By PETER BAKER
When President Obama mentioned last week that he had picked up a new hobby — skeet shooting at Camp David — it was a surprising disclosure by a president whose main identification with guns these days is his effort to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
To some, Mr. Obama’s newfound enthusiasm for shooting clay pigeons — he said in an interview that he did it “all the time” at the presidential retreat — also seemed a bit suspicious.
So on Saturday, the White House tried to silence the skeptics by releasing a photograph of Mr. Obama shooting on the range at Camp David in August. The president, wearing protective glasses and ear-muffs, is squinting down the barrel of a shotgun moments after pulling the trigger. Smoke is shooting from the front of the gun.
The White House said the photo was taken on Aug. 4, Mr. Obama’s 51st birthday. But it offered no further details on whether his target practice was a regular hobby or a one-time event.
The notion of the president taking aim at targets flung into the air captivated some in the political and social media worlds at a time when he is pushing Congress to enact sweeping restrictions on high-capacity rifles and magazines.
Conservatives scoffed, comics mocked, a congresswoman challenged him to a skeet-shooting contest, a fake picture of an armed Mr. Obama circulated on the Internet, and the White House tried to make the whole matter go away.
“It was a surprise to a lot of people in the industry when we saw that and heard that,” said Michael Hampton Jr., the executive director of the National Skeet Shooting Association, whose 35,000 members do not include the president.
Mr. Obama is hardly the first politician to draw scorn for boasting of experience with guns. In 2007, during his first presidential campaign, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts was ridiculed when he said, “I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter — small varmints, if you will.”