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Marie Kautzky Grant
The Trapshooting Hall of Fame and Museum houses literally thousands of spectacular 8x10 black and white photos of Grand American competitors going back some 75 to 80 years.

 Mayfield Studios of Dayton, information pills Ohio, was the official shoot photographer from 1913 to 1967. The founder. Bill Mayfield, was a director in the old Interstate Trapshooting Association, and he didn’t hesitate to click the shutter if there was a dollar to be made. Old Bill took pictures of everyone and everything—squads, mothers with small children, dogs and cats plus an endless number of names, hometowns and scores posted on the big chalk blackboard. He sold a lot of photographs, but the ones he didn’t ended up in the museum. Unfortunately, 99% of these wonderful old pieces of history bear no identification. And now, no one knows whose picture they are looking at.

 I look at them at every opportunity and my mind always goes back to the early days at Vandalia. Days when pullers of scrap-iron strength wore bib overalls and sweaty bandannas around their foreheads and pulled and pushed a heavy metal pipe, sometimes 12,000 times a day. Times when women shot in dresses, men wore neckties, everyone was more polite, and only females wore earrings.

Last winter I took more than thousand of these old photos back to my room over a three-night stay. There isn’t a lot to do in Vandalia during the winter. Talking to waitress at the Rib House is about the night excitement one can expect, but looking at those old pictures provided all the entertainment I needed. Oh, how simple things please an aging mind.

 During my younger years, I wouldn’t have given then the slightest glance. But things are different now. I appreciate to a greater degree the days before my parents met, when life wasn’t complicated and family and friends visited on Sunday afternoons. The old pictures portrayed these times more graphically than any book or newspaper.

 As I leafed through photographs of nameless women shooters, one stood out from all the rest. I was totally captivated by her sultry, mischievous expression and stunning beauty. She wore a slightly below-the-knee button-down knit shooting sweater and a flapper-style hat pulled do her eyebrows. A Parker single-barrel shotgun was elegantly held, loosely and effortlessly. She could have stepped out of the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

 Eventually, I found numerous photos of her in later years of her shooting career—a little older now, almost defiant with a steel determination so common among those with true competitive spirits.

Who was this woman that history had long since forgotten? Did Bill Mayfield take her photo so often because she was so attractive or could she really break targets? I was determined, almost driven, to find

On the backside of the very last photo I found of her remained the faintest traces of a pencil-written name. With a magnifying glass I read, “Marie Kautzky Grant Fort Dodge, Iowa

From old Average Books and Grand American records, I began to piece together the amazing shooting career of this beautiful woman of another era.

The name Marie Kautzky first appeared in the 1921 Average Book, hometown Ft. Dodge, Iowa. In 1934 her name was listed as Marie Kautzky Grant. And even a simple soul like me could figure this one out. She got married.

Iowa state shoot programs showed she won the ladies’ singles championship 18 times in 24 years (1924-1947). During these state shoots she shot against Mary Meadows, who in 1973 was inducted into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame. Mrs. Grant had beaten a Hall of Fame member 18 times and lost to her but twice!

Grand American coverage in the old Sportsmen Review revealed her records at Vandalia:

1928 High Lady in the Grand American Handicap
1928 Runner-up Lady, Class Championship Day
1929 Third High Lady. Grand American Handicap
1930 Runner-up Lady, Grand American Handicap
1936 Runner-up Lady, Clay Target Championship
1937 Third High Lady, Clay Target Championship
1941 Ladies’ Clay Target Champion
1941 Third, Ladies’ Champion of Champions

I was beginning to understand why Bill Mayfield had taken her picture so often.

At the 1934 Iowa State Shoot, she broke 197x200 and tied for the men’s title but lost the shootoff to finish second. At the time this was the highest score ever broken by a woman in a state singles championship and the closest a woman had ever come to winning a state title over the men.

In 1936 she recorded a 16-yard average of .96637, the highest ever recorded by a woman. Average leaders were listed relative to the number of targets they shot. Marie had the highest 16-yard average among women in her target category in 1930, 1931, 1933-34, 1934-35 and her record setting year of 1936.

Back then All-American teams were composed of men and a single woman. Marie Grant was the woman member of the 1941 team.

