Mark Arie
By the summer of 1937, Mark Arie was all done. The old campaigner was sick. He was busted too, and badly in need of an operation, but lacked the funds to pay for it. Arie was a pathetic figure at the International Trapshooting Tournament at Detroit in July. The jovial-faced, rotund Dutchman was 55 years old now, overweight and drinking. Not that he always didn‘t, just a lot more lately. And what made things even worse was the fact that he hadn’t won a single important event since winning the Doubles Championship at the 1934 Grand American. The most popular and colorful shooter of his time was now but a shadow of his old self.

The motorcar salesman who put Champaign, Ill., on the map had been traveling the rails to major shoots since 1905. There was simply nothing left that he hadn’t won. Every major Grand American championship had fallen to the man who shot a Marlin pump with no rib. At age 22, Arie had won the first tournament he ever entered, and a few months later he broke 97x100 in the Grand American Handicap, two birds behind the champion. Arie became the first Grand American doubles titlist in 1912. when he beat the field with his Marlin pump, and 22 years later he won it again with the same gun. He was the first to break 100 straight at doubles— again with the Marlin.

At the 1917 Grand American Handicap, he broke 98x 100 from the 23-yard line (then the maximum) and tied with a fellow named Larson, a butcher from Waupaca, Wis., who shot from 20 yards.

Here’s how Forest McNeir described the tie-breaker in his book Forest McNeir of Texas. (The Naylor Co., San Antonio, Texas, 1956)

"In the first shoot-off, they both broke 19x20. When they went back to the shell lockers for more shells, everyone gave Mark a drink to sustain his nerves. They said he needed it from way back there (23 yards). When Mark got back about ten minutes later, he was pickled. He only broke I 6x20, and Larson went straight."

Years later folks would say, "I wonder what Arie could have won if he didn’t drink so much?"

Others who knew him said, "Maybe nothing."

In 1920 he added international fame to a long list of accomplishments by winning the individual trapshooting gold medal at the Antwerp, Belgium, Olympic games. He was also a member of the American squad that won the team gold medal that year.

At the South Shore Country Club in Chicago, he broke 96 wind-blown targets and captured the 1923 Grand American Handicap title without a tie. It was the first time anyone had won the Grand from the then maximum 23 yards.

When asked how he could shoot so well on such a windy day, he said, "I shot ‘em quick before they got tough."

Among some of the things his little Marlin accounted for along the way was two North American Clay Target Championships, three Champion of Champions wins, seven Grand American High-Over-All championships, plus a first, second, third, fourth and fifth in Grand American Handicaps. He was the second to post 100 straight from the then maximum of 25 yards.

Arie paid $50 for his Marlin, and the old Sportsman Review (predecessor to Trap and Field) estimated he won over $150,000 with it. (This translates to over $2 million in today’s dollars.)

But all of those wins were dim memories. Mark was through. Even his best friends reluctantly admitted it. On the few occasions he had tried to shoot in recent years, the results were rather poor.

The handicap committee at the big Detroit shoot placed him on 22 yards for the Autohermic Open Handicap, which guaranteed a purse of $4,000, with $750 to the winner. Mark’s confidence had all but disappeared, and he had not shot the previous day. It was all or nothing on Friday’s big 200-bird handicap. If he won, he would have enough to pay for his operation that could quite possibly save his life. If he didn’t—well. he’d have to get along without it.

Tracy Lewis, a fine shot from New York was at that Michigan shoot some 64 years ago. Here is how he described what happened in Sports Afield magazine article of October 1937.

Only a few watched Mark start his first 100 under a blazing sun. There were so many others among the 220 entries whose prospects looked brighter.

Mark’s small gallery shook their heads sympathetically when he missed his sixth target. Too bad, they thought, but only to be expected. The veteran pulled himself together and went to work breaking the rest of that string. His next 25 was a straight, and his gallery became more hopeful. The third 25 was again a perfect score, all smashed cleanly except for a broken target he shot at and barely hit (Note: in the old days, if one shot at a broken target, you abided by the result). He broke the entire fourth string, giving him a sensational 99 at the halfway mark, three ahead of another Illinois shooter; Pete Erio.

Soon there was no one on the grounds who didn‘t know the old trooper was making a comeback..

Between hundreds a radio announcer asked Mark to say a few words over the "mike." Always obliging, Mark said, "I’m 55 years old, but I feel like 90."

