Northbound Interstate 295 crosses high above the Delaware River and drops into Pennsville, New Jersey, home of M&M Hunting Preserve and shotgun and sporting clays prodigy Anthony I. Matarese Jr. Born in 1984, Matarese started shooting sporting clays at age six, the same year he shot his first deer on his family’s property. Three generations of Matareses have made M&M a locally cherished and internationally recognized hunting and sporting clays club. People who enjoy shooting sports travel from all parts of the globe to learn from Matarese because he is one of the best shooters and shooting instructors in the world.
M&M is a family business. Father Anthony Sr. may greet you at the clubhouse. Mother Donna is likely to be busy at the computer. Brother Michael, also an accomplished shooter, manages M&M operations. Anthony Jr., who graduated from Franklin & Marshall College with degrees in finance and economics, directs M&M marketing as well as instructs shooters. The clubhouse is decorated with his trophies and awards. Several black and yellow Labs sleep on chairs and sofas.
I learned of Matarese from a college friend, Mike Christopher, who lives in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. He shoots sporting clays at M&M and loves the course. When I first met with Matarese we discussed my shooting experience. The discussion was brief since my shooting experience was close to none. On the other hand, Matarese had more than enough experience for the two of us .
“When I was a kid, my parents wouldn’t let me cross the street unsupervised but set me loose on the property with a shotgun,” said Matarese. “I was Huckleberry Finn, armed and destined to be a shooter, but I also had the advantage of growing up with the sporting clays as it matured in the United States.”
M&M encompasses 2,000 acres of prime hunting habitat that integrates fields, hedgerows, thickets, woodlands and feed plots. It also features one of the finest sporting clays layouts in the world: two main courses, two tournament courses, 5-stand and bunker trap.
“We are the gold standard gun club and host all the big sporting clays events, including the U.S. Open, Master’s Cup, and regional championships,” said Matarese. “These events draw the best shooters from across the country, but we get a lot of international shooters too. One of my students is a two-time Russian champion. He travels to New Jersey twice a year for instruction.” Another accomplished student under Matarese’s tutelage, Brad Kidd Jr., was the 2010 U.S. National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) Champion. “Teaching is a fulltime business. I began teaching when I was 14 years old. I enjoy watching shooters progress.”
While his students have had success at the national and international levels, it would be difficult for any of them to surpass Matarese’s own achievements. He shot his way onto 16 All-American teams. He is a two-time U.S. Open Champion, a three-time Great American Champion, a two-time Browning / Briley World Champion and a two- time FITASC Champion, a Continental shooting sport.
In 2008, Matarese won the NSCA Championship. In 2014, he was the youngest shooter ever inducted into the National Sporting Clays Hall of Fame. That same year, he earned a silver medal at the Nad Al Sheba World Championship in Dubai.
Armed with perhaps more credentials and experience than anyone on the planet, Matarese founded A.I.M. Shooting School for shooters at all experience levels. Despite the school’s name, which is derived from Matarese’s initials, he does not want students to aim when shooting. The goal, he insists, is to shoot with both eyes open. I learned this lesson soon after he administered a quick eye-dominance test.
“Your left eye is the dominant eye,” he said. “Even though you’re right-handed, you have to hold the shotgun on the left side of your body and shoot with your left hand.”
Since I had little previous shooting experience, I didn’t have to give up old habits. Matarese continued. “You don’t know any better so it’ll be easier for you to learn shooting lefty. Experienced shooters with the same issue often refuse to shoot with the proper eye and hand. Stubbornness limits success.”
He explained shooting clays is both art and science. The speed of the gun and the bird must move together in synchronicity. “It’s about the harmony of gun and bird,” he said. “If you’re going to throw an egg at a moving car, you want the egg to move at the same speed as the car.”
Matarese incorporated shooting fundamentals throughout the lesson. We covered the proper mount, stance, focus and break and hold points. He mentioned break point often, the range in which shooters see the bird most clearly, when it looks big and slow. Ultimately, shooters do not want the target to get in front of the gun barrel. As a left-handed shooter, I had to point my right foot toward the break point. He told me to bend my front knee slightly, keeping 60 percent of my weight forward and my shoulders level. When I didn’t balance properly on the first few shots, he asked if I played other sports. Good teachers engage pupils and relate subject matter to their students’ lives and interests. I told him I played tennis.
“When you play tennis, you don’t lean back waiting for the other player to hit the ball to you. You don’t stand flat- footed thinking, ‘Yeah, come on, man!’ No, you lean forward, ready to hit the ball, and that’s exactly what I want you to do when you shoot.”
What he was saying became quickly clear to me as old muscle memory kicked in. Then he repeated a key fundamental: “Shooting a shotgun is about pointing, not aiming. Try to focus on the front edge of the clay. You will learn to see the gun in your peripheral vision as you see the hood of your car while driving.”
Matarese said it was okay to close my right eye to sight the gun so I could find the end of the barrel with my left eye. But when I said, “PULL,” I was to follow the bird with both eyes.
“Will do—I’m getting an itchy trigger finger,” I replied as I withdrew my hand and showed him my crooked index finger.
He reminded me my trigger finger was on my other hand. Sporting clays is the fastest-growing shotgun sport in the country. Having risen in popularity in the last two decades, the sport now attracts approximately nine million U.S. shooters, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The sport originated in England during the early 1900s, when live pigeons were released from cages called “traps.” When clay targets were introduced, the sport took on its own identity and today more closely resembles field shooting than any other shotgun sport. Unlike the skeet and trap shooting, sporting clays courses are designed to replicate small game hunting; shooters are presented with targets that imitate flight paths of game birds or bounce across the ground like rabbits.
Sporting clays is often called golf with a shotgun because each clays course is unique. The best have become travel destinations because shooters want to experience diverse terrain, background, weather conditions and target presentations.
M&M is conveniently located near major cities and airports, making it unique among hunting and sporting clays destinations. M&M is 30 miles from Philadelphia, 60 miles from both Atlantic City and Baltimore, 90 miles from Washington, D.C. and 110 miles from New York City.
M&M offers both guided and unguided hunts for upland game birds such as pheasants and chukar as well as ducks, deer and rabbits. It recently acquired the oldest operating farm in New Jersey on a neighboring 20-acre parcel. The family is transforming the farmhouse into a lodge, making M&M a full-on destination with overnight accommodations.
Hunting season begins in October and ends in April. Sporting clays season begins in September and extends through May. In the summer, the Matareses run Reel Chaos Fishing Charters in Ocean City, Maryland. For more shooting information see www.mmhungting.com and www.clayshootinginstruction.com. For fishing information call Reel Chaos Offshore Fishing Charters, (609) 685-0704 .
Joe Shields has led integrated digital marketing and public relations programs for consumer, biopharmaceutical and government organizations. He lives with his family near Charlottesville, Virginia.