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Last Call For the Spot of Registered Trapshooting.

Discussion in 'Uncategorized Threads' started by kentdeadapair, Aug 10, 2008.

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  1. kentdeadapair

    kentdeadapair TS Member

    Feb 28, 2008

    Hi everyone! My name is Kent Harris and since I am hoping to convince you that there are problems with the handicap system in registered trapshooting, and that we can (and should) make some changes, I think it is only fair that I tell you a little about myself and especially about my trapshooting background and experiences.

    I have lived in Idaho most of my life and retired two years ago after being a Junior High science teacher for 35 years. I was in the Army from 1968-1970 but was lucky and spent most of that time in Italy. My wife Liz is also a shooter and we have 2 daughters.

    I started going to gun clubs, turkey shoots, and registered trap shoots with my dad when I was a little boy and have been around gun clubs continuously ever since. I started shooting trap in the mid 1950’s and have been a devoted bird hunter for a few years longer than that.

    Working as a trap boy at the local club paid for my shooting for the next 10 years and I supervised the trap help for many years before and after I was in the army.

    I have done almost every job there is connected with gun clubs and registered shooting, attended 80+ Idaho state shoots (ATA and PITA) and worked at most of them. Have attended the Grand American twice (1963 and 1990), the Grand Pacific 30+ times and have shot over 300.000 registered targets.

    Idaho championships I have won include 6 handicap (5 ATA and 1 PITA) and I have three 100 straights in handicap (2 PITA). I have numerous wins at the Grand Pacific including a few handicaps and the Doubles Championship and completed my PITA 400 in 1994 (same as the ATA Grand Slam). I got my ATA AA-27-AA pin in 2004 and have been inducted into the Idaho Trapshooting Hall of Fame and the PITA Trapshooting Hall of Fame.

    Some of the positions and jobs I have held over the years include:

    1. Boise Gun Club Board of Directors – 20+ years where I served as President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, and director at various times.

    2. State PITA association – 31 years where again I served in all different positions over the years.

    3. Idaho Trapshooting Hall of Fame – Secretary for 11 years.

    4. PITA Handicap Committee – 20+ years.

    5. PITA Rules Committee – 20+ years.

    6. PITA Executive Committee (two different terms).

    7. PITA Trapshooting Hall of Fame – 1st year as a director.

    At the present time I am down to three committees (handicap, rules, and Hall of Fame), I help the state association out once in a while and also put on two registered shoots each year for my local club. I’m a big believer that we have got to keep shooters coming to the small shoots or they won’t be there to go to the big ones.

    I am thankful for any wins I have had over the years but realize there are many, many shooters much better than I have been. I am also proud of the service I have contributed but again, there are many who have contributed much more to trapshooting. I do feel that my experiences over the years have given me insight into some of the things that are good about shooting and some that could be improved.

    By the way, my path to the 27-yard line was a pretty long one. It took me 20 years and “erratic” would be a kind description of my shooting. I would shoot well for periods of time and then fall into awful slumps that could last for long periods of time. Singles scores in the 60’s and 70’s were not uncommon. If it were not for the fun I had at shoots and gun clubs with my family and friends I probably would have quit several times.

    In 1976 while shooting bad (again) and with nothing to lose, I tried shooting with two eyes and began to work more on my mechanics. Since then even though I still had slumps, they were not as long and the scores were not as low, and overall the results were pretty good. The last two years I have struggled some but (like we all do) I plan a rebound for 2008.

    The point of the previous two paragraphs is that I have had lows that most good shooters never have, and I have had highs that most average shooters never have, so again, my experiences color my thoughts and opinions concerning the handicap system.

    I was always interested in the rich history of trapshooting and the great shooters of the past and present. Over the years I collected historical items, did research, and gathered information on many different subjects and shooters. From both a historical and a practical point of view, I came to believe that the handicap system that worked well in the past is not adequate for our sport as it has evolved into the 21st century. I hope to be able to convince you of this also.


    Since many of you who will read this are not from the West, and might know little or nothing about the PITA, I thought you might be interested in what it is, why it still exists after 76 years, if the PITA membership believes there are problems with the handicap system, and what they have done or tried to do with regards to the handicap system as it affects their members and shoots.

    The PITA (Pacific International Trapshooting Association) was formed in 1931. It is a Western trapshooting association and at the present time they have state or provincial associations in: Alaska/Yukon, British Columbia, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. For comparison, the ATA has over 55 state or provincial associations.

    The ATA has about 34,000 members and the PITA about 4,000. For the 2006 target year the PITA threw a little over 5,000,000 targets and the ATA threw about 79,000,000. For the past several years the Grand Pacific has been held at the Evergreen Gun Club near Littlerock, Washington (close to Olympia). The club has 36 traps and is a beautiful place to visit and vacation but a tough place to shoot (my opinion here). At the 2006 Grand Pacific the largest event had 450 shooters.

    In British Columbia and Oregon the PITA is the larger of the two shooting associations while in the other 6 states or provinces the ATA has more members and throws more targets. For example, in Idaho the PITA throws about 17% as many targets as the ATA and in Washington about 57% as many.

    When Doug House was President of the ATA in 1981 he came to our ATA state shoot in Idaho and we had a nice conversation about many things and he asked me why I felt there was any need for the PITA. I asked him what his favorite shoots of the year were and he thought a moment and said “ my state shoot and the Grand American.” I told him I lived in a state where we had two state shoots each year and also because of the PITA I had another “Grand” to go to and it was a few hundred miles away rather than several thousand. I loved the Grand American the times I was able to go but for a working guy from out here, the cost and time involved are often prohibitive, so the Grand Pacific looks pretty good to a lot of us. There are other reasons that the PITA continues to exist but the extra state shoot and Grand are what got me involved.

    At the time I started shooting, most of the shooters in Boise shot both ATA and PITA shoots, so my dad did and I did. We would go to one or sometimes both of the state shoots each year (depending on where they were held). I worked and promoted both ATA and PITA shoots when they were scheduled at Boise and had no preference for one over the other.

    In 1973 I was President of the Boise Gun Club when we held the state PITA shoot and not a single state director attended, so I ran the state meeting and realized their state association was near collapse because of apathy. I decided to get involved for a selfish reason – I didn’t want to lose the luxury of having two state shoots each year. Over time I realized that since the PITA was a much smaller organization than the ATA, it would be easier to get changes accomplished there. I sure didn’t get everything I wanted over the years but was able to make quite a few changes. My goal was always to make the game more fair and more fun for the shooters.

    Because of this goal I talked to hundreds of shooters over the years about how they felt registered shooting could be made more fair and more fun for them. In general it didn’t seem to matter if you were talking to a PITA shooter or an ATA shooter (and many of them shot both associations), there would be a few who wouldn’t change a thing, but most had ideas about changes they would like to see take place.

