The 7 mm.
expanding point slug explodes a cabbage head, turning it to green snow.
Vaporized grapefruit juice hangs in the humid air. A mothball turns to powder,
big automobile body-washers zing out of sight making ghostly noises. The
photographer, an Italian from New York's Lower East Side who thinks shotguns
are used only for holdups, staggers sideways holding his ears. Cordite residue
enters the pores of the spectators. Plastic wadding hails down on heads and on
the car roofs, and the only sound between the authoritative muzzle reports of
the full-choked 12-gauge shotguns is the clink of brass shell casings chipping
the lenses of Decot shooting glasses.
This is not a
contract killing in a vegetable market but a demonstration of shooting skill
and instinctive reaction called "The Power of the Gun." Bob Allen, 53,
an 11-time member of the All America Trap Shooting Team, and his son Matt, 15,
are performing between thunderstorms at a National Guard summer camp near Des
Moines. It is one of those July days on the Plains when the sky is made of
nicotine in aspic. You could poach an egg in your handkerchief. A few rats have
drowned in the nearby hand-grenade practice pits, and local weather watchers
predict that if the rains continue the few cattle still being fattened under
the last spasms of Phase IV will be swept away into the flooded rivers. It is
here on the unpredictable and sightless Plains, where the horizon is a giant
cuticle, that a sport has come home to die. For it was space, the vistas of the
pioneers, that spawned trick shooting, and it is to space that its last
Bob Allen is the
one remaining professional to perform trick and fancy shooting in public
demonstrations. He appears at county fairs, before police boys' clubs and
almost anywhere else that he is given a chance with his son to exhibit this
nearly lost mixture of show business, shooting skill and fluid instinct.
The audience is
composed of a few National Guardsmen, the base commander and his grandson, and
the mandatory old guy who keeps muttering, "...done better by Parsons in
'47." The Guardsmen would have preferred to go home and resume their
telephone-lineman jobs and get out of the heat and their grimy fatigues. But
Bob Allen's patter and ability with rifles and shotguns have them hunkered down
on the brown grass staring at the sky.
Bob and Matt
Allen get up their table of targets, ammunition and firearms in the traditional
trick shooter's way. The table is covered with a red Pendleton blanket
decorated with badges and emblems that show participation in events like the
Nebraska one-box pheasant hunt. The smaller the event the larger seems its
patch. The whole thing looks as if it were a merit-badge sash for some
impossible Eagle Scout.
From the trunk of
Allen's Cadillac comes an impressive array of hardware. The efficient Remington
nylon-stock .22s, a big Remington 7 mm. rifle, a smattering of Brownings, the
magnificent and tight Krieghoff skeet and trap guns and two shotguns that
should go into the Museum of Modern Art's design collection, the new Weatherby
automatics and pumps. The guns are worth more than two cars. And the engravings
of roebucks and alert woodcock on the silver trigger guards make Donatello's
St. John look like handicraft. If the guns were never shot, if they just lay
there all day in the hot air and humidity, it would almost be enough.
The Allens line
up double rows of targets by size. One of the tricks of this sort of shooting
is warming up. You shoot a few big 2�-inch wooden blocks and work down to the
smaller, more difficult targets. The array on the red blanket looks as if Julia
Child were about to make some goofy Provencal compote: cabbages, grapefruits,
lemons, eggs, golf balls, mothballs, aspirins. Aspirins? And we all thought
that if we could shoot a squirrel from the bedroom window through the screen we
were doing well. The collection of odd targets also includes auto body-washers,
traditional clay pigeons filled with lampblack, coins and gasoline jugs.
The Allens take
up positions, one on each side of their smorgasbord. Young Matt begins to knock
off some wooden blocks while Bob turns loose a fast patter on the crowd. He
explains that the power of the gun is awesome and that respect for firearms is
the prime attitude in handling them. Meanwhile, Matt is working through a stack
of auto washers and nickels. Bob picks up a .22 and dispatches a variety of
The action is
fluid and apparently simple. The shooter throws the target up with his left
hand, follows through to grasp the barrel, tracks, leads and shoots the target.
It is done in split seconds. The target goes almost straight up to a height of
10 to 20 feet.
shooting" is the technical name for what the Allens practice, but as
always, when a professional tells you that he works by instinct, there are
years of hard work, knowledge and training behind that deceptively simple swing
of the barrel. It is a response so deeply ingrained it approaches the Zen
archery of Japan in which the medulla oblongata and the DNA in the muscle cells
have picked up the correct target-leading distance. The brain is necessarily
absent. A man in France is claiming to have invented instinct shooting, but it
is hard to say anyone did. Maybe the first gunfighter in the Old West who drew
and fired without consciously saying "aim" to himself invented it.