My dad was at the Grand representing Remington during the years Marie excelled there, and I couldn’t help but think that he must have engaged her in conversation. Father had an eye for a good gun and a handsome woman. (Unfortunately, I inherited only half of these traits.)

 Remington made Parker guns at the time. Marie shot a Parker, and Dad would have used this as a reason to speak to her. I know because this is exactly what I would have done.

Oh, how l would have liked to have met Marie Kautzky Grant. She was beautiful and at the time, the best woman trapshooter in America. But I was yet to be born.

As quickly as she appeared at gun clubs in 1921, she disappeared. There was no mention of her in Average Books after 1948. Iowa state shoot reports in 1949 and 1950 show she hadn’t attended. Even the little clubs around Ft. Dodge that held non-registered merchandise shoots never mentioned her name. I checked old Average Books up to 1970 and looked under other states, thinking she may have moved. All to no avail. The woman I began referring to as “Diana of the traps” had completely vanished from the record books.

Three months later on my next trip to Vandalia, Ruth Moore, a longtime loyal employee at the museum, handed me a small, crumpled note she had recently found. It made mention of a telephone call the museum received in July of 1999 from a woman newspaper reporter in Des Moines, Iowa. She was asking for information about the trapshooting career of a 96-year-old resident of Ft. Dodge, one Marie Grant.

I couldn’t believe the woman I spent so much time thinking about and researching was alive in 1999! It was now 2001, so she would be 98, and possibly still alive.

Telephone information listed an M. Grant in Ft. Dodge. I dialed the number.  After what seemed like forever, a strong-voiced woman said, “Hello:’ I asked if she might be Marie Kautzky Grant the famous woman trapshooter of some 75 years ago. “Speak up young man, I’m quite deaf,” was the only reply. I knew right then I had found Marie. All old shooters are deaf.  Wearing hearing protection in the old days just wasn’t done. They called you a sissy if you wore anything in your ears. Now they call us deaf. Being called a young man again brought back memories, but then any man to a 98-year-old woman was young.

So I spoke louder, and she responded even louder. “Yes,” she said, “I was a trapshooter in my younger days!’

“I guess you were,” I replied. “The very best among the women shooters of your time.”

Oh, I wouldn’t go that far:’ she chuckled. “My father was much better than me. He developed the trigger for double-barrel shotguns.”

Then it all came together. I had paid little attention to the name Kautzky, but when she said single trigger, I remembered it was developed by a Joseph Kautzky, and they appeared on A. H. Fox guns about 1914. Good heavens—Marie was his daughter!

Our conversation was brief, as she had difficulty hearing me. I asked for her address. She said to write to her at the Marion House in Ft. Dodge.

“What about a street address?” I asked.

“You don’t need one. Everybody knows where the Marion House is” came the determined reply.

That evening in mid April, 2001, I wrote her a letter, hoping a relative might read it and contact me. Three weeks went by with no reply. I was beginning to lose hope, but one evening a woman called from Iowa. It was Marie’s daughter, Ruth Askelson.

A 15-to-20-minute conversation answered many questions. Marie never shot after 1948 because it was just too much trouble trying to shoot and watch three young children run around gun clubs getting into all kinds of mischief.

Her father started taking her to gun clubs when she was 18, but prior to this she hunted pheasants with her dad and two brothers. Joseph Kautzky, inventor of the single trigger, was a well-known live pigeon and target shooter. The family had all of Joseph’s shooting trophies and medals as well as Marie’s.

Born on September 19. 1902, Marie turned 99 this fall. Previous to moving into the Marion House, a local nursing home for the elderly, she lived alone and had managed her own affairs until she was past 98.

I told Ruth I wanted to come to Iowa and meet Marie.

On Mother’s Day weekend, I arrived at Ft. Dodge. I don’t particularly care to visit nursing homes. My tattered cap is tipped to those who work in these places. All of them make a feeble attempt to make the old folks happy, but depression settles in when I arrive, and it stays with me until I leave. I’m determined never to spend my last days in one of these facilities, as my mother did, and as long as I can still get my big toe in the trigger guard, I never will.

For the first time, I walked into a nursing home to visit someone I’d never met. Yet, in a sense, I did know Marie. I had read so much about her achievements and gazed so many times at her sultry beauty in photographs of long ago that it seemed like I was visiting an old friend. She was not a stranger to me.

