Hour after hour,
five days a week, on an Army base in Georgia, three men using $2,000 Perazzi
12-gauge shotguns bust targets spinning away from them at 120 mph. They may
well be the finest trap shooters in the world, each man entirely convinced he
will win an Olympic gold medal this July. They burn up 300,000 rounds of
ammunition a year in training time few civilians could afford.
At the world
championships held last September in Munich these three men plus a Montana
State student named Wally Zobell made up a team that broke 388 out of 400
targets to set a world record. A few months later, in Mexico, the same team
broke 391 out of 400 targets to win the gold medal at the Pan-American Games
and improve their record.
officer of the three soldiers, Fort Benning's Colonel Walter Greenwood, says,
"These lads are soldiers first, shooters second." Not so. All three
admit they are in the U.S. Army solely to shoot trap.
There is Don
Haldeman, at 28 the oldest and quietest of the three. He does not rattle.
Haldeman has been to the Olympics before, in 1972, but he did not win a medal.
He is by trade a machinist, and the gun he uses in competition has a custom
spring-release trigger and stock he himself made. Haldeman was drafted in 1969,
and served three years on the shooting team. After his discharge he went to
work in a machine shop in Philadelphia. When he was laid off, Haldeman, a
Reservist, figuring he could do better than collect unemployment, took the
Reservist option of a year's active duty in order to become an Olympic champion
in trap. In his uniform Haldeman is a ringer for Gomer Pyle.
Charvin Dixon is a
wiry-haired, pink-faced 21-year-old who, in competition, assumes the grim
bearing of a middle-aged man in pain. A friend who lived near his hometown of
Harlan, Iowa, had been on the Army's shooting team, told Dixon about it and
influenced him to sign up. "If I couldn't shoot," Dixon says,
"there was no way I was gonna join up." Dixon has six months left to
serve. After that he plans to shoot in the high-rolling trap tournaments held
mostly in the western part of this country and in the live-bird shoots held
quietly here and there in the United States.
Dan Carlisle from
Houston was recruited, much in the way a flashy high school running back is
recruited by a college coach. He won a potful of amateur shoots as a kid,
received in the mail an encouraging offer from the Army and accepted it.
Carlisle once took four quail out of a single covey with a three-shot Model 12
Winchester. You seldom in a lifetime cross a wing shot like him. He is 20, has
red hair and the accompanying temperament.
and Carlisle share an apartment in Columbus, Ga. They are not required to live
in the barracks at Fort Benning since their unit was not provided with
quarters. At 7:30 each weekday morning they and five other members of the
shotgun section of the Army Marksmanship Unit report to the trap and skeet
ranges. Four of the other five comprise the Army skeet team. As Haldeman, Dixon
and Carlisle shoot, it is a preview of the competition for the two Olympic team
berths. They are the definite favorites although Zobell and Mike Janni, who
until recently was a member of the trap section, also figure to be in
Once on the range
they assemble their shotguns, which have been kept oiled and stored in
sheepskin-lined cases, and stuff their shooting jackets with No. 8
nickel-coated shot. Haldeman puts on ear mufflers and Dixon and Carlisle stick
in specially made ear stoppers.
It seems that
Haldeman, Dixon and Carlisle shoot forever. After an hour, trap shooting as a
spectator sport becomes little more interesting than watching clerks sell
flight insurance. The joy is in the doing, not in the watching. You cannot win
gold medals, Colonel Greenwood says, by shooting one day a week.
These three men
shoot international trap only, which is not to be confused with American trap.
In international trap the targets are flung out of the bunker at about 120 mph
and follow any of innumerable flight patterns within a 90-degree radius. The
targets must travel at least 75 meters. At 10 meters from the bunker the
targets must reach an elevation of from one to four meters. The shooter never
knows what path the target will take, only that it will be traveling away from
him. You get two shots at each bird in international trap. You get credit for
breaking it with either shot. Fifty percent of the time Haldeman, Dixon and
Carlisle fire both barrels of their over-under shotguns, often hitting the bird
twice. They shoot only international trap because the Army has the notion it
improves relations with foreign countries.