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Rise & Fall of 2 of the Wests Premier Trap Events

Discussion in 'Shooting Related Threads' started by LV Trapshooting Park, Jan 15, 2009.

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  1. LV Trapshooting Park

    LV Trapshooting Park TS Member

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    <h2>The Rise, and Fall, of two of the West’s Premier Trapshooting Events- The Las Vegas Midwinter Trapshooting Tournament, and Reno’s Golden West Grand.</h2>


    The Boeing 707 skidded onto the Albuquerque runway, after battling a strong cross-wind all the way to touchdown. Veering right and left as the pilot struggled to regain control, things finally smoothed out, and we made it into the terminal area with only one blown tire as a casualty. I was with my parents, and several other trapshooters from Kansas City, on our way to the 20th Las Vegas Midwinter Trapshooting Tournament. It was February, 1967. I was 17, on my first jet airplane, and the world was still a very large place.


    As we departed the plane to catch our connecting flight, the stewardess handed each of us our Winchester Model 12s, all in soft, full length gun cases, which had been stored in the Captain’s compartment during the flight.


    The remaining flight was without incident, and we finally arrived at our destination. On our way from the airport to our hotel, the brightly-lit marquis along the Las Vegas Strip displayed names such as Frank Sinatra, Sammie Davis Jr, Joey Bishop, Dean Martin, Buddy Hackett, and Don Rickles. For sure, this was Las Vegas alright, a trapshooting mecca of this period. I had read about it, and heard the shooters talk about it while standing around the old stone fireplace at Elliott’s Shooting Park We arrived and checked in at the host hotel, which was the Sahara at that time. If I recall correctly, rooms were about $12 per night. Starting the next morning, 40-passenger coaches would provide our transportation back and forth from the Hotel to the Gun Club as needed.


    I was amazed when we arrived at the range, and what I saw when I first stepped inside the clubhouse. The entire center section was filled with slot machines, and along the North wall were an array of blackjack tables, crap tables and a Wheel Of Fortune. It was a mini-casino right at the Gun Club! The place was packed, and everyone appeared to be having a very good time.


    The weather that week ranged from halfway decent to horrible, as heavy North winds rolled in for the weekend, quite typical of the area that time of year. But nobody scratched, nobody complained, as all were here to compete in a sporting event. Over 1000 shooters took the line and took their shot, as protecting averages and sitting out events was unheard of at this time. When you went to a shoot, you signed up, and you shot. The idea of not shooting due to the weather, never entered your mind. I vividly remember big Dan Orlich breaking a lone 25 on the first trap of the final handicap, and being compensated with $1200 for this feat.
    Described above was typical of what I considered the very best of trapshooting in the great state of Nevada, a period that covered roughly 20 years, from the mid-50s to the mid-70s. These were very unique times, and will never again be duplicated. If you look at the covers of Trap & Field magazine during this period, many featured new trapshooting clubs that were being built around the country.


    After World War II, our country experienced a tremendous economic boom. The war had ended in glory, the veterans returned home as heroes, were able to procure decent jobs, and life was good. From those that returned from the islands and the front lines, there were also a high number of individuals that knew they had been lucky to survive, and were hell-bent on enjoying life to the fullest. A new age of potential gamblers had arrived.


    Businessmen in Nevada, such as Del Webb in Las Vegas, and Harold Smith Sr, in Reno, were aware that the country was now full of a new, ambitious, and bold American that could take about anything that was thrown at him. Air travel was being accepted as a new and safe way to travel, and Nevada was now no more than 3 to 4 hours away from anyone in the country. Nevada was also the only State in the Union that was legal for gambling. So began the effort to attract another new customer base to Nevada. New trapshooting facilities were built and expanded to host mega tournaments in both cities, with adornments of added money, and huge guaranteed purses. Both Reno and Las Vegas operated on the old principal at that time; the Hotel/Casino would give the customer a bargain on hotel, transportation, food, drink, etc, and hope this new group would gamble enough to see a return on the investment. This was a formula that provided a win-win situation for all for many years.


    I am reading directly from a full page ad that appeared in the August, 1958 issue of Trap & Field magazine- “The Sahara Gun Club presents the “Annual Fall Trapshooting Tournament, October 1,2,3,4, & 5, 1958. $7,500 in Added Money, a new Cadillac Sedan, a $2500 Mink Stole, and a complimentary ladies luncheon, Bingo Party and Fashion Show. Rooms- $12, and transportation provided!”