Her two daughters, son and daughter-in-law gave me a hearty welcome and said Marie had been looking forward to meeting me. I assured them the feeling was mutual.

We walked into a rather large room where other visitors were gathered conversing with residents. A piano, multiple tables and Mother’s Day flowers made it an almost cheerful place.

Marie sat tall and erect. She was as I pictured her, with long legs and arms that still suggested the lithe and powerful athlete that she once was. Her sparkling eyes and pleasant smile almost flashed a hint of recognition that seemed to ask, “Haven’t we met before?” And it seemed that we had, in another time and at another place.

Though I had to raise my voice a bit, her memory of trapshooting days was clear and sharp.

“I remember the Grand American Handicap in 1928,” she recalled. “It was a terrible day, rainy and windy. Ninety-five was high when I went out to shoot, and I was in one of the last squads. I was down four with 25 to go, and I remember thinking, ‘I can win this whole thing!’ Well, I got to it think too much about winning and not enough about shooting. I broke 18 on the last trap. For years I used to think about these targets over and over in my mind. No more though.

"In the 1936 Clay Target championship I broke 195x200, the highest score ever made by a woman in this event. I led the nearest woman by four targets. In one of the last squads a lady broke 196. Her name was Lela Hall. Perhaps you’ve heard her?” I told her everyone who knew anything about trapshooting history knows of Lela Hall.

Marie was a saver just like me. She had old scrapbooks and photos and bits of memorabilia that collectors like to keep. Among her items were letters of congratulations from Trapshooting Hall of Fame enshrinees Fred Tomlin, Fred Gilbert, Johnny Jahn and Phil Miller plus wonderful old long run chevrons from Peters and Winchester.

Marie’s dad Joseph started her shooting trap in 1920. She broke two of  25 trap targets on her first attempt. Joe was recognized as one of America’s best gunsmiths. He emigrated from Austria in 1893, settling in Ft. Dodge in 1897. There he opened a gun-smithing business and general sporting goods store. After his death in 1938, Marie and her two brothers operated Kautzky Sporting Goods until 1988, when their interests were sold.

In 1910 Joe invented the single trigger for double-barrel shotguns. During the next four years, he convened over 600 guns which were sent to him from all over America, including the Parker Gun Co. In 1914 he sold his patents to the A. H. Fox Gun Co. of Philadelphia, Pa., for $7,000.

Joe Kautzky’s reputation as a topnotch trapshooter certainly helped his gunsmith and general sporting goods business.

At Jewell, Iowa, in 1909, in a tournament registered with the old Interstate Trapshooting Association, he hit 200 straight. This was the first 200 ever broken in a registered shoot. His longrun ended at 253, which was a world’s record at that time.

Marie’s children have all of her trophies. They are truly magnificent, hut the family’s most prized possession is a double-barrel hammer shotgun handmade and engraved by Joseph Kautzky soon after he came to America in 1893.

I left Marie and her family on Mother’s Day afternoon this past year. It was a memorable visit for someone who has such a strong interest in trapshooting history and those who made the history. Marie and her dad contributed greatly to the lore of our grand old game. I was so fortunate in finding her, more fortunate in meeting her.

Two weeks after my visit, Marie Krautzky Grant suffered a crippling stroke which left her speechless and paralyzed on one side.

It is not my intention to end these paragraphs on a sad note. On Aug. 17, 2001, during the Grand American Tournament, trustees of the Hall of Fame and Museum voted unanimously to induct Marie Kautzky Grant into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame. She becomes the 22nd woman since 1968 to be elected to this honored group.

Shortly after Marie’s selection, I called her son Chuck with the good news and I received good news as well. Marie was recovering from her stroke and talking again. Just before her 99th birthday on Sept. 19 I called Chuck again to check on his mother’s progress. I asked if he thought Marie understood that she would be inducted into the Hall of Fame next August at Vandalia.

“Oh, yes” he replied. There was a smile on her face from ear to ear when I told her.”

I often wonder who feels the best about her selection to the Hall of Fame—her family or me? I’m sure her family is proud and honored as is she, but no one could be more pleased than this aging left-hander. And it all started last winter in a motel room in Vandalia when I became captivated by photos of a nameless beautiful woman of long ago.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 June 2010 08:45