    These ideas covered almost any aspect of trapshooting you can imagine, but over a long period of time I began to see more and more complaints, comments, and suggestions dealing with the handicap system than any other several topics put together. So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at where the handicap system - for both the PITA and ATA stands today (more on the history of the development of the handicap system in a later section of this article).

    Initial Yardage Assignment – ATA. Ladies and Sub-Juniors are put at 19 yards. New male shooters are put at 20 yards. PITA. Ladies and Sub-Juniors are put at 18 yards. New male shooters are put at 20 yards.

    Yardage Reductions – ATA. Shooters get an automatic review every 1000 handicap targets. If their average (after abnormally low scores are thrown out) is below their zone break point (either 89 or 90 depending on where you live) they can get a one-yard reduction or they can refuse it. Maximum of 2 reductions per year. PITA. The shooter must request a reduction. If he has 800 handicap (and after abnormally low scores are thrown out) with an average under 89 he can get a one-yard reduction. Maximum of 2 reductions per year.

    Yardage Advancements – ATA. A score of 96 earns at least a half-yard. Scores of 97-98-99 or the winning of $750 or more in one handicap event will earn at least one yard. A score of 100 or winning more that $1200 in one handicap event will earn at least 1.5 yards. Their punch schedule runs from 15-39 shooters – winner gets at least a half yard, through shoots of 1500+ shooters where high score gets 2.5 yards, second high score gets 2 yards, third high score gets 1.5 yards and fourth high score gets 1 yard.

    PITA. Scores of 97 or better earn at least one yard. Their punch schedule runs from 25-49 shooters – winner gets at least a half-yard, through shoots of 500+ where high score gets 2 yards, second high score gets 1 yard, third high score gets 1 yard and fourth high score gets a half-yard.
    Both associations also have provisions for reviews and moving shooters back based on high handicap averages, etc. The ATA also has rules that any punch of 1.5 yards or more cannot be removed for at least 2 years and that a state/provincial handicap champion gets at least an automatic one-yard.

    This is a very brief summary of the handicap system as it is set up at the present time. For all the details (and there are many) I would invite interested shooters to read these sections of the rules. They are in the association yearly average books or you can request a copy from the ATA and PITA.

    As you can see there are no really big differences between the way the ATA and PITA handle the handicap system (probably the differences that stand out the most to me are the PITA requiring shooters to request a reduction and the ATA having 96 as a punch score and making their larger punches of 1.5 yards and up non-reducible for two years. (This last requirement was eased a bit at the 2007 Grand).

    Now, to answer the question: Do PITA shooters feel there are problems with the handicap system and if so, what has the PITA done in response to member concerns?

    Well, since at least the mid 1970’s, members have been complaining and attempting to have changes made in the PITA handicap system. Starting in the late 60’s (Dan Orlich had the first 400 X 400 H-A-A score in registered trapshooting at the 1969 Grand Pacific) and rapidly escalating through the 70’s, good 27-yard shooters began to dominate more and more handicap events at the Grand Pacific and many of the state and provincial shoots.

    In response to this situation, many individuals began to campaign for changes. Some got changes made in their local shoot programs and we began to see yardage groups for trophies which often eventually evolved into the 27 yarders being in a group by themselves. We also began to see purses divided by yardage groups and other modifications designed to limit the impact of 27-yard winners on the handicap events.

    As time went on, more shooters began to press for changes at the parent association level as rule changes and program changes for the PITA Grand Pacific. The punch schedule was eventually modified several times so that today they do not punch quite as much or as deep as in the past. Also reductions became a little easier to get with rule changes that lowered the number of targets for a reduction, took into account ATA reductions and provided a process for hardship reductions.

    A major change in the Grand Pacific program took place several years ago when all handicap added money was divided into yardage groups and the cash purse was also divided into yardage groups. The ATA 2007 Grand American program shows that added money is paid with no regard to yardage and while there is a yardage purse, there is also an open $50 option and an open $25 Jackpot purse on the handicaps.
    Probably the one change that would have had the most impact on the PITA handicap system was proposed in the mid 1980’s. It would have moved the back yardage to 28 yards and created a “master class” of handicap shooters. “Master Class” shooters would have shot against themselves only and for their own monies only. This proposal was ready for passage when threats of a lawsuit and a promise to “come up with something better” (I’m still holding my breath waiting for that one 20+ years later) combined to keep it from being accepted. The PITA was that close to changing trapshooting history and they let it slip through their fingers!

    One reason that the PITA has not made more changes to their handicap system over the years is the reluctance of many PITA officials and members to support major changes because they fear that if they turn out to be unpopular, the ATA can step in and quickly put them out of business (at least in certain areas). This is a valid concern for the PITA because unlike most of the country where the ATA is “the only game in town,” PITA members usually have the option of shooting more ATA shoots and targets if they wish. The PITA often walks a fine line to survive in some states and provinces and sometimes is there only because of a few dedicated “pushers” and hard workers who keep the association going. A good example of this is Utah. For over 40 years they had a strong state association and good state shoots and then in the mid 1970’s because of deaths and shooters moving out of state, they lost several long-time staunch supporters and in just a couple of years their state association was completely gone.

    In conclusion, the PITA is having many of the same problems that the ATA is having with good 27-yard shooters dominating the handicap events at many of their shoots. Unless you lived in the West or had access to On Target magazine or the PITA yearbook you would never know this. Many of these good shooters are well known to ATA members because they shoot a lot of ATA targets also and have had many wins and exposure in Trap and Field magazine and the ATA average book for many years. There is also another group of good shooters who shoot mostly PITA shoots. They are good, they win a lot and they are not well known outside of the West.

    It is my belief that if the ATA ever makes significant changes in their handicap system to address this and other problems, that the PITA would quickly follow suit and shooters of both associations (and the sport of trapshooting) would be the big winners.


    We have taken a look at the handicap system we use today, but what did they have in the past? This section is not meant to be an inclusive summary of all the changes that have taken place in the idea of using some form of handicap system. Shooters and their Associations have been trying to find ways to help equalize shooters chances of winning longer than the past 100+ years that we have had clay target shooting.

    The earliest reference I can find in my limited reference library is from Dick Baldwin’s wonderful book “The Road to Yesterday.” I would recommend that every person who really cares where the future of trapshooting will lead should get this book, or at least read through it several times to learn about our past history.

    The beginnings of the handicap system as we know it today date from the first Grand American that used clay targets (1900). Before this time shoots and clubs used various handicapping methods that included allowing extra targets to be shot, counting misses as breaks or adding targets to the number actually hit. (p. 127)

    Baldwin writes:

    By the fall of 1899, it was obvious to the Old Interstate Trapshooting Association and its sparkplug and secretary Elmer Shaner that a new system of handicapping was necessary to keep trapshooting competitive. Since the clay target replaced the glass ball, the game had increased greatly in popularity and attendance was up at most tournaments. The big problem was that a handful of shooters were doing all the winning. Elliott, Gilbert, Fanning, Marshall and a few others had dominated the pigeon rings for years and now their superiority spilled over to trap, where they continued their winning ways.

