Although Dameron is only 44 and barely looks it, to hear him weep about his failing eyes and other incipient signs of decay one would conclude that he was an octogenarian ready for the nearest pine box.
His lament about insurgent youth is somewhat justified, though. Dameron had hoped to enter last week's champion of champions event, open only to shooters who have won a state or comparable major title, but back home younger competitors slammed the door on him, most of the slamming being done by his own 20-year-old son David, who won the Tennessee .410, 28-gauge and overall titles. At San Antonio, David did right fine, copping a number of minor placings and scoring 545 for four guns, although he lost out in the overall, the ultimate grail. Decrepit Ralph did even better, taking the runner-up spots in both the 28- and 20-gauge. It was he who carried the 28-gauge winner to the sixth shoot-off round and the 20-gauge winner to the seventh.
Although he insists his eyes aren't what they used to be, in the 20-gauge competition Ralph Dameron shot through one round without a miss at 8:30 in the evening, in light so dim the breech and muzzle burn could be clearly seen. "I was shooting where I thought they ought to be," he explained.
As if there were not glory enough to be gained in the orthodox program, at its annual meet the National Skeet Shooting Association runs two side-bar tests known, for no good reason, as the East and West Opens.
The two oddball events are open to all 12-gauge competitors who make perfect scores in the first two days of the regular 12-gauge competition. Although both Opens attracted more than 60 guns, they are in the opinion of some skeet-wise men, notably Alex Kerr of Beverly Hills, Calif., only a good way for men still in the running for the 12-gauge and overall titles to fritter away their chances. Kerr's low opinion of frivolous events carries weight on a number of counts. For one, he was something of an authority on making the most of what you have before he took up skeet. Although he stands only 5'8", back in the early '30s he was a high jumper and once managed to get over 6'4" while competing against Walter Marty, who held the world record of 6'8?".
As a shooter Kerr never bothered with frivolous quests, focusing on the big prizes, and in the process he won the All-Around championship five times between 1941 and 1957, as well as 10 titles in the individual guns.
No other shooter has ever hauled in half as much. To anyone who still tries to argue about this particular rule of his success Kerr points out that only one man who has distracted himself with the East-West junk has ever won the overall the same year.
Kerr's thesis is further borne out by this year's overall winner, Noel Winters, a 24-year-old building-materials supplier from Baltimore who, although he had never "won as much as a whoopee pin" in two previous world meets, resolved to ignore the trivial fluff and shoot only for the big apples.
"All I had ever gotten before was a handshake and a thank you for coming," Winters said. "Still I wasn't about to go in the East-West and dump a shot and worry about that while trying to win something bigger."
Although he has been serious about skeet for less than four years, Winters, speaking as if he were an oldtimer, observed, "The only people hard to beat in shoot-offs are women, kids and old men. They don't seem to be aware how much is at stake on each shot. While you're lucky to get chips off the birds in a shoot-off, a woman will be silver-dollaring them right and left." Despite the fact that he is only 24, Winters does not qualify as one of Ralph Dameron's quick and keen-eyed young bloods who are making it so rough for the Old Guard. Winters barely sees better than the average mole and wears glasses simply to avoid colliding with furniture. Abetted by specs as thick as the bottom of a beer glass, he knocked off a 99 in the .410, a 100 in the 28-gauge, a 99 in the 20-gauge and a perfect 250 in the 12-gauge for a record-tying total of 548. This put him in a three-way shoot-off against veterans Red Hill and William Peale Jr. of Austin. Not being women or beardless youths, hence duly impressed by the gravity of the occasion, Hill and Peale straightaway blew shots on the fifth station of the first extra round, giving the biggest apple of them all to Winters.