The Professional Trademen

   No longer heard in trapshooting circles is the term "trademen.” It was a direct reference to those employed by gun, ammunition and powder companies who, until the 1950s, literally ran all aspects of registered shooting. They were responsible for supplying trap targets, and ammunition; taking entries; posting scores; paying the winners; and sending the shoot results to the ATA. On top of all that they were expected to shoot winning scores. My dad was part of that era. The advent of hand loading ended all this. As more at more shooters stopped buying factory loads, it was no long profitable for the big companies to supply free help; a good thing for gun clubs ended.

   By the time I joined Remington in 1957, trademen's duties at gun clubs had been greatly curtailed. At major tournaments we were expected to service shooters' needs, make minor gun repairs, and gather information for our respective companies. If the gun club used Remington traps, we kept them working. And they seldom worked.  

In addition to trapshoots, we were assigned to rifle, pistol and skeet tournaments. As I was literally raised at trapshoots, I didn't like going to skeet shoots. 

The late Lee Braun (Trapshooting Hall of Fame 1983) once said, "You can tell what kind of shoot is being held at a gun club by observing what the shooters are doing in the parking lot. If they are sociable, well-dressed and enjoying liquid refreshments, you are at a skeet shoot; if they are wearing overalls and trading guns, you are at trapshoot." I prefer the latter. 

My assignments to skeet shoots (fortunately for me) ended with an unfortunate incident. Here is what happened. 

nullThe Remington Gun Club at Lordship in Stratford Conn., hosted the second-most prestigious skeet shoot in the nation, called the Great Eastern. Only the World's Skeet Championships were considered more important. The country's best shooters attended the third weekend of June tournament. Remington people ran the shoot, and my dad cashiered it for 42 years. Al Riehl (Trapshooting Hall of Fame 1990) was in charge of the 1959 Great Eastern. He was my boss at the time and a more dedicated company man never lived. I learned a few weeks before the shoot that the great woman skeet and live bird shooter Carola Mandel planned to shoot in Sunday's AII-Gauge Championship. Carola was a legendary figure in those days. She was of Spanish descent and a most striking woman. In 1954 she won the 20-gauge World Skeet title. It was the first time a woman had ever won an open title and in 1959 they were still talking about it.

Additionally she was a frequent ladies' champion at the great live bird shoots in Europe. Her husband Leon owned Mandel's department store in Chicago, so she could afford to keep her adequately supplied with shotgun shells and lipstick, which she always wore a lot of. In 1960 she was shooting a Remington gun and Remington shells, which was most important to Al Riehl. 

Carola had the reputation of being very demanding – a "prima donna." Everything had to be just right when she was shooting. If it wasn't, she let you know about it. Al Riehl asked me to be the lead-off man in Carola's squad for the All-Gauge Championship, which was always shot on Father's Day.

He told me a week before the shoot, "You must cater to her needs. If she wants changes, just go along with her and don't question them. Whatever she wants, do it. There are going to be a lot of people watching her shoot. Quietly do what you have to do to satisfy her." I didn't think this was going to be a problem.

Our squad went out on the line about 1 p.m. on a great day-plenty of sun and no wind which was unusual for Lordship. The club was situated on a point overlooking Long Island Sound and it was almost always windy.

Midway through the first 25, Carola asked the referee to bring in the high-house target as she thought it looked a little outside. It looked okay to me, but it flew a foot or so wide, and I wondered how she could tell. A small crowd gathered as she broke them all.

On the second field, she had the low-house target adjusted and broke another 25 as more came to watch. She cleaned the third field too, and only 25 remained for her 100 straight.

I've shot clay targets for almost 60 years, but what happened on that last field 43 years ago is still fresh and clear in my mind. The largest crowd I've ever seen at a skeet shoot gathered around trap #8 to watch the best woman skeet shooter in the world break 100 straight.

