Captain A. H. Bogardus

Winston Churchill said at the end of World War II, ‘Never have so many owed so much to so few." This statement, so fittingly, was a direct reference to Royal Air Force pilots who defended England against Germany during the early years of the war. As we begin the early years of the 21st Century and look hack at the history of trapshooting in America, we too can be thankful to "so few" who played a significant role in shaping our sport into what it is today. Trapshooters’ founding fathers weren’t the Washingtons, Franklins and Jeffersons but rather people like Ligowsky,Kimble, Marshall and McCarty—hardly household names. Lest history further forget these almost-forgotten patriots, let’s take a step backwards and briefly look at the life of one of them—Capt. Adam H. Bogardus.

The name Bogardus is most familiar to those who collect glass target balls. He invented an improved version of the heavier European ball in 1877 along with a better trap to throw them. These are two small contributions but the ones he is best known for.

Recently, two copies of 1932 issues of Field and Stream magazine surfaced, featuring an article and interviews with Bogardus’ surviving children. New light has been shed on a man who wore many hats: market hunter, match pigeon shooter, inventor, author, exhibition shooter and showman.

He was born in 1833 in Albany Co., NY, and began shooting a "Brown Bess" type musket at age 15. Before he was 20, he had the reputation for being the best shot and hunter in his area. In the fall of 1856, he fell victim to the westward emigration fever and moved his family to Illinois and a little town called Petersburg.

A carpenter by trade, he soon found things slow in Petersburg and moved to Elkhart, Illinois. The fact that there was more game around Elkhart certainly made his decision to move easier. His new neighbors took a curious interest in the man who fed dogs just to have them for hunting and who owned several guns when no man could possibly have need for more than one.

In 1863, as Bobby Lee moved his army of Northern Virginia closer to Washington, Bogardus became concerned that the Union was losing the war. To help turn the tide, he recruited a volunteer company of Elkhart soldiers and was named their captain. It was a title he often used in later years when advertising his shooting matches. He served for two 90-day enlistments and returned home for more pressing obligations, the raising of a family that eventually numbered 13 children.

He couldn’t make it carpentering around Elkhart after the Civil War and soon started to hunt for market. Chicago had an eager taste for wild game, and he could get from five to 25 cents for birds that fell to his muzzleloader.

Today the practice is viewed as despicable, but then a market hunter was a member of the proudest guild and admired by all who were forced to endure manual labor.

In the early 1930s, one of his daughters said, "I was young at the time and do not recall exact figures, but from a poor, struggling carpenter he quickly became one of the most prosperous men of town, a leading citizen. The back porch of our home was always piled high with game—pinnated grouse, ducks, turkey, quail and snipe—all waiting for shipment."

Bogardus’ reputation of "hitting all that flies" spread quickly. Those were the days of the great live pigeon tournaments, some 15 years before the clay target made its first appearance. Local matches were held in nearly every village, county matches were numerous, and once every summer the states held their championships. The prizes were large enough to be attractive, and a good shooter could earn thousands of dollars a year. Hundreds of spectators and gamblers gathered at the big tournaments, especially the challenge match events where one shooter challenged another and shot head to head for large sums of money.

Bogardus was 35 years old before he took part in his first pigeon shoot (oddly called trapshooting at the time due to the fact a live bird was released from a trap).

His introduction to competition shooting happened quite by accident. A fellow from Detroit named Cough Stanton got boasting one day about just how good he really was. A friend of Bogardus heard him and told Stanton there was a shooter around Elkhart who was just as good as he was. The friend challenged Stanton to a match against Bogardus, and Stanton accepted. When the friend reported to Capt. Bogardus what he had done, the captain wasn’t so happy. He had never shot a trapped pigeon or even seen a pigeon trap in his life, and he wasn’t eager to shoot against a man he had never met. Added to this was the general agreement that a field shot could never be a good trapshooter. A week or so later, the one train a day through Elkhart delivered Mr. Stanton, looking to collect "some of that easy money.

The match was set up with the usual rule: gun down, distance 21 yards, 50 birds and a stake of $200. Two hundred dollars was a fair amount when you earned it by shooting game at about 15 cents a head, and he was nervous he might lose the money.

But Stanton was nervous too, and he missed six times more often than Bogardus. The final score was 46 to 40. Winning that match made Bogardus a confirmed competitive shooter. He had found a new career. It was 1868.

Bogardus immediately began issuing bold challenges to other shooters, and he often had several matches within a week.

Three brothers from Illinois named Kleinman gave him plenty of tough competition. Abraham was the best and champion of Illinois. He agreed to meet Bogardus at Elkhart for a 50-bird match, $200 to the winner. Just before they started, a heated dispute arose. Kleinman insisted they use one ounce of shot. Bogardus didn’t favor light loads and insisted on an ounce and a half. They compromised by agreeing that Bogardus could use the heavier load if he pulled his own trap, while Kleinman used a puller and one-ounce loads.

