Forest McNeir of Texas

Over the years, trapshooting has seen its share of colorful shooters. Perhaps "characters" is a more descriptive word, but "colorful" is the more polite one. Today, it seems the old game just doesn’t have the number of distinct individuals it had some 40 or 50 years ago. Everyone tends to be more serious in nature than they used to be. Breaking a good score was important then, but having fun was, too. Nowadays, it seems most don’t have fun unless they break a good score.

Back some 40-odd years ago, South Jersey had a shooter from Vineland named Dave "Lefty" Thomas. Lefty pitched for the Phillies and Red Sox in his younger years and took up trapshooting when his arm failed. He never got to be more than a low Class B shooter, but he prided himself on being the fastest shooter in the country.

Old Lefty would shoot at targets six or seven yards from the traphouse. When he hit them, there was a ball of smoke, but many sailed on to the safety of high grass. He didn’t care how many he hit as long as he hit them quicker than anyone else. Whenever another fast shooter was on the grounds, Lefty would ask, "I shoot ‘em faster than that, don’t I?"

He had a unique gun mount. He would look at the shooter standing to his left, then bring the gun quickly to his shoulder, and call for the target at just about the time his cheek hit the comb of the gun. It was almost like he was back in baseball trying to make a quick pitch so the first-base runner couldn’t get a good jump.

Folks would remind Lefty that he wasn’t pitching for the Red Sox anymore and that speed wasn’t really that important. But it was important to Lefty, and I guess that’s all that mattered.

Along about the same time Lefty was setting speed records, a fellow from Massachusetts named Dave Stanley held the record for calling "pull" the loudest. He called so loudly that pullers on adjacent traps often pressed their buttons simultaneously. Many times, at smaller clubs all four traps threw targets on Dave’s call.

It got so bad that when you arrived at the gun club, you looked immediately to see what squad Dave was in. You wanted to shoot before or after him, never during, if you wanted good pulls.

Like Lefty Thomas, it was more important for Dave Stanley to be the loudest rather than the best. He moved to Florida in his later years and drove everyone crazy down there, too.

Seldom have we ever seen colorful competitors consistently at the top of the winner board. They are remembered for one thing or another but not necessarily for winning tournaments. An exception was Forest McNeir of Texas, a 1981 Trapshooting Hall of Fame inductee.

Forest, whose grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, was a successful Houston contractor who shot trap from 1908 to the late 1950s. He broke 99x100 in the Grand American Handicap three times but never won it. Back in 1920 he was a member of the victorious USA Trapshooting Olympic Team, and he won the 1940 North American Clay Target championship.

He was awarded the Carnegie Hero Award Gold Medal for lifesaving in 1910 for rescuing a city fireman whose foot had become trapped on a 35-foot ladder next to a burning building. A wire was touching the ladder and sending current through it to the truck below. He started to climb the ladder but received a shock which knocked him to the ground unconscious. In so doing, he jolted the ladder enough to free the fireman’s foot. McNeir suffered severe scalp wounds and burns on his hands and face, and the fireman survived.

I met him in 1949 when he came to the famous New York Athletic Club in Pelham Manor, N.Y., to compete in the Amateur Clay Target Championships of America, a shoot that ranked in prestige to the Grand American. He was 74 years old, and I was 12. Our pictures appeared together in The New York Times as the oldest and youngest shooters in the tournament. He won the veteran’s championship, and I won the junior’s.

When he was 81, he wrote his autobiography which included memorable stories of his early days in trapshooting. Here are a few of those tales as they appeared in the hard-cover book, Forest McNeir of Texas (copyright 1956, the Naylor Co., San Antonio, Texas):

"In 1912 the Texas State Shoot was held at San Antonio across the river from the insane asylum. It was a question of which side of the river the crazy ones were on".

"I shot next to Jack Wulf when he won the Grand American at St. Louis in 1916. When they wanted to take his picture, he said, ‘No need of that. I had it taken before I left home. I knew I would win.’ And he handed over the photo that still hangs in the ATA clubhouse at Vandalia [now the Trapshooting Hall of Fame]."