When I shot the high-house target from station #1, a killdeer flew from her ground nest, which was near station #8. (A killdeer is a small bird with long legs and is a member of the shore bird family.) As I started to call for the low-house target, the little bird flew back to her nest and stayed there until I shot, then it flew again. The bird didn't bother the rest of the squad, but it represented big trouble for Carola. She simply refused to shoot with the bird flying in front of her all the time. I walked out near station #8 thinking I'd scare the bird from her nest until we could finish the round. That didn't work-she was back to her nest before I got back to my squad.

The referee and I must have spent five minutes trying to get that little bird to leave home for a while, to no avail. I could see Carola getting very antsy.

Finally, in her heavy Spanish accent that everyone associated with Carola Mandel, she said, "Mr. Baldwin, just shoot the damn bird and let's get on with it."

I told her the bird had a nest with eggs in it and it would be very wrong to shoot it, but she wouldn't listen. She was getting more upset by the minute. Al Riehl's pre-shoot instructions came to mind: "Whatever she wants, do it."

Quite reluctantly, I followed the boss's orders and an ounce and an eighth of #9 shot ended Carola's problem. But it was only the start of mine.

After I shot the bird, a chorus of moans rose from the large crowd of onlookers. We finished the round, and I can't remember whether Carola broke them all or not. My heart just wasn't in the game after I shot that little bird. As we were walking off the field, I realized everyone watching thought the bird had been bothering me. Unfortunately, I was never able to explain to all that I was simply carrying out Carola's wishes and my boss's orders. I never really lived down that incident. Skeet shooters would bring it up all the time. "You're the guy who shot that killdeer, aren't you?" they'd ask. Finally, to get away from all this, I talked Al Riehl into not assigning me to any more skeet shoots.

Jack Mitchell (1913-1993) was one of my later Remington bosses. He had witnessed the infamous killdeer incident and was one of the very few who knew the truth about "the live bird shot" at the big skeet shoot. Jack was the greatest storyteller and public speaker I ever knew. He' d prepare for an important presentation about a half-hour ahead of time, and it always came across as if he'd practiced for days.

Jack was a handsome man and loved by all but didn't pay a lot of attention to the way he dressed. There was always an unbuttoned button or soup on his tie, and most of the time his pants needed pressing. The late and great writer Gene Hill once said, "Jack Mitchell dresses like a poorly tied fly." And there was some truth to this.

He was always poking fun at himself. His grandfather was one of the great live pigeon shooters of the 19th century, and his dad Clyde, a Remington pro, was elected to the Trapshooting Hall of Fame in 1996. Jack himself was just a so-so shot and he loved to joke, "I'm living proof that shooting ability isn't inherited."

Clyde would tell of an incident he witnessed many years ago on the South Dakota prairie. He was a visiting pro at a rather rustic shoot where the traps were hidden behind bales of straw. This was not uncommon in the old days. He had just broken 95x100 when a young rancher drove up in an old touring car. After watching the last squad shoot, he got out of his car and walked up to Clyde. "I didn't know you used shotguns. Makes it pretty easy, doesn't it?" "Of course we use shotguns. What do you want us to do, hit 'em with a rifle?" "Well," said the rancher, "I think I could. I can hit prairie chickens flying."

This burned Clyde a bit and he replied, "Well, if you'd like to try, son, I'll buy the targets." The young rancher went back to his car, dumped a box of 22s in his pants pocket, and took out a rusty old 22 single-shot rifle. By this time a big crowd was watching. Clyde led the young rancher up to the 16-yard line.

"Okay, son," he said. "Go ahead and try 'em." As Clyde reconstructed the story, he said; "He missed the first two targets from position 1, and then I'll be damned if he didn't break the next three. When he got to post 2, he missed one and broke the other four. I guess he finally hit about two-thirds of the targets, but nobody even thought to keep score. I just went back and sat down on the bench. Believe me, it was pretty quiet while this kid kept breaking those targets. When it was all over he came back and thanked me, got in his old car and drove out across the prairie. We just kind of stood there and never thought to ask his name. Nobody ever saw or heard of him again."

Years later when Clyde Mitchell was asked, "Who was the greatest trapshooter you ever saw?" he'd smile and say, "I only watched him shoot once, and I never caught his name."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 June 2010 13:32