Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

OUTDOORS: Almost a Has-Been, but Really Just a Never-Was

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

OUTDOORS: Almost a Has-Been, but Really Just a Never-Was

Article excerpt

A lot of athletes seem to have difficulty accepting being a "has- been." Perhaps it's better than being a "never-was."

Twenty years ago, during the summer of 1995, I reached my zenith as a skeet shooter. Looking back on that peak of my days shooting reminds me that I was on the cusp of being able to now call myself a has-been. But I never made it beyond never-was.

I was in my early 30s when I discovered Southern Skeet and Trap, a gun club in Birmingham. I had always wanted to shoot skeet, and I fell in with some regulars at the club. It was a pretty good time to be in the game.

All skeet shooters reloaded and a 25-pound bag of shot was about $12-$14 a bag, you could get 1,000 primers for about $18 if you went off-brand, and powder was about $10-$12 a pound.

To give you an idea of how things have changed since George H.W. Bush was president, the last bag of shot I priced was $50. I've heard all kinds of explanations from Chinese lead hoarding to the high cost of gasoline. Powder and primers appear to have about tripled in price.

If I hadn't quit shooting competitively I probably would have been driven out by the cost. Somehow, it seems that I was richer back then even though I know I wasn't. These days if I can shoot a couple of times a month with my son or a buddy, I'm fortunate. And I still feel like I'm taking food out of my family's mouths.

But 20 years ago, I could never have envisioned giving it up. I'd bought a used Browning Citori Grade I Skeet model "tube set." That's a 12-gauge over-and-under shotgun with three sets of inserts that fit inside the barrel allowing it to shoot 20-gauge, 28-gauge and .410 bore shells. It's designed just for skeet shooters who compete in all four gauges during a two-day shoot.

With the specialized gun and steady practice, I was improving. Skeet shooters are divided into classes according to ability, and I was shooting in the middling "B" Class. I managed to win my class in 28-gauge and .410 at a couple of the bigger Birmingham shoots. I also refereed some shoots to make some money so that I could afford the entry fees for the competitive shoots.

For me, the year built up to the state championships. The really competitive shooters went on to the "Zone," a regional competition and finally to the World Championships in San Antonio, Texas. But I didn't aim that high; some medals from the state shoot would thrill me.

In 1995, the state championship was held in Ozark at Fort Rucker on Labor Day weekend. It was perfect for me because, at the time, it was before dove season and on a long weekend so that I had time to travel while doing minimal damage to my meager stockpile of vacation days.

During August, I carefully reloaded my best once-fired Winchester AA hulls and prepared for battle. I was fortunate, the field was down by about 25 percent from the normal 100 or so shooters to 75. …

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