Thousands of people will converge on a 67-plus acre plot of land this weekend for the largest side by side shotgun clay shooting exhibition anywhere in the world.
Deep River Sporting Clays has existed at 284 Cletus Hall Road since 1989 and has been owned by Ed Strickland since 2020. From April 27 to April 30, the business will host the 24th annual Southern Side By Side Championship and Exhibition, drawing clay shooting enthusiasts from across America and the rest of the world.
“The former owner was Bill Kempffer, and he said the first event was a total financial flop,” Strickland said with a laugh. “Half the vendors didn’t even show up. But he gave it one more year, and that one more year led to this. We’ve only missed one year due to COVID.”
The Southern Side By Side features between 400 and 600 shooters participating in 18 clay shooting events, as well as shotgun makers from across the world, vendors, food trucks, and more. The event is open to visitors who want to watch and stroll the grounds as shooters participate in the events – which span a range of difficulties. Strickland calls it “golf with a shotgun.”
“Primarily it’s a celebration of the old double barrel side by side shotgun,” he said. “It’s changing slowly, but a lot of the people who come out are in period specific clothing. It’s basically a step back in time. The average age of some of the guns people bring out here is 125 years, and there will be some here that are worth as much as $300,000.”
Strickland said he expects between 2,500 and 3,000 people, most of them from out of town, making the Side By Side one of Lee County’s largest tourism-related events. But as years go by, he’s seeing more and more locals showing up and even taking part.
“A lot of people in the area don’t even know we’re here,” he said. “But we’re starting to see more and more locals. And really when people see sporting clay shooting, it gets more interest.”
For anyone worried about safety in the presence of so many firearms, Strickland stressed the safety measures both he, his organization as a whole, and his customer base adhere to, noting that Deep River Sporting Clays regularly conducts safety courses and always sends staff members to accompany inexperienced shooters.
“Safety is always our number one concern,” he said.
For Strickland, the ever-growing event is one he loves to see continue to grow – and benefit the rest of Lee County as it does.
“For a lot of years, the restaurants didn’t know why they were getting so busy that weekend,” he said. “But we try to recommend to people where they can stay, where they can eat, where they can go for a beer after the day wraps. And we love that those businesses are seeing the impact. For a lot of people, coming to this is like a bucket list thing. Hearing someone say something like ‘I’m 78 years old, and I’ve never left Nebraska, and this is what I wanted to do,’ it’s very cool to hear that.”
The Southern Side By Side Championship and Exhibition runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 27 through 30.
Deep River Sporting Clays is open seven days a week, and welcomes shooters of all experience levels. For more information visit deepriversportingclays.com.