But probably the
most exciting trick shooter was the great Winchester pro, Herb Parsons. Once at
a demonstration in Maine, Parsons saw some crows about half a mile away, mere
blurs, circling on the horizon. He picked up a .30-06 and fired. There was an
explosion of black feathers. But his favorite targets were the juicy and stinky
variety. He would spike a watermelon with a few sticks of ditching dynamite and
blast away, or center three eggs between his legs, turn, pick up an automatic
shotgun and scramble them before they hit the ground. He could break seven clay
pigeons on one throw.
Bob Allen was a
young traveling salesman when he first saw Parsons. "I had been shooting
since I was a boy," Allen recalls, "but I was drawn to trick shooting
immediately." Allen was that mythical Midwestern boy who is out with a BB
gun when he's supposed to be home doing math. Hunting and a love of guns were
firmly implanted in his upbringing. His fast-talking and easy-going life as a
salesman gave him the necessary showbiz flair for the sport. At the beginning
of World War II, when he was 21, Allen was all set to devote himself to the
shooting sports of trap and skeet and live pigeon, and to practice privately on
trick and fancy shooting.
About that time
the Army Air Corps began to hire professional shooters to teach skeet and
target leading to pilots and gunners. Allen was recruited, and after a year
spent instructing he was sent to the South Pacific with a B-29 group. Of all
the trick shooters, champions and factory reps, he probably was the only one to
see combat and to actually shoot down an enemy plane, putting to the test what
shooters had been saying all along: instinct does it. Allen retired from the
service as the staff gunnery officer for the entire 20th Air Force.
But a far more
important event happened then that sealed his life in sports. It was a chance
happening in a parachute shop on Tinian near Guam. Allen remembers: '"It
was broiling hot in the Plexiglas nose of a B-29. The Air Corps didn't issue
any suitable headgear, and you were in danger of getting your brains fried. So
one day I went over to the parachute shop, took an old pair of pants and made
myself a serviceable cap on one of the sewing machines."
The cap became
famous. It is difficult to find a photo of an Air Corps general of the day
without one on. Flyers, and nonflyers, too, began to wear the caps as fast as
Allen could make them. At the same time, he devised some shooting vests for the
skeet team. They worked, something rare in shooting gear at the time, and word
After the war,
Allen found a small factory that would make caps to his specifications, and he
made a living peddling these and shooting vests to sporting goods stores. His
fame as a professional shooter was growing.
Allen began to
take part in the premier event of shooting sports, live pigeon. Since the
competition is illegal in most states, it is usually held abroad. A bird is
released from one of five cages or traps inside a horseshoe-shaped fence. It is
16 yards to the fence in any direction. The bird must be dispatched and fall
within the confines of the fence. In 1949 Allen reached the finals of the world
championship in Monte Carlo. "The shoot was held on a specially built
embankment out over the Mediterranean," Allen remembers. 'There was a
strong wind blowing, and it was obvious that if the bird came out of the
leeward trap, he would blow over the fence before you could get off a shot.
two of us left; we had both shot 24 birds and this was it. The betting was
substantial. They weren't called Jet Setters in those days, but they were the
same people. A guy came up just before I was to shoot and told me there was
$2,000 riding on it. That helped. I hate to claim the-sun-got-in-my-eyes, but I
drew the leeward trap. I killed the bird, but he blew over the fence. Anyway,
that was one of the few times that Americans won the team event."
From 1948 to 1963
Allen appeared often on the All-America shooting team. His list of awards is
impressive, among them world all-round shooting champion on three occasions and
winner of the Grand Prix of France in 1956.
success paralleled his shooting exploits. Like Captain Bogardus before him,
this last American trick and fancy shot has something to sell each time he
shoulders a gun. Allen now has two factories, one in Humboldt, Iowa, where his
renowned Gun Club Sportswear is manufactured, and the other in Des Moines, his
hometown, which turns out a less exciting but more profitable item. This
factory supplies all domestic airlines with nylon-and-vinyl flight bags. The
factory looks like an operating room, 30,000 square feet of cleanliness and
efficiency. Business booms. Or bangs.