WEST POINT • A shotgun game that blends the accessibility of clay targets with the true, erratic unpredictability of live game is finding a strong foothold in the South and is available to the public now at Prairie Wildlife, near West Point.

Invented in Europe early in the last century, helice’s popularity has grown slowly but steadily. In the South, where the roots of quail hunting still tap deeply into tradition, it has begun to grow and attract shooters from all across the country. Prairie Wildlife opened its helice range a year ago.

“We do wing shooting and five-stand, and several of us went to a helice shoot in Alabama and were hooked,” Benny Atkinson, Prairie Wildlife’s general manager, said. “We came home and went to work building our own facility from scratch. We opened last September.”

This past weekend, that facility held an officially-sanctioned U.S. Helice Association qualifying match, drawing top shooters from all over America, but they’re open to the public every Thursday and every Tuesday night, when they shoot under the lights, and there are usually open tournaments every Saturday.

A helice range bears some resemblance to a trap range, in that the shooter stands at a determined point and calls for a target that launches from some distance to his front going away, but that’s where the resemblance ends. The targets themselves, called ZZ birds, are comprised of a white plastic witness cap mounted inside an orange ring with two propellers. As the shooter takes his position, five launchers, facing away from the shooter and standing in an arc 26 meters away, each spin a target up to 5,000 revolutions per minute. On the shooter’s call, one randomly-chosen machine releases its target, which takes flight on a truly unique path. The shooter must break the witness cap free of its wings and have it fall to the ground before crossing a two-foot-high fence that traces an arc complementary to that of the machines another 21 meters to their front. The time from release to successful shot can only be measured in heartbeats, and only then because the challenge is so intense.

“The thing about helice is, you have to shoot instinctively,” Xavier Fairley, director of shooting sports at Prairie Wildlife, said. “With traditional skeet, through practice, you can time each shot and settle into a hold point and a break point with each position. Helice is extremely random. The targets truly fly like birds. There are no set leads and no predictability.”

“I had been shooting competitively for a long time before I got involved with helice,” Mimi Wilfong, of Dallas, said. Today, she is president of the U.S. Helice Association. “Helice is a great game and it brings together the greatest people. Everyone involved was so helpful to me as a woman getting into the game.”

A round of helice, called a “crank,” is a shoot of 30 targets taken five at a time in alternating succession with the other members of the shooter’s party, and is available at Prairie Wildlife for $90 per crank. For more information, visit prairiewildlife.com or call 494-5858.

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