    Something had to be done to give the “little guy” a chance to win. The officers of the Interstate Association looked to the success of the Grand American Live Bird Championship. The answer might well lie in placing the better shooters farther back and moving the poorer ones closer to the traphouse. This had been the common practice at pigeon shoots for years………………..The vast majority welcomed the idea of a handicap tournament. Those in doubt seemed to be the shooters who won the most at smaller shoots. Many of these “big guns” relied on winning as it was their sole source of income. (p. 125)

    On June 13, 1900 the first handicap event ever shot in American trapshooting took place. The handicap committee had the latitude of establishing yardages from 14 to 25 yards. However, no one was placed closer than 15 yards or farther back than 22 yards to start the tournament. It is my assumption that the committee used known ability and previous scores to assign yardages.

    Baldwin writes near the end of his article that: “The handicap system at the first Grand American was far from flawless (as it still is), but it was a foundation to build on and the end result was by far better.”

    I do not know when the association began issuing “average” books but the earliest one I have is for 1916 and is titled: “Second Annual Review and Fourth Annual List of Official Averages of Contestants in Registered Trapshooting Tournaments of 1916.” It contains the winners of the Grand American Handicap from 1900 through 1916 and it looks as if they were still using the same handicapping system because winners in that time span ranged from 16 yards (3) through 22 yards (2).

    Under Official High Average Winners it is stated that prior to the year 1908 there was really no “official Winner of High Average” for the season’s trapshooting. In that year careful record was kept of scores made and a real “high average winner” was developed. Then the winners of the Interstate Association High Averages at Single Targets for amateurs and professionals for the years 1908 through 1916 are listed. This is followed by the high averages at double targets for these same years but there is no listing or mention of handicap averages anywhere in the book.

    1918 saw a name change from the Interstate Association to The American Trapshooting Association, and it was mentioned in the average book that the State Handicaps, inaugurated in 1918 had been discontinued.

    The 1919 average book shows that they were working on “Inauguration of a class system which would be practically uniform and permit trapshooters of the several degrees of skill to compete for Association trophies with their peers in at least one event at sanctioned tournaments.” I am assuming this was meant for 16 yard targets and there is no mention of any system for handicap events although they were now using 16-22 yards as the distances for the Grand American Handicap.

    For the first time the winners of state shoot handicap events were published in 1920. It would seem however that handicap events were still in the trial stage as it was stated in the foreword of the average book that: “During 1920, two classes of targets were recognized at Registered Tournaments – singles, 16-yard rise, and doubles………..Distance Handicap events were recognized by the A.T.A. at State, Sectional and the Grand American Handicap tournaments in 1920. This was to some extent experimental and it was not known how the registration of handicap targets would be received by the majority of the trapshooters.”

    Over the next few years handicap events must have become popular because by 1928 the average book of the Amateur Trapshooting Association (another name change) listed handicap averages along with singles and doubles. They also listed state handicap champions and on page 13 showed the new rules for classifying and handicapping at the Grand American.

    96% and over…………………………….AA and 24-25 yards
    93 and under 96…………………………..A and 22-23 yards
    90 and under 93…………………………..B and 20-21 yards
    87 and under 90…………………………..C and 18-19 yards
    84 and under 87…………………………..D and 17-18 yards
    Under 84…………………………………..E and 16-17 yards

    There is no mention if state shoots, etc. were using something like this to handicap, and also shooters had no yardages listed with their handicap averages probably because it was often different from shoot to shoot throughout the year.

    Ten years later the 1938 average book lists state handicap champions and runner-ups. The yardages shown (many were not) ranged from 16 through 25 yards. Yardages still were not listed with a shooter’s handicap average.

    There were two more major changes still to come to the handicap system. Vic Reinders in his column “Vic’s Views (T & F. March, 1981) writes: “Prior to 1947, at each shoot a Handicap Committee assigned each shooter whatever yardage it thought was appropriate. In 1947 the punched card-system was started. (I was on the committee that set up the system.) However the limits then were 16 and 25 yards.”

    This is what we are used to using today. A shooter is assigned a yardage and he shoots from there until he earns yardage (card punched back) or is issued a yardage reduction with a new paper card.

    The second major change took place in 1955 when the maximum yardage was moved back to 27 yards. (I am assuming this is also when they changed from 16 to 18 yards as the minimum). It is hard to imagine today that one shooter could have such an impact on the sport, but the shooter who is usually given credit for this happening was a Washington state shooter named Arnold Riegger.

    Dick Baldwin writes: “Old-Timers will surely recognize his name. There were many stories about Arnold, some true and others not. Some say that he’s the one responsible for the 27–yard line and they’re right. In an effort to stop him from winning big money handicaps in the Western states, the ATA changed the rules on January 1, 1955 moving the maximum yardage from 25 to 27 yards. This didn’t stop Arnold. In Las Vegas on February 12, 1955, he broke 97 from 26 yards and became the second shooter to reach the 27-yard line.” (p.131)

    Hall of Fame member Hugh “Bud” McKinley told Baldwin that: “Riegger is responsible for the creation of the 27 yard line in registered shooting. He won so many events in the West from 25 yards that they changed the longest yardage to 27.” (p. 92)

    Arnold was a handicap shooter the likes of which had not been seen before. He won a lot and he often won by large margins from the maximum yardage of the day (25).
    Just a few examples of his handicap shooting include:

    In 1951 in Reno, he broke 583 x 600 from the maximum 25 yards and won a new Dodge. (over a 97% average) (Baldwin. P. 133)

    “In one of the most sensational exhibitions of trapshooting ever displayed in the Rocky Mountains, Arnold Riegger won the Rocky Mountain Handicap with a 390 x 400 target score. Shooting from a 25-yard handicap, Riegger blasted his way to the win over a large field of shooters. His score was one of the best ever recorded in the nation.” (1954 From Past Pages. T & F. October, 2004)

    Baldwin also mentioned that Riegger won a car in Ohio on his way back from the 1954 Grand and that he led the ATA in handicap average twice. (P. 131)

    We can see that a lot happened in trapshooting from 1900 to 1955. It took quite a while for handicap events to become popular, but when they did, they became very popular. The handicap system evolved over time to become what we still use today.
    Somewhere between 1947 and 1956 they began to publish shooter’s yardages along with their handicap averages. At that time they also showed what yardage a shooter started the year at, and if there were any changes, where he ended the year also.

    In the next section of this article we will take a look at what has happened with handicap shooting since 1955 to the present. This is a 52-year period since the last major change to the handicapping system.


