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Watching Allen behind the desk in his carpeted office, hearing him complain over the phone about the Japanese purchase of U.S. cotton, it is difficult to imagine him shooting pigeons. But it is exactly this love of hunting, shooting ability and hard business sense that make him the perfect inheritor of the trick-and fancy-shooting legacy. Allen worries about his skills. He has not been on an All-America team for a decade. Before this year's Grand American trap shoot in Vandalia, Ohio. Bob Allen had promised himself things would be different.
"We have two stores at the Grand American," he said. "The shooting line is a mile and a half long and we cover both ends of it. My problem is concentration. I run around the store, handling business and phoning constantly. When they call my squad to shoot, Fm still wound up with business. I can't shift my mind quickly anymore. This year I'm going out with a practice trap and shoot by myself every morning to calm down."
But in Vandalia. Allen was trapped again. By business, that is. At the Grand American there was the constant popcorn sound of distant shotguns, a traffic jam of rented golf carts piled high with guns, and everything from earplugs to reloading machines being hawked. One of the busiest stores was Allen's Gun Club Sportswear store. Allen shot two 98 x 100s, which was not good enough to put him in the finals.
It was at this championship that Allen looked around and considered the-problems of shooting today, when guns are a congressional and public concern. Most shooters bristle when you speak of gun legislation. Allen, however, believes "You should license the person, not the weapon. Otherwise you are going to end up with a federal department with 5,000 people keeping tabs on guns. If, on the other hand, you say, 'He's O.K.' then it doesn't matter how many guns he has."
In Des Moines the police have not, as they have in Detroit, been obliged to recommend to the public to avoid arguments with strangers on the street. And yet Iowans are not naive. They realize that even in the less populated areas gun legislation will be a hard-fought battle. In Bob Allen's office are the only trophies he owns—a pair of beautifully mounted pheasants (which he didn't shoot) and a gigantic moose head (which he did). The moose stares balefully from the wall, through the Thermopane, at the dome of the State Capitol three-quarters of a mile away. It is a weird tableau of the coming fight between the gunning sports and legislators.
It is not government but urban impacting that makes Bob and Matt Allen the last trick and fancy shooters in the United States. It is that major American myth: space. Space was a fact of our existence until recently: it was a prime mover in the American experience. The rifle and shotgun came into their own on a frontier where you could face west, pull the trigger and not worry about what was in the way.
These days our idealistic young run off to Vermont to buy a hundred acres of peace and quiet only to find, with the ink still wet on the deed, that a D8 Caterpillar is waiting to bulldoze an interstate cloverleaf through the organic pinto beans. If you live almost anywhere in the Eastern U.S. and foolishly go out hunting, you come up against chain-link fences wired with those little metal signs: POSTED—NO HUNTING. And the prohibition is backed up by guys patrolling the perimeter on riding mowers looking fiercely passive. Now they are mining coal under Montana. Soon the Rockies will be full of aluminum siding and quadriphonic discount stores.
Space affects Allen directly. He is savagely hanging on to 13 acres in suburban Des Moines. "Maybe when my daughter goes off to college and stops-raising horses, I'll let it go. But until then they're not going to break me." Allen is convinced that it is this lack of space that caused the demise of shooting exhibitions. "It used to be that you could do trick shooting at a fairgrounds near a big city. It was safe. But now everything is too built up."
Even a modest 180-grain bullet from a .30-06 will travel a mile. And it is vastly difficult to find a mile in a straight line anymore that some senator has not hired his brother's construction company to pave. You've got to be a Del Webb type and own mountainsides against which to shoot.
As space disappears, hunters turn in increasing numbers to the sports of skeet and trap. They can band together locally and purchase enough land for a gun club. That is the only way left to own enough puckerbush to shoot over. "The big arms companies could not find sites near enough to big population centers to make the expenses of the pros pay off," Allen sadly reflects.