pigeons in a row soon bored the captain. He wanted to set a record that would
stand as truly unique. With his good show sense he rented Gilmore's Garden in
New York in 1879. Bogardus would shoot at 5,000 glass balls. In less than seven
hours he was done. When the smoke had cleared, Bogardus had missed only 156.
The captain retired from professional shooting with a severe headache and
"a roaring in my ears."
started a minor national craze for shooting matches and exhibitions. The
mythical importance of firearms in opening and settling the West was fresh and
exciting to those who had remained behind. The madness must have been like our
current craze for cars: for racing them, comparing them, making movies of them.
Each age has its focal machine, and if ours is the automobile, the 19th century
had the carbine.
In 1868, a year
before Bogardus issued his challenge to any man in America, an 8-year-old girl
named Phoebe Ann Moses picked up a Kentucky long rifle and went into the woods
near Greenville, Ohio to hunt squirrels for her fatherless family. At the age
of 15, Phoebe Ann, who would be known as Annie Oakley, was supplying game to
the tables of a plush Cincinnati hotel. She got involved in a bet between the
hotel owner and a traveling vaudevillian trick shooter, Frank Butler. On
Thanksgiving Day of 1875 Annie Oakley outshot Butler in a contest and began one
of the strangest romances and rivalries in the history of sport, culminating in
After a few years
with sleazy vaudeville acts and performing in odorous circuses, Oakley and
Butler joined the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show. For the next 17 years they
brought the flashy arts of trick and fancy shooting to a voracious public. The
stories are legend: how Sitting Bull, also a part of the act, adopted her after
seeing her shoot; winging the ashes from Kaiser Bill's cigarette; audiences
with the "crowned heads of Europe." It was the Wild West Show with its
two main ingredients—Indians and firearms—that perpetuated the art of
The man who
brought the art of trick shooting into the 20th century was the son of a Texas
gunsmith with the impossible name of Adolph Toepperwein. Topp traveled the
Butler circuit, barely making a living at vaudeville and circus shooting. On
the way he was racking up live bird, skeet and trap records.
And then profit
reared its necessary head. In 1901 Toepperwein was hired by the Winchester
Repeating Arms Company to demonstrate its wares. Arms manufacturers had been
hiring expert skeet and trap shooters for some years prior to this, but
Toepperwein was the first shooter to combine the flamboyance and dash of
exhibition shooting with good marksmanship. He worked for Winchester many years
and formulated the basic structure of trick-and fancy-shooting shows.
Toepperwein represented colorful advertising. The multimillion-dollar
sports-endorsement industry was under way. Today we can only imagine
Toepperwein on the tube in our living rooms, holding up a can of hair spray and
saying something cute, like "Get the lead out of your scalp."
before him, Toepperwein became enchanted by the notion of setting a record that
would stand. In 1907 he shot at 51,000 2�-inch wooden blocks at the San Antonio
Fair Grounds. After seven days he had missed only four and had a straight run
of over 14,000. Since there was some ammunition left, Toepperwein shot at
21,500 more blocks. Total score: 72,491. He missed nine blocks in 10 days of
shooting. (The current record is held by Tom Frye, a Remington pro who shot at
100,010 blocks in 1959, missing only six. But the throwers of the blocks to
Frye stood at his left shoulder, lofting the blocks along his line of fire.
Toepperwein's throwers stood 25 feet in front of him, lofting blocks 20 to 30
feet in the air.)
During World War
I the professional shooters were called into the service to teach gunnery and
target leading. Toepperwein pulled a stunt typical of his trade. He was to
demonstrate the Browning Automatic Rifle to a group of military observers. The
B.A.R. is a heavy, unwieldy weapon, difficult to hold and raise above the
horizontal. Toepperwein proposed to shoot it like a .22 at targets in the air.
John Browning, the gun's inventor, claimed this to be impossible. Toepperwein
drilled holes in 1�-inch metal disks thrown 20 feet in the air. The Army bought
The years between
the wars were golden for trick and fancy shooters. There was the great Billy
Hill of Remington. He would throw five nested clay targets at once and break
them all, alternating shoulders with each shot. Ed McGivern, the best pistol
shot around, actually mastered that piece of silly fiction about aiming with a
mirror. There was Dave Flannigan, the champion all-round shot of the '30s, and
Ernie and Dot Lind, the Winchester husband and wife team who performed into the