    That was over 50 years ago…


    By the early 70’s things began to change. The Del Webb Corporation had now hosted many tournaments in Las Vegas, utilizing the Sahara and Mint Hotel & Casino, with the Gun Club carrying the name of the host hotel at the time. By now, casino executives had determined who gambled and who didn’t. The old Harold’s Club in Reno had also now become Harrah’s, and things were changing there as well. Prime customers, who had been identified and pulled from the group, still received many great perks, such as RFB (room, food and beverage) and probably an occasional show or two. A lot of this depended on the shift-boss on duty at the casino. This is the guy who had the power of the pencil. He could pull out his pen, and write up about anything for you, right on the spot. Dinner for 4 at the House of Lords, or Top of the Mint, front row seating for Wayne Newton, or a free upgrade to a corner suite.


    The Del Webb Corporation abandoned the Gun Club operation in Las Vegas in the summer of 1976, even though the club carried the name as Mint Gun Club for several years thereafter. As the corporations and bean counters took over the town, the shift-boss position was virtually eliminated, and a new Las Vegas was emerging. A new Las Vegas that pretty much rolled up the red carpet it used to extend to trapshooters. For the most part, gaming no longer totally subsidized other areas, such as rooms, beverage and food, as it had in the past. Hotel, beverage and food managers all had to show a profit in their various bottom lines. Also, as our trapshooting group aged, they really didn’t partake in the gambling activity near as much as is in earlier years. It simply was not a win situation for the casino any longer. The golden years of trapshooting in Nevada were coming to an end.


    During my tenure here as operator of the old Mint Gun Club (now the Las Vegas Gun Club), I have dealt with numerous hotels & casinos, namely, the Rio, Holiday (now Harrah’s), Imperial Palace, Aladdin, Maxim, Lady Luck, Showboat, Palace Station, Texas, Frontier, & Santa Fe Station. In the early 90’s most hotels implemented a new card system to track players while they were in the casino. These were issued at check-in, and guests were asked to present these when at a table, or insert them into the various slot or video machines. Many trapshooters that I spoke with about this told me they were suspicious of the cards, and didn’t like using them, as they didn’t want to be tracked!


    Following our major tournaments, I would meet with executives from the host hotel, and all would tell me the same thing. As a gambling group, they never knew the trapshooters were even in the hotel. It made it a very hard sell when I would go back to them for assistance in tournaments scheduled for the following year. As a matter of fact, the hotels were no longer interested in about any sporting event that had an activity that took the guests outside of the hotel. About the only sport they will invest in is NASCAR, boxing & the National Finals Rodeo, as all of these have a huge spectator base, which is the real target of the hotel. Unfortunately, trapshooting has no spectator base at all, so we evolved to the point where we finally fell off the grid.


    The great Golden West Grand of Reno, has pretty much ran parallel to the Mid-Winter Shoot of Las Vegas. Both of these tournaments have provided me with some of my very best memories of trapshooting. Hundreds of shooters used to huddle around the L-shaped bar inside the old clubhouse built by Harold’s Club. We’d hoist a toast to the few that were able to break in the 90s that day, as the majority certainly had not. We’d lick our wounds, get a good nights sleep, then brave the elements to give it our best shot once again the following day. Like the Vegas Midwinter, you took all of your clothes with you to Reno, temperatures may be in the 70s one day, and sleet & wind chills in the 20s the next. Rain or shine, in victory or defeat, I feel very blessed to have been part of the glory of both of these tremendous Nevada tournaments.


    In the past 15 years or so, hosting a major mid-winter trapshooting event in Las Vegas is an extremely risky venture. With no monetary support from the casino, the club is totally on it’s own, and if the weather goes South, so do the shooters. We have aged, and are not the avid competitors we used to be, damned be the weather. We have become more average conscious, and sensitive to wind and temperatures. We all either have white hair (or none), and simply do not wish to fight the elements as we would have in our youth. We no longer skip 4 or 5 traps to reach our next field, even though that is really what is the most fair. Now we just go to the adjacent field, because that’s much easier, and right in front of our RV. Targets give us a warm, fuzzy feeling when we break them all in the calm air, and the sun warm on our back. In a few years, over 90% of us will either be vets or senior vets. It has become a social sport, where Lewis Class is king.


    Besides, the Cadillac is no longer there to shoot for anyway…



    Steve Carmichael<br>
    Las Vegas Gun Club
     
  2. white rattler

    white rattler Member

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    Steve this is a very goof article sad but true. Floyd Nattrass who was my mentor and got me started would always talk about the glory days of the Mint Gun Club and the club at Reno. I got started in 81 so I missed the best days of the sport I am sad to say. PS I did get to the Mint with Floyd and it was everything that he said it would be. And I got to shoot at Reno the last shoot they held at the old club. Trevor Dawe.
     
  3. Bocephas

    Bocephas Well-Known Member

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    Steve super thread.Yes, times have changed.I remember when they had car shoots around here.$100.00 take you all the way.Everyone seemed to have more money then.Least they were not living over their head or on credit.