    If you’ve read this far, I hope you will take the time to read (and perhaps reread) this section carefully and then make a thoughtful decision concerning the state of registered trapshooting today. If we (ATA members) feel that the handicap system is working well and needs at most a few minor changes, then we need to move on to other methods of improving and promoting our sport. If, on the other hand, it seems that the present handicap system needs numerous and significant changes to best serve the membership and ensure the preservation of registered trapshooting, then we need to get these changes accomplished as soon as possible.

    Also, I hope you will keep in mind that sometimes what we like as an individual shooter is not what would be best for trapshooting in general, and the ATA in particular. The ATA must be successful and maintain high membership and target levels for there to continue to be the tournaments we have grown to expect and that we enjoy today.

    Fifteen years ago when I began to write letters and articles concerning the handicap system. I was only concerned with a solution to the problem of 27-yard shooters dominating the handicaps in the West. I was constantly surprised that when I would talk to shooters from the other parts of the country they were having very little problem with 27-yard shooters winning so much. They felt if there was a problem that it was a “Western” problem at best. At that time I was only concerned with “equalization” at the back end of the handicap system but as I talked to shooters and studied the situation I began to realize (thanks to several thoughtful people that will be mentioned later) that there were also serious problems with the system on the short yardage end also.

    Most shooters do not have the time or resources available (or the inclination) to gather data to help them decide if they think the handicap system is working well or not, so the following section will present the findings and opinions of many different people over a pretty long period of time. And also, a lot of numbers (well, what would you expect from a history geek and a baseball stat freak?) The hardest part of writing this article was “culling down” the vast amount of figures and data I had collected over the years (Yep, long as this articles is, I only used a small amount of the information I could have put in)

    Any handicap system is supposed to equalize shooters. Everyone realizes that no system can be developed that will make every shooter equal in every handicap event but the question is, can we improve the present handicap system to at least get a lot closer to our ideal goal. A lot of people think we can.

    Let’s take a look at what has happened to handicap shooting since 1955 when we went to the 27-yard line. The 1956 average book shows twelve shooters as high handicap average shooters in three groups – 4,000+ targets, 3,000 to 4,000 and 2,000 to 3,000. Only one of them started the year on 27 (Dan Orlich) and another made the 27 during the year (Bud June). All but one of them was from the West (California, Nevada and Oregon).

    27 yarders were still quite rare. Going into the 1957 target year California had four of them for about 900 shooters while most states didn’t have even one. New York (250+), Indiana (700+), and Pennsylvania (700+) had none while Ohio (1100+) and Illinois (1100+) had one and two respectively. Nevada probably had the most per capita with Joe Devers and Dan Orlich among their 85-shooter population and Washington had one – Arnold Riegger.

    You seldom saw a 27-yard shooter in the East or Midwest but there would be several at the big money shoots out West. Idaho had no 27 yarders then and it was some time before one got to our local club. We had board walkways back to 25 yards still and he had to shoot behind a line drawn in the dirt. As time went by and they became more and more common, almost all clubs added the necessary two yards of cement or blacktop and we moved into the age of the 27-yard shooter. It took nine years for the first 100 from 27 – Col. Elbert Throckmorton in 1964.

    Before we go any further, I would like to make it clear that none of this article is intended as an attack on the shooters who have the ability to dominate the system the way it is now designed. It is really just the opposite because it points out how incredibly good many of them have become. If we had the same ability level, most of us would be shooting (and winning) a lot also because (money aside) it is a lot of fun to win when you are competing in something you enjoy doing. Any sport needs it’s heroes. I will never forget the thrill of seeing Frank Troeh in Portland, or watching, reading about, and talking with Arnold Riegger, Dan Orlich, and Hank Copsey when I was starting to shoot. We will still have our heroes even if we make major changes in the handicap system. Some may be different than the ones we have today, and they may get their rewards from trapshooting in different ways but they will still be “the best” and they will be our heroes.

    Since information on the number of punches shooters earn in a year is not usually available except for some of the All-American team members, I believe that most shooters would be amazed at how many shooters there are that earn a substantial amount of yardage from the 27 ( and quite a few of them have been doing it for a long time). And just to point out that it can’t be considered just a Western problem anymore, look at some of the shooters listed fifteen years ago for punches in 1992.

    Earl Bangs Maryland 20 punches
    Larry Bumstead Iowa 49 punches
    Frank Little Pennsylvania 33 punches
    Pat McCarthy Ohio 51 punches
    Bob Munson Minnesota 20 punches
    Kay Ohye New Jersey 42 punches

    Over the years I have talked to shooters who say the 27-yard super-shooters “have earned their success” or “ they deserve it.” I admire their ability a great deal and some of them are good friends, but they have “earned” no more and “deserve” no more in this regard than all other shooters. The handicap system was designed to give most shooters the feeling that they were more or less equal in the handicap event. More and more, all that is left for the average shooter in the handicap events are a few crumbs.

    Many people claim that the main reason the great shooters are best is because they shoot a lot and work hard at it. This is a little like saying if I shot a lot of rounds of golf and worked hard at it, I could beat Tiger Woods. I would agree that shooting more and working hard to become a better shooter will help most people get better, but there are thousands of shooters who shoot a lot and work hard at it who will never be in the select group. Natural athletic ability plays a great part. This is the thing that really separates the best shooters from the rest of us. Telling the average active shooter (who the ATA says shot 850 handicap targets in 1991 – I’ll bet this number is about the same or even lower for 2007) that he must shoot thousands of handicap targets to be competitive is unrealistic and discouraging. Add to that a system that is geared to a small group of shooters and it is no wonder that the turnover of registered shooters is so great.

    I have talked to many shooters over the years and seldom have ever heard anyone “begrudge the 27 yarder his skill.” Most have great admiration for this skill but more and more I have heard comments to the effect that these people are great shooters but the system is no longer fair when they can win as often as they do.

    A good example of this is when Tom Garrigus (Olympic Silver medal winner, and would go on to lead the nation in handicap average in 1980) lived and shot in Idaho in the 1970’s. He was such a dominant shooter that after a while shooters would come to me and say “can’t we do something about this?” This was the first time I had really realized that many shooters resented the fact that the system was not working as it should and there were some shooters that were just too good for the system we had in place.

    An old-timer once told me years ago: “The best shooters should almost always win the doubles, singles, H-O-A and H-A-A championships. But if you have a handicap system that works, they should not usually win the handicap events.”

    When an average shooter tells me “On any given day I might beat those big guns,” it reminds me of a friend’s observation (same old-timer-he was a smart guy) when a shooter made a similar statement years ago. He said the very good 27-yard money shooters like it when you beat them once in a while because it keeps your money in the pot. Anyone can be beaten on a given day but the good 27 yarders are not beaten very often by the average shooter (and if the handicap system worked properly they should be).