The long wait before the second 100 was nerve-racking to the old campaigner.  A win had never meant so much before, and now it was a possibility He confided in a friend and said, "I’m so tired I don‘t know if I can even walk out on the line and start."

Before Mark ever did start, three had finished with 193x200: M. M. Marcussen of Rock Island, Ill., M. M. Youngman of Sleepy Eye, Minn., and George Zweiner (one of the "shooting Zweiners") of Blooming Prairie, Minn.

Mark Arie‘s gallery had multiplied tenfold by the time he started the last 100 late in the afternoon. It was an anxious crowd, all hoping their friend would come through but not quite sure he could.

He started on position #1 and broke the first five with his usual old speed. The seventh was a high left that tried to jump out of the shot string without success. The seventeenth tried the same thing, but the old Marlin brought it down. He wasn‘t shooting like a 90-year-old man now! When he powdered his 25th consecutive target, friends rushed up with loud encouragement.

"I’m getting awfully tired," he said as the crowd followed him down to the next trap. "I don’t think I have enough gas to finish."

Spectators scrambled for vantage points behind trap 3, where the second string of the second 100 was to be shot. Again he hit 25, but the fourteenth and twenty first broke only in two, which caused the old vet to shake his head. He was visibly tired now, but was 144 straight from 22 yards in tropical heat and a tricky breeze. He was a worried-looking Dutchman as he dragged himself away from that trap. Rock Jenkins, president of the ATA and a close friend of Mark, took his Marlin and carried his remaining 50 shells. His customary smile was gone as he plumped his rotund frame on the bench behind trap 5.

Jay Graham, another old timer; slapped him on the shoulder "Keep 0-goin’, Mark," he said. Mark replied with an uncertain grin.

He broke the first five targets in the third string, but his sixth was a high left quarter off of post #2 that hit a wind current and sailed intact to the ground. The crowd chattered excitedly. A long run of 149 straight had ended.

Mark became visibly uncertain after that. He wavered on the twelfth but broke it. A train puffed along the nearby tracks as he was about to shoot his twenty-first but he didn’t wait.

‘Pull," he called in that high-pitched voice that everyone associated with Mark Arie. The Marlin spoke, but the bird didn‘t listen. "Lost," cried the referee.

He was now down three on 175 targets and could still lose four and tie the high score— three and win.

The Mark of the old days would be pretty confident that "he had it in the bag," but the Mark of that Friday was very unsure of himself. "I flinched twice," he replied when asked how he had missed the two birds.

"I’m scared to death," he added a moment later, "and I’m all in."

Slumping on the bench, he pulled off his linen cap and scrubbed a damp handkerchief across his face. The crowd was talking in whispers now and acted more like mourners at a funeral than a group waiting to escort its hero to victory. Everyone was pulling for the "old war horse," who had made so many friends in his lifetime.

"Squad up," the referee called, and Mark lumbered to his feet.

His first bird was a hard left angle which he cleanly broke. Out of the first twelve targets, six were lefts, but he hit them all. There was a strained silence as the thirteenth was thrown, and a babble of voices when he missed it. Four lost now and a dozen left to shoot.

Now four down with five to shoot, Mark moved to post #5. He looked down the line to see if number 1 man was ready and watched in somewhat of a daze as his twenty-first target sailed to the ground untouched. That was the last one to escape as he broke the remaining four for a 195x200 total. As he turned to walk off the line, he lifted his worn old Marlin to his lips and kissed it.

Memory is prone to desert you at times. But here is one shooter who will always remember the round, grinning sunburned face of Mark Arie as he rode on the shoulders of his friends back to the clubhouse.

This shotgun, that was purchased for $50, serves as a silent reminder that the man behind the gun plays more importance than the gun itself.

So ended Tracy Lewis’ dramatic description of what eventually proved to be the great Mark Arie’s last win. The money he won at the Detroit shoot paid for his operation, but he shot very little after that. The 1942 Average Book carried his name for the last time. He was inducted into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame in 1970.

Perhaps the greatest handicap shooter ever and one of the most popular the game has ever known was found dead by a neighbor in his farmhouse near Thomasboro, Ill., on Nov. 19, 1958.

Today Mark Arie’s old Marlin pump, that accounted for over $150,000 in prize money and some 800 trophies, is displayed at the Trapshooting Hall of Fame in Vandalia, Ohio. This shotgun, that was purchased for $50, serves as a silent reminder that the man behind the gun plays more importance than the gun itself. Furthermore, it backs up the old adage, "Watch out for the man who shoots one gun."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 June 2010 14:02