    But, then again again I have seen a couple of farms shot away.

    Bocephas
     
  4. John Thompson

    John Thompson TS Member

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    I recently watched a special on Don Rickles, and a movie about early Vegas. Both of these features said the same thing. "When the mob was pushed out of Vegas, the corporations and accountants ruined it". "Gone was being greeted by name, now you have to show your ID to a snot nosed college student." Steve, how much effect did this have?
     
  5. plabels466

    plabels466 Member

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    Steve, great post, it sure brought back memories of both Vegas/Reno, & you....I remember taking my first trap lesson from you & those famous words you drilled into my head - trust yourself - Well I did go on to be a better shooter thanks to you.....Yes Steve Vegas/Reno has changed & for the better? Who knows, but one thing has not changed & that is you Steve......I & many trapshooters still consider you one of the best trapshooters ever, & certainly the best friend one can ever have......You were & are a trapshooters Cadillac.....Your old buddy (70 years old now) - Pete LaBella
     
  6. FN in MT

    FN in MT TS Member

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    Great story!

    I was at a club in Reno twenty five years ago called the Oilmans, or the Cattlemans Club?? A Club frequented by the various Casino owners. Al Ferrari owned the Holiday Hotel and Casino by the Truckee River and the Post Office. He and my Father in Law were old friends.

    The conversation was nothing I could add to...so I was eating lunch and pretty much minding my own business. I was sitting next to a big guy who was equally quiet. My FIL mentions I was from Montana and the fellow next to me mention "Where"? No one knows where Craig is, but Helena south of us is well know. So I tell him "Helena". He tells me he has a good friend in Helena; "Zip Eaton". I mention I know Zip rather well and have shot some trap with him. This guys eyes REALLY light up to that statement. He shoves his hand over and says; "I'm Dan Orlich"!

    Dan and I ended up visiting two different trap clubs that afternoon and I shot a couple of rounds with a borrowed Ljutic that was possibly an old gun or a spare...forget which. He broke them ALL of course. I didn't fare as well.

    He and I spent the rest of the day together and he told me about the Glory days of trap shootiing in Reno and Vegas. His description was a lot like yours! Thanks for bringing back the memory of a great day with one of the Champions and true Gentlemen of the game.

    FN in MT
     
  7. shot410ga

    shot410ga Well-Known Member

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    Is it any different than the boose runners racing cars on dirt tracks -vs- the clean cut NASCAR drivers of today. Beer and whiskey used to be common at gun clubs. Some even had there own bars. Betting money on your shooting skills was common. Not so any more. I haven't seen anyone drink or bet amoungist each other in years. Things change, sometimes it's sad. Oh well.........
     
  8. jbbor

    jbbor Active Member

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    Thanks Steve. Jimmy Borum
     
  9. Trap2

    Trap2 Well-Known Member

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    Steve...... What Great ovservations and memories! While I agree with most of it, I don't agree that those days are entirely over. They can be returned to pretty easily with a lot of effort, and sacrafice, on our part. The answer? Two fold. #1 MONEY, PRIZES. AND PURSES. #2, LESS REGISTERED SHOOTING AMONGST CLUBS. As I recall, there weren't near as many registered shoots being held every month in those days. Clubs that today routinely throw 4-5 registered shoots a year where only throwing 1 or 2, which enabled them to provide much higher quality trophy packages than we are seeing today. Those 1 or 2 shoots also drew 2-3 times the number of shooters these same clubs are seeing today at any one of theirs. If a shooter can't attend one of those shoots today, he still knows he has 2 or 3 more scheduled during the year to make it. There must be a registered shoot to shooters available balance. The balance today is tilted to where there are way too many so called "registered " shoots than there are registered shooters to attend them. If, for example, an average shooter schedules himself for 10 registered shoots per year, and there are 60 shoots scheduled duing the time he wants to go, 50 of those clubs will have to shoot without him. Result? Loss of income. If there were only 15 registered shoots available during his scheduled time, only 5 clubs would have to do without. The competition for the shooters money was not near as demanding then as it is now. If there were more emphasis placed on the Las Vegas and Reno tournaments, they would draw more shooters. Harold Smith was a promoter that knew every angle of raising money. getting cars, gold jewelery, etc. to promote his shoots and draw the maximum amount of shooters there. I, personally, think most of the clubs that shoot registered shoots have become greedy for the shooters dollar and believe that, if they schedule more shoots during the year, they will make more money. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you cut the number of shoots you hold in half, your overhead goes down, releasing more money to increase the QUALITY of the shoots you have remaining. Your profits will go up with the increased attendence. Granted, there are a lot of perks that are no longer available to the Vegas and Reno shoots, but, there is also an untapped resource available to us all, and that is the Indian Gaming Casinos. If more clubs were built in close proximatity to these casinos, the casinos would be more than willing to help out with prize money, perks, etc. By offering specials in the casinos to the trapshooters, the casinos will draw the wives of those shooters to not only gamble, but, to eat, drink, and be merry. Then, there is the ATA itself. The ATA could go a long way to improve its presence at these 2 shoots, and could also kick up some additional prize money, perks, (such as an all expenses paid trip to the Grand American) to provide so much more enticement to shooters to partake in the 2 great shoots. Over, you say? It's never over until the fat lady sings, and she hasn't even taken the stage yet. The real answer is up to us and what we want trapshooting to become. If it remains as diluted as it is today, and we don't take steps to change anything, your prediction may be true. Let's hope not. We haven't run out of options, or ideas yet, so let's not give up... Just my thoughts... Dan Thome (Trap2)
     
