The laughter and jokes stilled for a split second before the shotgun cracked and the smell of burning gunpowder filled the air. Then smiles broke out and jokes continued as another shooter took the mark, hoping to "split the X" and take home a set of steaks, chicken breasts or pork chops.
Those who attended the Caseyville Moose Lodge 4's Meat Shoot and Barbecue Jan. 19 came not only for the protein-packed prizes but for the socializing and sport the shoot provided.
Jerry Blackwell, 69, of Caseyville, wasn't having the best outing. His target card, which determines who wins prizes each round, was still largely intact, with few tiny holes dotting the center "X."
"It's strictly luck," said Blackwell, a Moose member, eyeing the card and smiling. "You've got to split the X. If it'd been a rabbit, I'd have got it."
Meat shoots are a tradition at the lodge off Bunkum Road, said Paul Schulz, 47, of Collinsville, the lodge administrator. The shoots go back at least 15 years.
According to past Moose Governor Mike Knipp, 50, the lodge previously called the outings "turkey shoots," but changed the name when people became confuse about the prizes offered.
"People used to think we were shooting turkeys," Knipp, of Fairview Heights, said of the previous turkey shoots.
To win at the Moose's meat shoot, competitors buy a target card each round that is marked with an "X" in the center. Using either their own shotgun or a "house gun" provided by the Moose, they take aim and fire a birdshot round. The card with the most holes through its center wins the round.
For those who who don't want to shoot for a prize, a "Meat Wheel," offers people the change to spin to win.
Past meat shoots have benefited Collinsville High School's athletic teams, the Little Knights and other charities. The Jan. 19 shoot benefited the lodge's activities and charitable work, Schulz said.
The meat shoots were tied to the lodge's barbecues, Schulz said, to bolster attendance at both events.
'It's friendly competition for one and also knowing you're helping raise money for a worthy cause," Schulz explained. "We're a community service organization.
Moose member Mike Icke, 51, of Caseyville, was handling the birdshot ammunition for competitors and acting as a spotter in the white plywood shooting hut. Icke has been taking part in the shoots for 12 years, he said. He's won "here and there," and enjoys seeing people come out.
"We just have a lot of fun," Icke said. "It's more like a family outing."
Safety is a key consideration, he explained. The shooting area is roped off and Moose members supervise all aspects of the contest.
"We can't have nobody get hurt," he explained.
Kristie Siegel-Gonzalez, 44, prepared to fire, putting in aqua-blue ear plugs. The Caseyville native learned to shoot at a youth camp and grew up around hunting.
"I grew up on a farm so I had older brothers who did and it was a hobby for them to go deer hunting," she recalled. She now hunts herself and, with deer season drawing to a close, the meat shoot was a chance to continue with the sport.
"It's still an active way to stay involved in a firearm sport," she said. "I think there's a really nice social interaction here with those that are involved in the same thing."
And, although she goes to meat shoots from time to time, Siegel-Gonzalez said she hopes to improve her chances of taking home a prize. But the competition can be stiff.
"It's a very competitive activity," she said. "There are people out there who have guns and who specifically go to meat shoots."
Behind her, another shot sounded. As did cries of "You got some meat on that one!"