    The many different yardage group plans you see in programs today are pretty clear evidence that the system is not working. Because of ATA/PITA inaction, clubs and state associations are being forced to do something to try and keep their shooters, and many of them are turning to yardage group plans. Worse yet (for the ATA, PITA and registered shooting) shooters are starting to support new groups or associations that provide competitive shoots that are non-registered (the WRETA shoots in Oregon are an example). These groups don’t have to follow registered shoot rules and they handicap shooters as they wish.

    It was mentioned in the Oct. 07 T&F (p. 35) that the number of shoot reports received for the past year was down about 1,000 from the previous year. This means that the smaller clubs are throwing less registered shoots and this reduces the number of registered shooters that are being developed for the future.

    Many shooters will never even shoot in most of the big entry-big money events and one good reason is that they will have very little chance to win because the handicap system is unfair and shooters are starting to realize this more and more. As Steve Schultz pointed out in a letter to Shotgun Sports, there are probably 27 yard shooters who have more 100 straights from 27 yards than the average 20 or 21 yard shooter has 25’s in handicap (Dan, Ray, Leo, and Daro come to mind).

    If we don’t make changes to the system, we face the prospect of the handicaps being dominated even more by the next generation of shooters coming up. Derek Stringer comes to mind as an example. When he was 14 in 2003 he broke his first 100 from 27, which completed his Grand Slam. When he was 15 in 2004 he won the Western Zone handicap with 100 straight and a shoot-off and had 399 in the H-A-A and he hasn’t slowed down any since. He had the eleventh high handicap average in the nation for 2006 with 9519. There are many other examples of good junior shooters who will be dominant if they stay with the game. They are getting better and younger. The youngest AA-27-AA shooter was 13 years and 3 months old. Do we really want our handicap events to continue to be dominated by 27-yard shooters as they have been for decades now?

    Over a long period of shooting, working, and observing it became apparent to me that the big plus for trapshooting over the other shooting sports such as skeet, was the handicap event that trap has that the others don’t. Singles and doubles are still pretty fair because of the class system in use, but the handicaps are where the money and the excitement is for many shooters. Today I believe that the handicap event is still the “Crown Jewel” of trapshooting, but that our handicap system is one of the things that is causing a decline or stagnation in the sport. When a very large group (most, probably) of your membership no longer has a reasonable chance of being competitive and winning in the handicaps then why should they continue to shoot them?

    It is my belief, based on many conversations with shooters, that one very big reason we continue to lose most of the people who start shooting is that they have little or no success in the handicap events and they are smart enough to see that the system is not designed to give them much hope for the future either. Golf, camping, skeet and sporting clays, and many other activities start to look better and better compared to spending a lot of money for the privilege of getting your brains beat out by the same guys time after time.

    I have also heard all of the arguments on why we should not change things, and I have been hearing them since the 1970’s, when some folks felt many people were getting too good for the system even then. It is worse (or better, depending on your point of view) now than we believed possible back in those days and we still have done nothing about it. Perhaps we can continue this way for a while longer, but there will come a time when the majority of shooters will realize that unless they have the ability to become one of the best, they are subsidizing a growing group of shooters in the handicap events. Many more of them may then refuse to “play our game.”

    One of the ways to asses the impact of these good handicap shooters would be to look at shoot write-ups of state shoots and other major shoots over the past several years and to also compare the number of wins at the Grand American for 27 yarders today to what took place in the past. If you have never done this, I think you would be amazed at the large number of times many of the same names keep turning up in the winner’s circle and on the handicap punch list. So, let’s “dive in” and take a look at some shoot results and see what the 27-yard impact is.

    The Grand American (And A Few Others)

    One of the arguments I have often heard against changes in the handicap system is that the 27-yard super-shooters don’t always win the big ones (this is a ‘throw up” argument - it makes me want to throw up). Well, every handicap event – giant or small, is a “big one” if you happen to be entered in it. Also, even though they don’t win them all, they win way more than their share if the handicap system still worked.

    Let’s look at some results from a couple of Grand Americans eleven years apart to check this argument out. At the 1996 Grand, out of eight handicaps, 27 yarders won five and tied for first in two others. The only event they did not at least tie for first was the Grand American Handicap so yeah, they “didn’t win the big one” that particular year (just everything else). In three of these handicaps they finished 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-5-6, and 2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Ray Stafford won the Budweiser handicap (3766 entries) all alone and Leo Harrison won the T&F Handicap (1659 entries) all alone. (Good thing they didn’t win any big ones here). This was eleven years ago and it was already the tenth handicap Stafford had won at the Grand American and the previous year Harrison won the Budweiser Handicap.
    2007 Grand American. (This info was taken from T&F and the punch lists available of off the Internet. To be able to track every punch given was really cool and an eye-opener even for me (but it sure was time consuming).

    Preliminary Monday – 5th and 7th. Preliminary Tuesday – 1-2-3-4-5-6.
    Preliminary Wednesday – 1-2-4-6-7. Preliminary Thursday – 1-4-5-6-7.
    Preliminary Friday – 1-3-4-5. Preliminary Saturday – 1-3-4-7-9-10-11.
    Preliminary Sunday (Budweiser Handicap) – 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-14-15.

    Tuesday – President’s handicap – 2-3-4-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14.
    Thursday – Remington Nitro handicap – 1-3-5-8-14.
    Grand American handicap – 2-4-7-8-9-11-14-15-16-17-18-19-20.
    Parliament Coach handicap – 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-10-11-12-13-14.

    There were 825 total punches given during the tournament with 487 going to 27-yard shooters (59%). 281 different 27 yarders took punches with 107 of them taking two or more. Of the 174 who took single punches, 43 were for more than a yard with 6 of them for 2.5 yards, 7 for 2 yards and 30 for 1.5 yards.

    The shooters with multiple punches included: 9 punches in 11 handicaps (wow) for 12.5 yards (wow! wow!) – Harlan Campbell. 7 punches for 8.5 yards – Leo Harrison. Four shooters with 6 punches: Charlie Morrison (5), Fred Nagel (8.5), Tim Reed (6.5), and Chris Vendel (6.5). Six shooters with 5 punches: David Kelly (6), Richard Marshall (5), Kay Ohye (7), Randy Ross (7), Ray Stafford (5) and Derek Stringer (5).

    There were 13 with 4 punches each and 24 with 3 punches apiece and 58 with two punches for a total of 107.

    Of the 41% of the punches at the 2007 Grand that were received by non-27 yard shooters, I’ll bet there were very few multiple punch winners in this group. (It took me hours and hours just to get the 27-yard data. Perhaps when I am done with this article I’ll go back and research that just for my own curiosity)

    The above numbers sure seem to support Neil Winston’s statement (coming up later) about multiple punches for the better shooters being a great indicator that the handicap system is not working.