  10. Neal Crausbay

    Neal Crausbay Member

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    Your memories and mine run parallel on both of those shoots with only one exception, and that's the part about getting a good nights sleep. Surely you jest.

    If we were to describe in detail some of the weather we shot in back then, no one would believe us. You remember the roughly $3,000 you got for a 43 I believe on one of the 50's at Taylor's?

    P.S. You beat me there by one year.
     
  11. bas

    bas Member

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    Steve, what a great post...I never shot in Vegas in the times of which you speak, but did shoot at the old Harold's Club in Reno in the late '70's...it was so much fun. Those were the "good ole days"...sad but true...all things change, however, and I, as a shooter, appreciate everything you have done and continue to do to keepit interesting. Betty
     
  12. mette56

    mette56 Well-Known Member

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    Steve,

    Great memories. Remember the trip you, I and Randy LaJoie made to the Mint the year after you graduated college?

    Also, I know you can remember Barney (C.E. Barnhart)telling the story at the old Elliott's Gun Club of he and Myron Willougby driving back to K.C. from the Golden West Grand in a new Mustang convertable that Barney won in the final handicap with a 97.

    I also remember you winning a ton of $ on a lone 25 straight in a wind storm at Bob Taylors'. On that day, that seemed to me to be an impossible feat.

    Those were "THE GOOD OLD DAYS"! Your story brought back great memories.

    Thanks...

    milt palasota
     
  13. otnot

    otnot Active Member

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    Thanks Steve for reminding everyone what a great game this once was and how diluted it has become. I truely believe that with some promotion from the ATA we could once again reach those levels of purses or even surpass them. By the way you ran a great club up in Anchorage as well.

    Jim
    Kenai AK
     
  14. missed some

    missed some TS Member

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    THANKS steve. mark crist
     
  15. crusha

    crusha TS Member

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    Thanks for posting, Steve.
     
  16. shooter99

    shooter99 Well-Known Member

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    Steve,

    Great post. I have always shot my best at your place. Hope to see you this fall. I love the Fall shoot.

    Ken Creney

    Wisconsin
     
  17. Barry C. Roach

    Barry C. Roach Well-Known Member

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    Hey Milt,

    Tell us a Barney story.
     
  18. LV Trapshooting Park

    LV Trapshooting Park TS Member

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    Wanted to thank everyone for all of the positive responses, and say hi to my friends Milt, Pete, Neil, Betty, Ken and all the others that have made for so many good memories over the years. This article was actually written for Dennis Devault to place in his monthly newsletter that came out the first of the month. I contacted David at trapshooters.com to see if he could present it here, which he did, so thanks to David as well.
    In response to Dan Thome, I hope you are right about what you believe can happen in the future. The Indian Casino support idea sounds good on paper, but in reality, I have my reservations (no pun intended). I guess I would have to relate to the situation that recently occurred at Red Mountain.
    Money drove this game to success for many years. Money brought the average blue collar worker into the game, as he had a chance to perptuate his hobby. If we don't figure out a way to get it back in the game, I'm afraid it will have a sad demise.

    My best to all

    Steve C.
     
  19. Pat McKean

    Pat McKean Active Member

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    Last year, the Martinez Gun Club in Martinez, CA hosted a two-day, unregistered shoot (400 handicap) over the Fourth of July weekend that was well attended and well received. The club was able to find sponsors for the events and there was a substantial amount of added money. Everyone I talked to had a great time.


    They are going to do it again this year, and their Easter Grand will also be unregistered, so no one needs to worry about a bad score hurting their average.


    Come on out and shoot!


    -Pat
     
  20. pfofml

    pfofml Member

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    Steve, thank you for your story. It brought to me a mised eyed trip down memory lane, as it trigered memories of shooting at both Reno and Vagas in the 70's.
    It was great shooting experience.

    Peter
     
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