FREEPORT — Even though I’ve covered the outdoors in Maine for nearly 20 years, I’m not experienced in all traditional outdoor sports.

But I got to test my skills last week in the Maine Outdoor Challenge, held at L.L. Bean’s Fogg Farm on its Outdoor Discovery School campus. I was on the “Fourth Estate” team with others who write about the outdoors or work for outdoor publications, and our team had an advantage when it came to fly-casting and shooting skills. Outdoor author David Van Wie and Jim Thorne of the Northwoods Sporting Journal had us covered in both areas.

Meanwhile I’m new to skeet-shooting but felt I should contribute some points in the fly-casting competition as a fly fisherman for 20 years.

“I catch fish but have an ugly cast,” I admitted at the outset.

Turns out it’s a better cast than I thought; I ended up a top scorer along with Thorne on our five-person team.

The Outdoor Challenge, a charity event staged by the Rotary Club of Portland, has raised more than $160,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maine and for the Rotary Club over the past four years. Last week’s event should raise more than $60,000, said Rotary Club board member Kris Rosado, a co-founder of the Challenge and our team captain.

Five-person teams pay $1,000 to enter. This year a record 42 teams showed up over three days to compete at skeet-shooting, archery, fly-casting and geocaching, which challenges competitors to use a GPS to find hidden caches.

The Maine Outdoor Challenge was Rosado’s brainchild when he was looking for a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs – ideally something that would provide fun competition.

“There are too many golf charity tournaments and that’s not a sport I play,” he said.

An avid bird hunter and duck hunter, Rosado wanted a trap-shooting tournament but knew it would be too unwieldy for hundreds of participants. But what about a shooting contest that combined other outdoor skills?

So five years ago Rosado and the Rotary Club founded the Outdoor Challenge. And it’s educated and introduced hundreds to traditional outdoor skills.

It’s the only fundraiser held at Fogg Farm, which has a skeet-shooting range, archery range and fly casting pond on its 52 acres, said Mac McKeever, an L.L. Bean spokesman.

“I still also want to do that lumberjack sawing competition,” Rosado said with a grin.

At Fogg Farm, competitors had to perform perfect fly-fishing casts and lay the fly line down in one of the four openings on a cardboard wall about 25 feet away to score 1, 2, 3 or 5 points. Since the 5-point opening was only about 4 inches wide, Thorne opted to hit five out of five casts on the 3-point opening for 15 points.

I followed his lead, scoring 15 as well. The L.L. Bean instructor said this was the best strategy for maximum points.

Meanwhile, Van Wie tried for more, going for the small 5-point slot, but missed and ended up with fewer points.

At the skeet-shooting range, Van Wie, Thorne and Rosado shot like pros while I was miserable, scoring just 2 of 25 shots, though I have to admit it was fun.

Hugging the shotgun to my cheek, I didn’t even notice the kickback or loud discharge. Still, I could not chase down the flying clay traps for the life of me.

“Deirdre is shooting it like a deer rifle,” an L.L. Bean instructor commented afterward.

When 30-year-old Megan Devlin of Westbrook, a Rotary club volunteer and late recruit to our team, started laughing and shouting after shooting a clay target, the two experienced bird hunters on our team grinned. A novice to shooting sports, Devlin’s explosion of excitement is what this event is all about.

“I can say with certainty I know people in past years who wanted to go buy a fishing rod or gun when they left here,” Rosado said.

Other first-time shooters and fly casters savored this experience.

Now in its third year of competing, the Maine College of Art sent two teams of novice shooters and fly casters. All of them said during and after the event that they wanted more.

“I never had any interest in fishing. But I could see now it would be great to be in the water and to see what it’s all about,” said first-time Challenge participant Rachel Katz, a graduate administrative director at MECA.

Katz said another MECA teammate is now talking about getting into geocaching. And Katz also is considering introducing her 13-year-old son to archery.

“I thought it was something he might like to do,” Katz said. “The archery was fantastic. I wish we had more time to do it. With a little practice I feel I could have done better.”


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