    27-yard shooters have won the Grand American Handicap 3 of the last 6 years and all three of those winners (Dennis DeVaux-2002, Eric Shroyer-2003, and Kay Ohye-2006) show up on the punch lists of the 2007 Grand American. The many good shooters we have today don’t just take their “once in a lifetime win for most shooters” and fade away into the sunset. They keep shooting and winning for years and years. Here are a couple more examples – Dale Stockdale tied for the 2006 GAH and this year took four punches at the 2007 Grand and Pat Neff who won the 1990 GAH (from 26) has continued to shoot well since then and took four punches at the 2007 Grand. (Pat is also an example of what I call “the hidden part of the problem” but more on that later).

    Trivia question – What three letters of the alphabet did not have a 27-yard shooter (last name) that got a punch at the 07 Grand? Answer – Q, U, and X.


    2000: Western-Amos-100. Southwest-Crausbay-98. Southern-Loveless-97. Central-Weaver-100. Eastern-Vendel-100. (All 27)

    2006: Central-1st and 2nd. Eastern-1st. Southern-1st. Southwest-tie for champ and took R-U. Western-1-2-3 (all 100’s).


    Golden West. 1992-Seven handicap events. All won by 27 yarders with scores of 100 (4) and 99 (3). 1994-Eight handicaps. All won by 27 yarders with three 100’s in the Golden West Handicap. 1996-Seven handicaps. All but one won by 27 yarders including the last three where they were 1-2 (both 100’s), 1-2 (both 100’s), and in the Golden West Handicap were 1-2-3-4-5 (all 100’s) with Ray Stafford winning.
    2007-Handicap-tie for 1st. Handicap – 1st and 2nd. Handicap – 1st and 2nd. Handicap – 1st and 2nd. Handicap – 1st and 2nd. Handicap – 1st and 2nd. Handicap – 1st-3rd-4th.

    Western Grand. 1993-Handicap – 1-2. Handicap – 1st. Handicap – top 5. Handicap – top 5. Western Grand Handicap – 1-2-3-4 and 11 of the next 14.
    Handicap – 1-2. 1994-Six handicap events. All won by 27 yarders and almost all of the top 10 scores in each handicap were from 27. 1996-First in five of six handicaps including: 1st (100), 1st (100) and 2-3, 1-2-3. 1st (100) and 2-3-4-5. and 1-2-3-4-5-6.
    1997-Wednesday-1st. Thursday-1-2-3-4-5 (Kiner 1st with 100). Friday – 1-2-3. Saturday-1st. Handicap championship – 1-2-5. Monday – 1st (Kiner 100) and 2-3-4.
    2002-Handicap – 1-2. Handicap – 1-2. Handicap – 1-2. Handicap – 1-2-3. Handicap – 1-2-3-4-5. 2007-Handicap –1-2 (100’s). Handicap – 1-2. Handicap – 1-2-3-4-5-6. Handicap – 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 (top 2 were 100’s).

    Spring Grand. 1994-Handicap – 1-2. Handicap – 2-3. Handicap – 1st. Handicap 1-2. Spring Grand Handicap – 1-2 and 3 of top 4. 1995-Spring Grand Handicap – 1-2-3-4. 2007-Handicap – 1-2-3. Handicap – 1st (100). Handicap 1st and 4 tied for R-U. Handicap 1-2-3-4 and 7 tied for 5th. Handicap – tie for 1st and 6-7.

    Western Zone. 1994. Was held at seven different locations. 27 yarders had the high scores at every location on the handicap championship.

    Grand Pacific (man, I could give you a bunch of these, but here are a couple from 13 and 14 years ago). I have a picture I took at the 1993 Grand Pacific. It shows the scoreboard for one of the handicaps – 1-2-3-4 were all 27 yarders and the top two scores were 100’s. 1994-Six handicap events and all were won by 27 yarders and almost all of the top 5 scores in each handicap.

    I think you can see from the numbers in these examples why out West we have been screaming for help from the ATA for years (that’s a long to be screaming-I think I’m losing my voice).

    Here is another tidbit from the 06 average book on p. A-13. Hall of Fame buckles at the Satellite Grands and the Grand American (added as trophies to the Hall of Fame purses by Bill Hunter). 9 of 10 were won by 27 yarders (4 by Kay Ohye).

    Let’s take a look at the accomplishments of some of the good present day 27-yard shooters. What will be listed is just a small fraction of their wins and honors and I could just as easily have profiled many other shooters, but I am just trying to make the point that there are a lot of darn good shooters out there who are better than the handicap system can handle.

    Leo Harrison – Took 7 punches in 11 handicaps for 8.5 total yards at the 07 Grand American. Has had two 100’s from 27 at the Grand (1990 and 1995). Has won the Preliminary handicap twice (91 and 95) and is the only shooter to be the GAH R-U twice (93 when he tied for high and 94). He finished his Grand American Grand Slam in 1990. Leo had twenty-four 100’s from 27 through 05 and has added several since. He earned a large number of handicap trophies from the 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, and 06 Grand Americans and many more in previous years. In 1990 when he set the all-time H-O-A record for the Grand with 991 X 1000, he had 98 in the President’s handicap, 100 in the Budweiser handicap, and 99 in the Vandalia handicap. In 1995 he won the Missouri Fall Handicap Championship (over 1200 entries) with 100 all alone and that same year won the Las Vegas Midwinter Handicap championship with 100 and a shoot-off. He just set a new record by becoming the captain of the All-American team for the eighth time and he has been on the men’s first team 31 of 32 years. He just won his 19th T&F All-Around Average Award and his fourth for first place. For 2007 he had the seventh high handicap average in the nation with 9580 on over 6,000 handicap targets.

    Ray Stafford – Took 5 punches for a total of 5 yards at the 2007 Grand American and won three handicap trophies. Has had three 100’s from 27 at the Grand (84-95-03). Finished his Grand American Grand Slam in 1984. Had handicap trophy wins at the Grand in 00, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05 and many more in previous years. Through the 1994 Grand American he had won 28 handicap trophies there including 4 champions. He was champion in two more in 1995. Had fifty 100’s from 27 as of 2004. His average on his first 200,000 handicap targets was 9415. Has won four state handicap championships with 100’s from 27. At the 1993 Western Grand he shot handicap scores of 99-100-100-99-99-97. This year marks the 40th time since 1970 (huh? Includes 3 times on the International team) that he has been on the All-American team. He also led in high handicap average at least two years.

    Harlan Campbell Jr. – 9 punches in 11 handicaps for 12.5 total yards at the 07 Grand American. 5 handicap trophies and lost a S.O. for another. Included a 1st, 2nd, and a 3rd. Captain of the All-American team in 04, 05, 06 and 07. Also won numerous handicap trophies at the 02, 03, 04, and 05 Grand Americans. In 07 he had at least 30+ high punch scores at various big shoots along with his 9 punches at the Grand that year. For 2007 he had the fourth high handicap average in the nation with 9603 on over 6,000 handicap targets.

