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An hour from the heart of New York City lies a patch of forest primeval in a corner of swank Westchester County. Log cabins perch above the shore of a hemlock-girdled trout lake; the white flags of deer bob over long rock ridges while foxes and raccoons prowl unmolested. The woodsy retreat, near the Taconic Parkway leading north, seems a thousand miles from civilization.
It is the rendezvous for a distinguished group of outdoorsmen known as the Camp Fire Club of America, whose 50-year roster has included such celebrated names as Teddy Roosevelt, Carl Akeley, Ernest Thompson Seton, Buffalo Bill, Dan Beard, Rex Beach and Author Zane Grey. Its 350 members, primarily big-game hunters, have bagged the rarest trophies known to man, including the fabulous Ovis poll of the Pamirs and Giant Sable Antelope of Angola.
Twice a year a hundred members convene there for a four-day outing to compete in 21 events involving skill with shotgun, pistol, rifle, fly-rod, bait-rod, campcrafts and canoe. Since there might be among the contenders a world's champion Wimbledon rifle shot, three former All-American skeet stars, and an early Olympic pistol champion, competition is usually very keen.
Men from all walks of life, brought together by a common love for gun and game, work like beavers to try to win the necessary 100 points for a little badge called the Gold Button. It is no easy task. Minimum qualifying scores, worth three points, require a high degree of proficiency. A man who is skilled with a rifle may not be able to shoot a handgun well enough to ever qualify on that discouraging range, where the Grouse, 50-yard Bullseye and Skirmish events have stymied many a contender. Even if he managed to qualify in all, he'd still have only 63 points. First place in an event would earn eight points and second place five, but such plums are usually plucked by a handful of experts. Fly Casting Distance is won generally by fishermen who specialize on salmon while revolver honors are often taken by a member of the club's pistol team which shoots regularly with the State Troopers, Parkway Police and FBI.
A record-round perfect score fired with shotgun, pistol or rifle would earn 20 extra points, but few are capable of flawless accuracy under pressure, nor can they hope to run the rigorous Standing Canoe race at the pace demanded for Special Time. Many garner the bonus points at Campcraft, where they are issued a log, a match, and an axe to race against a stopwatch and cook an edible pancake or boil a quart of water to a roll at incredible speed.
A top prize, the Gold Bar, is won by the man who manages to earn the greatest number of points at a single meet, the all-time record being 248. While the outing affords fun and companionship, it was basically planned to put Camp Fire Club's restless outdoorsmen in shape for angling, wild-fowling and big-game jaunts from Nome to Nairobi.
Clay Bird Club facing the skeet field is the hub of five of the toughest shotgun ranges east of the Rockies. Targets are speedy, and woodsy background can be confusing.
A cheeky fawn, unintimidated by big-game hunters, advances to investigate a couple of exhausted contestants who have just completed the grueling Paddle and Portage event on Camp Fire Lake. The animal, part of a herd, has 245 acres of playground.
Russ Aitken powders a clay pigeon on the Tower range. In 14 outings he has taken the over-all shotgun trophy 14 times.
Lloyd Brown clocks two contestants in their water-boil. Including chopping, the record time is 4 minutes, 37 seconds.