Vic Harker describes the rivalry of shooters and gunmakers alike in their continued battle for shooting’s glittering prizes
You may have noticed that there are significant numbers of successful clay target shooters at every stratum of the sport who are not in the first bloom of youth, shall we say. This has always been the case, even at Olympic level – our own Bob Braithwaite was 42 when he won his Olympic gold medal in Mexico. Four-time Olympic Trap World Champion Michel Carrega of France was another who at the top of his game was well into middle age.
It may be that there are many talented young shooters, too, but it seems they have to gain experience before they can really be their best. Of course, as with so many things in life, it’s a question of money and as a young shooter there is no greater advantage than having a rich parent. That said, it still requires ability to use funding to its best advantage and so having gained some, there is no reason you cannot fulfil long-held shooting ambitions in your middle years.
As to which direction you should employ your efforts in, choose the discipline that comes most naturally to you. I have noticed that the most successful shooters are pragmatic as to this matter. They recognise their limits and are prepared to acknowledge that they cannot be equally good at everything. In the Olympic forms of shooting, as with the domestic codes, the choice is between Skeet and Trap and the differing qualities needed that determine success.
In the past, and most particularly in the United States, there was an era of the all-rounders: shooters who were skilled at both Trap and Skeet. It is true that by the standards of the modern Olympic disciplines, ATA Trap and NSSA Skeet were, and still are, less demanding – but neither were they that easy. Trap especially was always shot single barrel and under ATA rules, AA class competitors shot from 21 yards.
These industry shooters – this term describing those who worked professionally for companies such as Winchester and Remington – were adept at shooting both Trap and Skeet, which would suggest the truly talented can excel equally in any discipline. I would, however, point out that the Olympic disciplines are sufficiently testing for the modern shooter to specialise.
This may be more difficult than it sounds if a shooter enjoys both Trap and Skeet, but it is unlikely they will be able to excel at the same rate at both. At this juncture, they must decide which means most to them: shooting or winning. Having decided on a discipline, the shooter must then ensure that the gun they choose has the specifications and qualities needed.
Over the years, the clay target firearm has continued to evolve. In the early days of the sport, the Skeet gun needed only to have short barrels and open chokes. It could be of any type – side-by-side, semi-auto, pump action or over-and-under – but in the end, as with the other clay target disciplines, it was the o/u that won the day. However, even that has continued to develop.
The Browning Skeet gun, built around what is now the B25, had 26-inch barrels when it was first launched. When they were eventually lengthened to 27 inches, they had a small degree of choke in both barrels. This was followed by most makers for some time. Weighing around 7¼lb and fitted with a conventional pistol grip stock, in the 1970s it was considered the ultimate gun for Skeet by many shooters. It would take a famous German Skeet shooter to bring a distinctive specification to the Skeet gun.
The Gamba 72 Montreal was made to the requirements of Konrad Wirnheir, the bronze medal winner at the Mexico Games in 1968. He had acquired a Skeet firearm made for him by Gamba, with a hand-detachable trigger group, an adjustable stock and Tula pattern chokes that had been developed by the Russian maker Baikal. It was almost certainly the most considered specification for a Skeet gun to date, and Wirnheir put it to good use, winning the gold medal for Olympic Skeet in 1972.
However, it would be another Italian gunmaker who, in collaboration with a fellow countryman, would develop and create the most successful clay target gun to date. Daniele Perazzi had already made a firearm for Ennio Mattarelli to win the Olympic Games in 1964. Built around an exquisite sidelock action, its handling qualities and superb trigger pulls had done the job, but both Perazzi and Mattarelli looked for something even better.
The result was the MX8, which incorporated a low-profile action body created by way of a bifurcated locking bolt, which on closure of the gun engaged with bearing surfaces above the bottom barrel. Supremely elegant, the gun handled perfectly and the hand-detachable flat spring trigger mechanism was equally efficient, providing the crispest of pulls. Broken springs could be repaired in minutes or replaced with a spare trigger group in seconds.
Mattarelli didn’t win gold in Mexico – Great Britain’s Bob Braithwaite did with an incredible score of 198ex-200. At the 2008 Games in Beijing, however, 14 of the first 15 placed shooters used a Perazzi, including all of the medal winners.
The Perazzi’s overwhelming success galvanised Beretta to even greater efforts to improve their own drop-lock trigger gun. They succeeded and today these two Italian gunmakers continue to compete with each other as fiercely as their shooters do on the Trap and Skeet ranges of the world.