    No discussion of great handicap shooters would be complete without the inclusion of Daro Handy. He is certainly a shooting legend in the West (in more ways that one). Over 30 years ago an ad for his shooting clinics in The American Shotgunner (April – 77) stated that he had been on the 27-yard line for 14 years and had earned 150 yards during the previous four years. Daro led the ATA in handicap average in 1974, 1990, 1991, and 1997 and was 2nd or 3rd several times.. He was also second in 1992 when he set the handicap long run record of 505 straight from 27. That year he took 58 yards of punches on his ATA scores including 7.5 yards at the Grand American. His ATA scores included five 100’s, eight 99’s, eight 98’s and fifteen 97’s (I’ll remind you of these scores when we discuss Neil Winston’s article later on). Since he shot over 3,000 PITA handicap and led their association in average also, and had over 80 punches combined ATA/PITA, it means he got punched on about 90% of his scores for 1992. That year at the Oregon state shoot he won the state handicap championship for the 6th time and also won 3 of the 5 handicap events.

    In 1991 when he led the nation in average he shot 5800 targets and took 40 punches for 42 yards with the ATA. Since he also shot 3800 PITA targets that year, it is a pretty good assumption that he took punches for well over 60 yards in that year. He also won a 7-way S.O. of 100 straights (6 of them from 27 yards) to win the Western Zone Handicap.

    By 1995 Daro had over forty 100’s from 27 yards (ATA & PITA) and had received over 1,200 yardage punches and was averaging 80-100 punches a year between the ATA and the PITA. He won one handicap and tied for another at the 95 Grand American, won the last two handicaps at the Grand Pacific, and tied for the Spring Grand Handicap in 95.

    He stated in a Shotgun Sports interview in 1995 that: “In the last 10-15 years, I have taken punches in probably 80 to 90 percent of all PITA and ATA handicaps I have shot. One of those years I shot 120 or 130 handicap events and there were only nine of them in which I didn’t take punches.”

    Dan Bonillas – As of 2005 he had over fifty 100’s from 27 (ATA & PITA). He averaged over 94% on his first 200,000 handicap targets. In 1975 he posted the first 100 from 27 yards on the Grand American grounds, winning the preliminary Friday handicap. He won another handicap at the 95 Grand American and is a four-time winner of the Golden West Grand Handicap. He has accumulated many All-American team placements and All-Around Average awards and is a member of the ATA Hall of Fame.

    Phil Kiner – Has won handicap trophies at the 00, 01, 02, 05, 06 and 07 Grand Americans and numerous others in previous years. Only shooter to have a H-A-A score of 400 x 400 twice. Had thirty-two 100’s from 27 as of 2004 and has added a bunch more. Earned his Grand American Grand Slam in 1996. 1995 Las Vegas Midwinter Handicap Championship – 100 straight but lost S.O.

    Richard Marshall – Has won handicap trophies at the 01, 02, 03, 04, 05,06 and 07 Grand Americans. Tied for the GAH in 2006. Took five punches at the 07 Grand.
    Earned his fourth T & F All-Around Average Award since 2000 and has the ninth high handicap average for 2007 with 9550 on 7,850 targets.

    Kay Ohye – GAH champion in 2006. Earned his Grand American Grand Slam in 1992. Took 5 punches for a total of 7 yards at the Grand in 2007. Also won handicap trophies at the Grand in at least 02, 04, and 05. Had seventeen 100’s from 27 as of 2005. Also has the distinction of being the only shooter to ever break 100’s in handicap at both the Grand American and the PITA Grand in the same year (2005). He is also the first Eastern shooter (surprise) to lead the PITA in handicap average for the year (96% for 2005). This year as Vet All-American team captain, his point total was twice as high as his nearest team competitor.

    Eric Shroyer – GAH champion with 100 from 27 in 2003. Earlier that year he won his state handicap championship with a lone 98. Has earned yardage at the Grand in at least 04 and 07 since then with numerous wins in Indiana, Illinois, the U.S. Open, and Michigan.

    Rich Shrode – Took 4 punches for a total of 5 yards at the 2007 Grand American. Also won the ATA Clay Target championship and won a handicap at the Grand Pacific in 2007. Where he lives they shoot mostly PITA, so here are some of those highlights. 2004 – Captain of their All-Star team and led the averages in all three disciplines including 9515 on 2600 handicap. Won the Grand Pacific Handicap with 97 and a S.O. Won one handicap and was R-U in another at their state shoot. 2005 – Captain of the All-Star team again and led all three disciplines in averages again including 9571 on 2800 handicap. Won two handicaps at the Grand Pacific – both with 100’s from 27. Won the last four handicaps at the state shoot including the state championship. 2006 – Didn’t shoot enough singles and doubles to qualify for the All-Star team but still had a 9429 handicap average on 2400 targets. Won two handicaps with 99’s at the state shoot and was R-U in another. 2007 – First team All-Star. 9396 on 2600 handicap. Won a handicap at the Grand Pacific. Tied for high in a handicap at their state shoot.

    Gerald Smallwood – A PITA shooter who has placed on the PITA All-Star team 38 straight times and is still winning handicaps. Had a 100 straight from 27 last year and also won a handicap at the Grand Pacific in 2007 with a 98 all alone. There are quite a few others that you may not be familiar with unless you are from the West, but they have a big impact on shoots when they show up.

    Derek Stringer – 5 punches for a total of 5 yards at the 2007 Grand American. Also had wins at the Grand in 04, 05 and 06. Became the 2nd youngest to have 100 from 27 yards in June of 03 and finished his Grand Slam a month later. In 04 at the age of 15 he came to the Idaho PITA state shoot and broke 100 straight in the first handicap (that is a good way to impress a bunch of folks who haven’t seen you before) and later that summer won the Western Zone Handicap with 100 and a S.O. and had 399 in the H-A-A. Two years later he won the Western Zone Handicap again with 100 and a S.O.

    Handicap Averages Over the Years.

    For those of you who haven’t been shooting for a long period of time or don’t have access to old records, let’s take a look at some selected information on how high handicap averages have changed over the years.

    In 1962 I saw a shooter with a big patch that showed he had the high handicap average in the nation for 1961 (?). I was a newer shooter, up close and shooting well, so I decided to try for that for 1962. In those days you had no idea who your competition would be but you knew it would not be a 27-yard shooter. There were few of them and weather, wind, etc. seemed to keep most of them from shooting good handicap scores except on an occasional basis. The top three handicap averages (and yardages) for 1961, 1962, and 1963 were:

    1961 – 9270 (22-23 ½ ) 9233 (19-21) 9214 (19-22 ½ )
    1962 – 9420 (23-24) 9348 (22-24) 9290 (20-21)
    1963 – 9318 (25-27) 9300 (20-23) 9268 (21-25)

    This was the norm back then. Your high average shooters were short to medium yardage, shooting well, and on their way back. My average books only go back to 1961 so I am assuming that Gene Sears was the first 27 yarder to have the high handicap average for the ATA (in 1963) but as you can see, he started the year on 25 yards.