In a show of great self-confidence that endured to the end of his life, Bogardus bet Kleinman he would drop at least 46 of his 50 birds. An additional $200 was wagered.

Capt. Bogardus won his bet but lost the match. He killed 46, Kleinman 49. Humiliated in front of family and friends, he started practicing daily for a return bout with Kleinman. A month later he challenged him again for the Championship of Illinois. The match was to be held in Chicago for $200 a ‘side and the right to wear the state championship badge.

They agreed to shoot at 100 birds, 50 singles and 25 pair of doubles. The singles were to be released from a normal ground collapsible trap, the doubles from a slung trap that pushed the birds into the air.

According to the Chicago Tribune, "An estimated crowd of some 2,000 gathered at Dexter Park yesterday to watch a virtual unknown trapshooter named Bogardus defeat the great Abraham Kleinman." The match was close, very close. In singles, Bogardus won by a bird, 43 to 42. Each dropped 43 of his doubles, giving Bogardus the state championship title by a single bird.

After defeating Kleinman, he became a full-fledged professional and began traveling the country competing in all the big tournaments. Generally, minor challenges were conducted as side bets during the course of a normal race with up to $2,000 to the winner. He won the great majority of the time but soon experienced difficulty finding competition. No one wanted to take him on.

The Chicago Tribune of Sept. 10, 1869, printed the following challenge:

"I hereby challenge any man in America to shoot a pigeon match, 50 single, and 50 double rises for from $500 to $5,000 a side, according to the rules of the New York Sportsmen’s Association. I to use my breech-loading shotgun, my opponent to use any breech-loading gun of any manufacturer be may choose. The match to be shot in Chicago. Man and money ready at my place of business, No. 72 Madison St., Chicago. A. H. Bogardus"

When there was little competition to keep him busy, he put on spectacular shooting exhibitions, always betting on himself to perform impossible feats.

One of these events, against his old adversary Kleinman consisted of Bogardus beating him while shooting from a buggy with a horse at full trot. Singles and doubles birds were released at 21 yards. Kleinman shot from 25 yards in a stationary

Another time, he bet anyone $1,000 he could drop 500 birds in 645 minutes and load his own muzzleloader. There were a lot of takers, as many thought that loading a slow muzzleloader and shooting 500 birds would take longer than 645 minutes. He did it in 526 minutes!

In December 1874, an accident occurred that almost cost him his life. He was hunting prairie chicken from a buggy, and the weather was cold. The birds were wild, and the gun lay across his knees with both hammers cocked. As he stooped to draw a lap robe over his legs, a rear wheel hit a rut, the gun canted, hit the other wheel, and a hammer fell. Five drains of black powder drove an ounce and a half of No. 9 shot through his thigh. Fortunately, most of the shot missed the bone, but he was bedridden for four months and never walked well again.

About this time, things were happening in America that would have a profound effect on Capt. Adam H. Bogardus’ profession. It was the growing sentiment against the use of live birds in shooting matches.

Humane societies were stirred up; women’s organizations were on the rampage. Laws were finally passed in most states prohibiting the use of live birds for any kind of trapshooting. Shooters everywhere wore long faces, and Capt. Bogardus was out of work.

002.gif (71171 bytes)This touched off a scramble for a suitable substitute target. The beginnings of a solution were already present in England, where a contraption called a "sling device" was in use. It threw glass balls as targets. Often the balls were filled with feathers for those who still liked to see the "feathers fly."

Charles Portlock, a Boston shooter, introduced these glass balls and traps to the United States. The old live bird shooters didn’t find them much of a challenge, as they only went a few yards in the air and a distance of 30 feet or so.

Bogardus took to glass-ball shooting almost immediately. It had its drawbacks, but he had been a pioneer in the use of breechloaders and smaller shot for pigeon matches, and this new target meant he could go back to work again.

He began immediately to compete in glass-ball matches and soon developed a lighter ball than the English version. He came up with a stronger trap, made from a wagon spring, that made Bogardus glass balls much harder to hit. He was now in the trap and target business.

To promote his new products, he went to New York and at Madison Square Garden put on two strenuous matches against time. In March of 1877, he agreed to break 1,000 balls in two hours and 40 minutes. He did it in one hour and 40 minutes. Next he said he would break 1,000 balls in 100 minutes, and he did it with 20 minutes to spare.

He was at his peak of physical fitness during those ‘shoot against the clock days" even though his bad leg prohibited much walking. American Field described him "as being a handsome man standing some six feet in height, 251 pounds and all muscle." He was seen lifting a barrel of molasses out of a wagon and carrying it up 10 steps. Another time, he picked up two anvils, one in each hand, by the horn-shaped end.

His greatest glass-ball endurance feat consisted of attempts to break 5,000 in 500 minutes. The event was given wide publicity and advertised as a feat of superhuman endurance. Many came to see him humiliated, for most believed he would fail, though he had never failed before. When he learned he must consume 70 pounds of powder and 4,500 pounds of lead, he became an ardent doubter himself.

