A normal shoot consists of eight flights of 30 birds each, all released from a single point determined by the day's course. Because Van Alen puts so much advance thought into selecting the eight stands to be used on any given day, and because each gun eventually shoots from all eight, everyone is guaranteed good sport regardless of wind and weather. All in all, the pheasant shooting at Avalon may well be the best to be found in this country since those long-ago days when the North Dakota fields were teeming with wild birds.
"The pace is what makes the shoots here so interesting," says one regular at Avalon. And, indeed, the birds often come so fast and so frequently that it is impossible to load quickly enough. Certainly the ammunition manufacturers can have no complaints. It is the rare shooter who opens fewer than four boxes of shells on an average shoot. Of the 240 birds usually released, less than 60% are killed, quite often considerably less. On the annual Super Shoot, the final one of the year, held customarily in March, Van Alen releases anywhere from 350 to 500 birds—all that are still remaining in the pheasant pens at the end of the season. That is a day of sore shoulders.
Such aches and pains are suitably soothed before a roaring fire in Avalon's elegant main house where cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and luncheon are served after each shoot. Van Alen's hospitality is not entirely largesse. His shooting guests (except for those on his once-a-year family shoot who are all Van Alens by birth or marriage) pay $8 a bird for their 30 birds, or $240 for a regular shoot and as much as $500 for the Super Shoot. As hefty as that may seem, Van Alen has no shortage of paying customers. He never advertises, has no brochures, limits his guests to those he knows are good sportsmen and, for reasons of safety, bans all but double-barreled guns.
Van Alen also keeps on hand a modest store of ammunition to sell to his guests when they run short, and "for those who may have forgotten to bring a check" he is happy to supply blank checks. In spite of this businesslike approach, it is doubtful that he comes close to breaking even at the end of the season. The birds cost about $6 apiece, to say nothing of the expense of ground maintenance, gamekeepers and a large staff of handlers and helpers. Such an operation, even without figuring the value of Van Alen's own considerable labors, is clearly not for the thin of pocketbook. But of course money is the one commodity that has never gone out of style at Newport. If Jimmy Van Alen has his way, neither will pheasant shooting.