    Now let’s take a look at some samples about ten years apart and see how things changed.

    1967 – 9386 (23 ½ ) 9365 (27) 9341 (23) The average books no longer listed starting and ending yardages – just the end of the year.

    1977 – 9515 (Dan Bonillas-27) 9453 (Jim Poindexter-27) 9430 (Roger Smith-27)

    1987 – 9648 (Ray Stafford-27) 9600 (Daro Handy-27) 9503 (Frank Little-27)

    1996 – 9628 (Ray Stafford-27) 9574 (Earl Scripture-27) 9546 (Daro Handy – 27) 9533 (Dan Bonillas-27) 9531 (Leo Harrison-27)

    2006 – 9652 (Bart Kirkham-27) 9600 (William Sayles-27) 9591 (Denis Bringelson-27) 9575 (Phil Kiner-27) 9571 (Richard Marshall-27)

    In the high averages of the early 1960’s most of the leaders shot 1500-2000 handicap targets in a year. Shoots were a lot harder to find in those days and I had to drive 400 miles to another state to get my last 200 targets for 1500 in 1962. I can remember talking about other Idaho shooters and if they had 1000 or more handicap in a year we thought they “had shot a lot.” Contrast this to 1977 when Dan Bonillas had the high national average and shot 8000 handicap for the year or 1996 when Earl Scripture was second and shot over 24,000 handicap.

    It has been over 50 years since we went to the 27-yard line. Just a relatively few shooters caused the change from 25 to 27 yards. We have many more 27-yard shooters now, and a much higher percentage have mastered the handicap event.

    For example: Seven years after the introduction of the 27 yard line to handicap shooting, 27 yarders were still quite rare and they did not dominate. On page 33 of the 1962 average book, 60 amateur shooters are listed with a handicap average over 91%. Only 3 of them were 27 yarders and one of them made the 27 during that year. In Idaho that year we had one 27 yarder out of 316 shooters.

    30 years later in 1992 we find 94 of the top 100 handicap averages were held by 27 yarders (and 176 of the top 194). In Idaho we now had 85 of 778 shooters that were on the 27.

    Up through 1955 we leveled the playing field by continuing to add yardage for the best shooters. It took a while but the best shooters again began to dominate the handicap events. It was nine years before a 100 straight from 27 yards was recorded when two were posted in 1964. (Any guesses on how many there were in 2007?) It was also the mid 60’s before a 27 yarder finally had the top handicap average in the nation. The 2004 average book shows that 27 yarders now dominate with 102 of 109 shooters with handicap averages of 93+ being on the 27. Contrast this to 1963 when 118 shooters had handicap averages of 90+ and very few of them were maximum yardage shooters.

    In 1982, 36 of the top 100 averages on 1500 or more ATA handicap targets were compiled by 27-yard shooters. Figures for some of the following years were:

    1983 – 48 of 100 1984 – 72 of 100 1985 – 71 of 100 1986 – 77 of 100
    1987 – 85 of 100 1988 – 86 of 100 1989 – 88 of 100 1990 – 90 of 100
    1991 – 92 of 100 1992 – 95 of 100 1993 – 98 of 100 2006 – 96 of 100

    These figures show a continued increase in the percentage of 27-yard shooters in the top 100. Since there has certainly not been a corresponding increase in the number of shooters (in fact some states have lost significant numbers of registered shooters) it would seem that we now have a higher percentage of very good 27 yard shooters than ever before.

    In 1993, the top 40 handicap shooters had an average of 94 or over and the top 102 ATA averages that year were 93 or over. (See the Neil Winston article later to get an idea of what this means when you compete against these shooters). In 2006 it was the top 49 with averages of 94 and over (with 19 over 95% - all 27 yarders). While the top 141 had an average of 93% or better.

    A Couple of Specific Examples: When Tom Garrigus was the high handicap average leader in 1980 he averaged 9505 on 2000 targets and took 10 punches out of 20 chances including five 98’s, one 97 and four 96’s. The runner-up that year was Dan Bonillas who took 28 ½ honorary yards including scores of 100, 99, eight 98’s and six 97’s. Bonillas had been the handicap average leader four of the six previous years.
    Twelve years later the high average leader for 1992, Dale Amos shot 2200 handicap targets with an average of 9827 (how many shooters can come close to an average like this even in 16’s?) and was punched on all but one score (his low score of the year – 95). This is amazing shooting no matter where it is done. The next year in 1993 Amos led the ATA in handicap average again with 9760 and took a punch on every handicap he shot. That same year Ray Stafford earned 49 ½ yards. Amos also led the ATA in 2000 with an average of 9753 and he has 6 of the top 10 all-time handicap averages for the ATA.
    Based on what we see in handicap averages over the years, it would seem that the handicap system hasn’t worked well for quite a number of years.
    These averages point out the fact that scores are higher today than they were in the past. There are many reasons for this including better equipment (guns, traps, voice pulls and shells), better targets (compared to some of the “clangers” from years past), easier targets (2 hole vs. 3 hole and often “soft”), instruction and coaching, and many more very good shooters in the game today.
    The truth is, that since the last major change to the handicap system in 1955, many things have changed to make good scores easier to shoot. In this same 50 year span we have done almost nothing to make the game tougher for those better shooters and there are lots more of them today. For example, in 1956 California had 950 shooters and one started 1957 on the 27. In 1963 they had 1533 shooters with three on the 27 and by 2004 California had 1955 shooters and 256 were 27 yarders. My home state of Idaho had 227 shooters in 1956 and no shooters on 27. In 1963 we were up to 312 shooters and still no 27 yarders, but in 2004 there were 754 Idaho shooters with 67 of them on 27 yards. Pennsylvania had about 700 shooters in 1956 with none on 27 and now they have about 2400 shooters with 183 on 27. Utah had 130 shooters with one on 27 in 1957 and now they have about 600 shooters with 113 on the 27-yard line.

    Opinions? (Lots of Them)

    Most Trapshooters have an opinion on the subject of handicap system reform. The following shooters bring up many items that are germane to the debate so let’s take a look at some.
    Dan Bonillas – In an interview in Shotgun Sports (94) he felt that the 27-yard domination of the handicaps began when the ATA started allowing easier targets to be thrown (softer and two-hole). “Until that domination occurred, you could go after you shot down to the beer tent and everyone would congratulate you for breaking a 97 in handicap, now it’s condolences if you break a 97.
    “The ‘big guns’ just can’t get past their own gigantic egos. They have no foresight. Their interests lie only in winning everything with the highest average in the country. It’s hard for me to imagine somebody in a business de
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