Trapshooting Tales and Anecdotes

     Years ago, there was an old shooter from New England named McCracken. He drove a nice car, dressed well and, in his retirement years, attended most of the big Eastern trapshoots. I don't remember him ever shooting well, but he always seemed to enjoy just being at the shoots. Mr. McCracken shot an old Ithaca single barrel with a boot on the comb and electrical tape wrapped around the pistol grip. It was an ugly thing, and I wondered why anyone who dressed so sharply and drove a new car would shoot such a ratty-looking shotgun. It would have made a fine fence post.

     One morning during a Grand American in the early 1950s, my dad and I were having breakfast at the Dayton Biltmore Hotel in downtown Dayton. In those days, shooters stayed at either the Biltmore or the Hotel Van Cleve. Vandalia had only one motel, so those who stayed near the ATA grounds either camped out or rented rooms from local residents .

     On this particular morning, Mr. McCracken came into the Biltmore dining room alone, and Father asked him to join us for breakfast.

     He told us he had trouble sleeping last evening and picked up a copy of the Gideon Bible which was on a bedside table. Hotel rooms had no televisions, so if you had trouble sleeping, you either read or stayed awake. Mr. McCracken elected to read a few Bible verses in hopes sleep would soon come. While idly turning the pages he was amazed to find a crisp $20 bill with a note clipped to it. This note has been in my dad's scrapbook since McCracken handed it to him some 50 years ago. It read, "If you opened this book because you're discouraged, read the 14th chapter of John. If you're broke and this would help, take it. If you had a fight with your wife, buy her a present. If you don't need it, leave it for the next fellow." The note was signed: "Just a Wayfaring Stranger." But the punch line came with the P.S.: "On second thought, maybe you ought to take it down to the Wright Brothers Room and try their martinis. That's how I got this idea in the first place."

     One of the many shooters who stayed at private homes during the Grand American years ago was Lyall Evans of Nedrow, N.Y. He shot an L. C. Smith single barrel, and he shot it well when the N .Y. State Singles Championship was up for grabs.

     Between 1951 and 1958; Evans won this event seven times. He could be in a slump all year long, but on the day the N.Y. singles race was on the line, no one could beat him. Like many in those days, Lyall was a superstitious fellow. Some shooters' mannerisms had practical benefits, but they didn't realize it at the time. Evans was thoroughly convinced he couldn't break a respectable score unless he had a good chew of tobacco in his right cheek. Days when he shot without the chew, his score would suffer.

     Finally, someone pointed out that maybe the comb of his stock was too low, and the tobacco was just the right thickness to raise it so the gun shot higher. They were right. He raised his comb and eliminated the tobacco.

     For years, Fred Tomlin (1973 Trapshooting Hall of Fame enshrinee) was a top-notch East Coast professional for both Winchester and Remington. Fred's idiosyncrasies equaled his national championships.

     He wouldn't think of shooting a single shot in competition without first wiping off the barrel of his gun with a wet towel. He claimed it eliminated heat waves, which it did. But Fred also used his towel when the temperature was way below freezing, and there were no heat waves. When loading his Parker single, the shell had to be positioned so that the brand name on the brass head of the shell could be plainly read. He would adjust the shell in the chamber until the lettering formed a horizontal arc, then he would close the action. There must be something to this. In 1938 he set a record ATA 16-yard average of .9922, missing only 17 of 2,200 targets shot. He said, "Two of the targets missed were because it was too dark to see if the shells were setting properly in the chamber." Who can argue with success?

Louisiana's Mercer Tennille (1972 Trapshooting Hall of Fame enshrinee) was arguably the best doubles shooter the game has ever seen. Certainly he was the best from the post- World War II era to his untimely death at age 62 in 1969. Mercer was a handsome man with snow-white hair and a gambler by trade. Stories about him are nulllegendary, and we know he was superstitious. He wouldn't shoot if he had pennies in his pocket. Somewhere along the line he had missed a few targets, and the lost birds added up to the number of pennies he was carrying. From then on he threw them away behind his first event trap.

     According to R. L. "Bob" Andrews (1998 Trapshooting Hall of Fame enshrinee), Mercer was so good at doubles that Phil Miller (a notorious gambler and 1970 Trapshooting Hall of Fame enshrinee ) once bet even money against the field that Tennille would win the Grand American Doubles Championship. And he did. Betting was once allowed on the ATA grounds and shoots - especially shootoffs-were a lot more exciting.

     Bob Andrews went on to say, "Mercer was more than a great shooter. In his college days he was on the track team, and during the early 1950s he was the Shreveport, La., city golf and billiards champion in the same year."

     Andrews and Tennille were the best of friends and often traveled to shoots together. Bob recalled, "It was 1946 or 1947. Mercer and I were in Okmulgee, Okla., for the big state shoot, and we were rooming together. Now it can get hot in Oklahoma, real hot, and those were the days' before air conditioning. We put a plan together to stay cool. Next day was the doubles event, and nearly everybody knew Mercer was the best there was at doubles. I was getting pretty good at it too by that time. Anyway, the prize in the doubles was a big 18- inch Emerson oscillating fan. We figured that one or the other was bound to win, and whoever did would share the prize with the other, and we would both be cool.

     "It was a 25 pairs event. Mercer and I broke a 48x50 and a 49x50. I don't remember which of us got what. But there was this Class C shooter in the event. He never smoked one target, not one. Split and chip, that's the way it went. He had no more business breaking 50 targets than he did flying. Our fan went home with him."

     Trapshooting tales and anecdotes, some funny and some frustrating, have always been a big part of our game. They have been around since the first live pigeon rocketed from a wooden trap, and listening to them can be as enjoyable as breaking a good score. Like all stories, maybe they get changed a little as they are told and retold, but that's all right. It just makes them a little more interesting.