"There was a shoot in the fall of 1916 in Memphis. The shooting grounds were inside of a race track. I had just bought a new blue serge suit, and I hung the coat up on a nail in a horse stall. When I went to get it, the tail and sleeve had been chewed off. I wanted to shoot the critter, but they said, ‘Oh, no, that’s a $1,000 race horse."’

"There was a lot of difference of opinion as to who was the best shot in the United States in 1920. A lot of big bets were made. Some backed Mark Arie, some favored Sam Huntley. Sam had made the longest run of any known trapshooter in the world at that time. It began at Pinehurst, N.C.

"Sam had married three boarding-house widows in the same year and got away with their life savings. I don’t know how he did it. He was ugly as the devil, but some widows seem to need a man pretty bad. He took No. 3 with him to Pinehurst to watch him skin the men folks too. Nos. 1 and 2 saw his picture in the paper when he won the Southern Championship. The next day, the last day of the shoot, was the Doubles Championship, and he was as good at that as he was with the widows. When Nos. 1, 2 and 3 got together, it looked smoky for Sam. He was out on the line when this rump session convened. When he came into the clubhouse, two of them had clubs, and No. 3 was shoving two goose loads into a double gun to give Sam the consensus of opinion.

"When he saw what he had led to the altar, all in a bunch, his heart failed him but not his feet. It was lucky for Sam at the start of his long run that No. 3 wasn’t as used to firearms as she was to Sam’s arms. When she shut the gun, the front of her shirtwaist got in the breach and it wouldn’t shut. That was when Sam started his long run. He took a window and screen with him when he headed for the woods, but that was all the bloodhounds ever found. The other end of his long run was in Brazil."

"There was a shooter down in Alabama who was a real good shot, but he used to flinch bad and often. The Rule Book says when you flinch, it is a lost target. T. K. Lee went to the shooter and said, ‘There is a new rule at the Grand. If you can raise your finger and say flinch-flinch twice before the referee calls lost, they will let you shoot them all over after the shoot and add them to your score."’

"The guy took himself to what he thought was flincher’s paradise. He flinched 17 times but beat the referee every time. When it was all over, he got a fresh box of shells and told Ray Loring (ATA Manager at the time) that he was ready to shoot his flinches. When he found out the ‘flinch rule’ of T. K. Lee had been recently revoked, he got mad and went home. He ought to have tried one flinch on T. K."

"In 1918, at the Sunny South, I was tied with Frank Troeh on 93 in the doubles. We shot the tie off the next morning. I was wearing my Dupont long run watch fob that reached down to my knee, but I had it tucked in my pocket because I was scared of Frank. When we got down to the last 10 targets, I was one target ahead. As I walked from No. 5 up to No. 1, I pulled that watch fob out and waved it around a couple of times. My plumber was out there to see the match and went home and told his wife ‘Mr. Mac was ahead until he pulled that long thing out of his pants and wiggled it, then he got beat."’

"The Veteran’s Championship at the Grand use to be open to any old codger 60 years of age and over. When I got close to that age, I began to tell all the boys what I was going to do when I overhauled them. So, they raised the limit to 65. When I got close again, I began to pop off, and they raised it to 70. After that, I kept quiet. I showed them I meant what I said. I won it five times in the 10 years after I turned 70. No other veteran won it more than once up to that time."

"In 1951, a $100 gold watch was put up as first prize in the Veteran’s Championship. George Gillette of Sturdivant, Wis., who had just turned 70, told his wife he was going to win that watch for her if that old SOB from Texas didn’t show up. Well, George surprised himself and the rest of us with a fine 99x100. I let one get away, too. And when they called us up for the shootoff, George let another one get out to the grass. Then he wired his wife just three words: ‘He was here."’

Forest McNeir died in May of 1957, less than six months after completing his autobiography. It remains a classic to those who enjoy reading about the old days and the colorful characters who preceded us in the game we love so much.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 June 2010 14:22