson. If his body weight fluctuates, the stock’s length and specific feel must be adjusted. There is no margin – not even a fraction of an inch – for error when shooting. Collision Craft in Polson paints the stock.

Taylor practices at Big Sky Sporting Clays in Polson and at a private range in Kalispell. He also shoots, and gives shooting lessons, at his family’s Twin Creek Ranch in Winnett.

Even though he has only been shooting competitively for 11 years, Taylor said he plans to retire after next year. He will continue sporting clays as a hobby, but he would like to focus more time on teaching the next generation of shooters.

“I’ve fairly well realized the goals I’ve set out to reach,” he said. “Which is unusual, because you don’t get the chance to do that very often in life.”