There are other reasons, not the least of which is the efficiency of the Grand American operation. Every one of the more than 24,000 members of the Amateur Trapshooting Association (the number of people who actually shoot trap in the United States and Canada is considerably higher but many do not register with the ATA) has a record of his shooting performances on file at the ATA headquarters in Vandalia. Every time a member takes part in a registered shoot, whether it involves 100 people or ten, the score he fires is sent to tournament headquarters in Vandalia and recorded in his file. At the end of the year a full-time ATA staff averages his total performance, adjusts his official tournament handicap on the basis of this average and sends him a card on which his current yardage is stamped.
In most competitions, trap is shot from five positions each located 16 yards behind the machine that tosses clay targets into the air. In a handicap event, however, depending upon his most recent annual average and the handicap assigned him by the ATA, a shooter must fire anywhere from 18 to 27 yards behind the trap.
A thousand rounds to qualify
In order to compete in the Grand American Handicap, a shooter must qualify by firing at least 500 regular targets and 500 handicap targets in ATA shoots during the previous year. (If he has failed to shoot the required targets he may still take part but he automatically will be handicapped at 22 yards or higher.) When he arrives at the Grand his records are checked, his handicap is verified and he is classified at a specific yardage from which he will compete in all but regulation 16-yard contests for the rest of the tournament. Before each handicap event he is assigned to a squad of shooters with yardages comparable to his own.
In theory this is simple, but when more than 2,500 shooters show up for the same event it becomes a monumental task of bookkeeping. To handle it and the entries, scores, records, files, 44 traps and the million and a half shells used at the Grand, the ATA employs a staff of 200 with a payroll for the nine-day period of $60,000.
Part of the staff and many of the shooters who come each August to Vandalia are oldtimers who can look back on two and even three decades of Grand Americans. This year was the 38th for 74-year-old Chuck Hinkley of Aurora, Ill., and it was the 25th year for so many shooters that the ATA issued a special emblem to them.
For 61-year-old Albert G. Kees of Richmond, Ind., there had been 14 other visits to the Grand, all of them exciting but none successful. This year it was different. In the waning hours of the long day, after more than 2,000 people had already fired, Kees—who is known by the misleading nickname of Blind Al—stepped up to the 21-yard line and broke 100 straight targets to take the biggest prize of them all.
Besides collecting $8,000 first money, Kees was the seventh man in the 64-year history of the Grand American Handicap to win it with a perfect score. Only once before had such a score been shot from a distance greater than 20 yards. It was only the third time in his entire shooting career that Kees, a foreman in a phonograph record-pressing plant, ever shot 100 straight. The two other triumphs were both from 16 yards.
But this was Albert Kees's day, and no handicap—distance or anything else—was going to stop him. On his 94th bird, a broken target was thrown from the trap. When this happens, a shooter may refuse the bird and wait for another one. But if he fires—either on reflex or for fear of throwing off the hair-fine timing of the sport—the bird is considered legal. It is then up to the shooter to hit some part of it. Kees chose to fire. Swinging the scarred, nickel-steel barrel of his 32-year-old Winchester Model 12 at a minute particle of the broken target, he exploded it in a puff of smoke.
"That's why we call him Blind Al," said one of Kees's friends from the Richmond Trap and Skeet Club. "We line up the cars after dark and shoot targets for practice in front of the headlights. Al can break those birds when nobody else can see them."