Albert Ivins And His Tomb Stone

Shooting and associating with trapshooters taught me things about people not learned in school. I've been in the company of all kinds: the rich, the poor, the modest, the bragger, and all those who fall somewhere in between. How shooters react in certain situations can certainly be entertaining.

When I started registering targets 56 years ago, I was 11 years old and known as "Cliff's boy, Dickie." Now I'm known as "Papa" by my three grandchildren.

One can get old quickly. I'm reminded of it shaving when I see this old guy staring back at me in the mirror. My dad used to tell me about the old man in his mirror and I'd laugh. Father was a good shooter and storyteller. I inherited half of those traits. He pushed me to go to shoots when I'd rather play baseball. In the end he was right. I made a decent living in the shooting game and wouldn't have cut it in baseball. Dad used to say, "Only two things kept Dick out of the major leagues-hitting and fielding."

Shooting and associating with trapshooters taught me things about people not learned in school. I've been in the company of all kinds: the rich, the poor, the modest, the bragger, and all those who fall somewhere in between. How shooters react in certain situations can certainly be entertaining.

A senior vet I know, who has been around for years, will ask what you broke only if he shot well. He inquires how you did, knowing you will ask how he shot. And he can't wait to tell you. When he shoots poorly, he simply says hello and walks on by. I've proven this many times by checking his posted score. Sometimes you can misjudge, too. There is a fellow from back East whose posted scores are always a few birds lower than what he told me. After this happened several times, I figured I shouldn't take his reported scores at face value. This changed when I shot with him one day. When we finished, I asked him what he broke. He said, "Well, I had 23, 25,24,23. What does that come to?" The poor fellow never learned to add. 

Back in the '50s and '60s there was a  steelworker from Pennsylvania named George Newmaster. George spoke with a thick Pennsylvania Dutch accent, drove an old Henry J. car, shot a Remington Model 32 over-and-under for all events, and was always accompanied to shoots by his faithful wife. He was a heck of a shot, and most knew if you could beat Newmaster, you would likely win the shoot. Known as a crafty devil with a dry sense of humor, he could make the most serious person laugh. When asked by new and upcoming shooters how he shot, he always said his score was three or so birds lower than his actual score. Later, after seeing his posted score, they'd say, "George, you didn't break 97, you broke 100." "I did?" he'd say in that old Dutch accent. "I done thought I'd missed a few." He loved to do this and meant no harm. Old George simply wanted those fellows to think they beat him and then find out they didn't.

nullWe occasionally come across the bragger. They don't last long because they can't stand to be beaten. Years ago, a shooter from New Jersey didn't start to crow about his shooting achievements until after he died. This might seen hard to do, and bragging might be a harsh word to use in the case of Albert Ivins, a Red Bank, N J ., man in the real estate and insurance business. Ivins won, among other big events, the 1920 Grand American Handicap. Upon his death in 1954, he requested that his major championships be carved on his tombstone! Dizzy Dean once said, "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up." Well, Mr. Ivins backed it up.

Around 1969 friends of mine were walking through the Embury Methodist Church cemetery in Red Bank when they found Ivins' grave and unique tombstone. They sent me photos which I showed to my dad, as Ivins' shooting years corresponded with his. He remembered Mr. Ivins as a quiet, subdued gentleman who didn't run around telling everyone what a great shot he was. He simply waited until he died to do it.

Recently I started to research his shooting career. Through the pages of old Sportsmen's Review magazines (predecessor to TRAP & FIELD ) , and with the help of Kenny Ray Estes of the NJ, Trapshooting Hall of Fame and ATA Delegate, I pieced together some interesting facts about a colorful fellow who never wanted us to forget what he accomplished with a shotgun.

I get carried away paging through old issues of Sportsmen's Review. Bill Moore, the magazine's editor for some 50 years and 2005 Trapshooting Hall of Fame inductee, printed just about everything imaginable, and it all makes for wonderful reading. " A family of skunks had to be removed from traphouse three before the shoot could continue"; "Some shooters actually drove motor cars to the Grand American this year"... I could go on with quotes like this from Billy Moore. The old gentleman attended every big shoot just as I started in the game. And everybody loved him.

But getting back to Mr. Ivins, he never attended a Grand American at clay targets prior to his win in 1920. He started to shoot in 1890, when live bird shooting peaked in popularity. At the Grand American live birds championships from 1894 through 1899, he killed either 23x25 or 24x25 on each occasion. According to Peter Carney in his October 16, 1920, SR article, Ivins "was good, but not good enough."

The Grand was held in Cleveland the year Ivins won, and it attracted 712 shooters for the featured handicap. Ivins hadn't planned to attend until he read that the big event was to be held on his 52nd birthday; It was the first Grand in years to feature 25 targets over four fields. In the past, 20 targets were shot over five traps. Late in the afternoon, a bad rainstorm caused shooting to be canceled for the day. Ivins had just finished his third 25, one down in 75, when shoot director Elmer Shaner announced the event would be carried over to the next day. Ivins was unknown to the majority of post- World War I shooters. Few paid attention to the Easterner who had hit 74 of 75 targets before the rain came. Surely an unknown couldn't handle the pressure that would be on his shoulders the next morning.

nullBut shooters began to listen when Elmer Shaner started talking about Ivins' performance in the pigeon rings of long ago. Shaner witnessed the great shooting Ivins had done in his younger days. Folks began to realize that a man who had this experience wasn't likely to fall apart with 25 left to shoot. He didn't, and no one seemed surprised.

Ivins was quoted in the October 16, 1920, SR feature story: "I just figured it out that this was to be my day. I entered because I thought I could win. A feeling came over me that I couldn't lose on my birthday and that feeling never deserted me. I was sorry I missed my 53rd bird for I would have liked to have had a perfect score. There must be something in 'hunches' after all-for I never would have come to the Grand American if it hadn't been for the hunch that I had."

Shooters at the 1920 Grand in Cleveland shot over 12 traps at Edgewater Park, which fronted on Lake Erie. The rain and wind that halted the shooting on Friday was the worst any Grand had experienced. Water flooded the manufacturers, shell and concession tents. The unfortunate ones caught shooting when the storm hit missed so many targets that many of them didn't bother to finish on Saturday morning.

nullIvins' good shooting didn't stop after he won the Grand. Two months later he broke 98 handicap targets to win the featured event at the Atlantic Indians. In 1923 he was the Eastern Zone handicap champion, and two years later his 16-yard average led all New Jersey shooters. Ivins' last big win came in September 1940, when he won the Westy Hogans handicap.

He shot registered targets until he was 76, when failing eyesight forced him to retire the old L. C. Smith single barrel he shot so well. After his shooting days ended, old friends continued to take him to gun clubs. Dad said he was at the Atlantic Indians shoots the first few years I attended. I hope I met him.

Some may laugh, but it's nice to think that Mr. Ivins thought enough of the old game to have a few of his glory days carved forever in granite. Few of us would be so proud.