After the fifth shot, he knew he had made a serious mistake but all his own fault. He had told the makers of Ditman Powder to see that it was strong, the strongest possible. And Ditman had taken him at his word. The powder was so strong that five shots made the captain’s shoulder and cheek sore.

The event went on painfully slow, and it was far from spectacular. Watching a man shoot one glass ball after another was quite dull, and many left.

After 2,500 shots, his right hand became so stiff and sore he had to pry his right-hand fingers from the pistol grip with his left. Attendants brought buckets of hot water. Soaking helped, and he was able to continue.

At the end of six hours, 13 minutes and 45 seconds (373 minutes), he broke his 5,000th glass ball. Along the way he missed 156, for an average of just under 97%. His shoulder and cheek eventually healed, but after six hours of continuous shooting, without hearing protection, he was almost totally deaf.

Great glass-ball challenge matches followed against Doc Craver, Ira Paine and other notable shots of the day. Bogardus won the vast majority.

The rules he formulated for glass-ball shooting were in general use until the ball was replaced by clay targets.

He recommended that clubs use three traps installed 10 yards apart in a straight line. The shooters stood 18 yards behind the traps, and the trap puller was stationed six feet behind the shooter.

The traps were numbered one, two and three. No. 1 trap threw a left angle, No. 2 a straightaway, and No. 3 a right angle. The referee decided which trap was to be pulled by drawing a numbered wad from his pocket and showing it to the puller. When shooting doubles, two traps 10 yards apart were used. Clubs with a single glass-ball trap generally hid it behind a screen so it could not be seen by the shooter. The puller changed the angle of the target with ropes attached to a swivel base on the trap.

In 1880, George Ligowsky, a shooter from Cincinnati, came up with a clear and distinctly new idea. Supposedly, the idea for a new target came to him while watching a group of boys skipping flat stones across a lake near his home. The result: a flat clay target that would scale, spin, and rise, behaving very much like a bird. These new targets made their debut at the conclusion of the 1880 New York State Trapshoot at Coney Island.

Ligowsky immediately hired Capt. Bogardus and W. F. "Doc" Carver at $2,500 each to tour the country and introduce his new "birds" to shooters. Bogardus shot a series of 25 matches against Carver promoting Ligowsky’s new clay target. They shot from 18 yards and were allowed the use of both barrels. The new "clay pigeon" was an instant success, thanks, in part, to Bogardus’ and Carver’s promotional efforts.

In 1883, at 50 years of age, Capt. Bogardus retired from competitive shooting and purchased part ownership in the Cody and Salisbury Wild West Show. He also performed shooting acts with four of his sons, Eugene, 18; Peter, 14; Edward, 11; and eight-year-old Adam Henry Jr.

Money troubles with Cody and Salisbury ended that relationship after one year, and he joined the Fourspaugh Circus with his four boys for $250 a week. He remained with them until 1888 when the Sells Brothers offered him more. He finally ended his circus career in 1891.

According to his daughter, "Show business didn’t excite him anymore. He had been away from home more or less since he gave up market hunting. My brother Eugene died at 19 years old while traveling with the circus, and Dad just got tired of it all."

He opened a shooting gallery in Lincoln, Ill., and it did so well he started a second at Hot Springs Park, Ark. When things got slow, he gave wing shooting lessons and was probably the country’s first paid shooting instructor. Along the way, he wrote Field Cover and Trapshooting, a book about the principles of wing shooting. The first edition sold out immediately and was followed by a second and third.

He spent his last years quietly in Elkhart but kept a lively interest in shooting clear to the end. He hunted to within a few months of his death on Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913, at 80 years of age.

In the 1930s, four of Capt. Bogardus’ 13 children survived him. His remaining son Edward was a prominent citizen of Springfield, Ill. A daughter lived at the old family home in Elkhart, and her son hunted with one of his famous grandfather’s shotguns on lands where the captain had roamed some 60 years earlier.

Clocks seemed to tick slower in the early days of trapshooting in America. When Bogardus toed the line, traps hid behind bales of hay and outhouse doors. Shoeless boys of five and six set targets for 25 cents a day, and the parking lot was a farm yard of horses and buggies and mud and manure. Smoke from black powder shells lingered for hours unless the club was blessed by a steady breeze. The ground was a rainbow of different color hulls produced by Robin Hood, Shelby, Pointer and other manufacturers long since out of business. Shooters wore no shooting jackets, vests, glasses or hearing protection. Most who shot a lot were almost deaf from the bark of shotguns that ranged from 6 bore to 12.

A shooter with good natural ability and great intelligence is rare. Most of us have neither, but some possess one or the other. Seldom does one find one with both. I believe Bogardus had both.

When the Trapshooting Hall of Fame inducted its first members in 1969, Capt. Adam H. Bogardus was one of the very first selected. We are proud to honor him here.

Last Updated on Monday, 11 June 2012 14:01