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Vintage Skeet by Ron Jones - A Grand Old Game For Classic American Guns

For those who wish to try a taste of Vintage Skeet, an historic and truly American shooting game, consider shooting an old American classic with low–pressure paper shells from RST and a random, up to three–second delay with a Clay Delay Auto–puller. The beautiful 1910 Ithaca Flues 20 gauge in this photo belonged to the author’s grandfather and was restored by Doug Turnbull Restorations.

sk most clay target shooters if they have any old guns tucked away, and they are sure to answer in the affirmative. If they are my age (please, don’t ask), they learned to shoot with Dad or Granddad’s old shotgun. Many younger shooters have vintage guns stashed away that have been passed along from one generation to the next. But when they head for the gun club, most shooters — young and old alike — take along the guns they shoot best. And that, understandably, is most likely a target or field gun of modern persuasion.

Being a hopeless romantic, I’ve always looked for excuses to bring old guns out of the closet. I am also a competitor, and I don’t enjoy being humiliated shooting my 1904 Damascus Ithaca Double with 3½″ drop at heel along with a squad of skeet shooters who are crushing every target in sight. So, I set about looking for a serious excuse to shoot my older American guns. And, thanks to the internet, I stumbled across Hal Hare’s Blog.

Hal is a consummate skeet competitor who was instrumental in resurrecting the original skeet rules as a sanctioned National Skeet Shooting Association (NSSA) event (visit his club’s website or contact him at 614–501–8535). Each year, the NSSA and Hal team up to run the World Vintage Skeet Championships. The rules are really quite simple: Shoot a side–by–side or pump shotgun and use conventional “speed–up” skeet rules, with two exceptions — all shooters call for their targets with their shotgun in a low–gun position, and targets are released randomly up to three seconds after the shooter calls.

Buckeye Vintagers - Hal Hare, Mark Douglas and Bob Horn

Proud hosts of the NSSA World Vintage Skeet Championships are the Buckeye Vintagers (left to right): Hal Hare, Mark Douglas and Bob Horn. The beautiful Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company RBLs were on display for all to admire.

I had the pleasure of joining Hal and his team of Ohio Vintage Skeet shooters at the 9th World Championships held in Columbia, Missouri, in the spring of 2009, and the experience was truly gratifying. The event was sponsored by Galazan–Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company. Looking back at the HAA Championship scores, I recall the .410 Class winner posted a 37x50, 28 gauge shot a 42x50, 20 gauge managed 46x50, and the 12–gauge champion shot 89x100. There was not a single 50–straight in the entire championship, and no one seemed to care! It was experiencing first–hand the game as it was played up until 1952 with gun designs common on skeet fields from the late ’30s until the rules were changed in 1952 that made the event so fun and special.

I’m sure many of you know the story behind the origins of skeet. “Shooting Around the Clock” was designed by three dog kennel owners in Andover, Massachusetts, around 1920. They anchored a single trap at 12 o’clock and scattered shotgun pellets around a 360–degree arc to complete their bird hunter’s target game. When a neighboring chicken farmer objected to lead shot on his property, they added a trap at 6 o’clock and shot the semi–circle we know today. In 1926, a Montana resident won a magazine contest by suggesting the name “skeet” for the game, an old Scandinavian form of the word “shoot.”

Vintage article from Skeet Shooting News

It’s difficult to enjoy the full flavor of the early skeet sport without reviewing issues of the 1934–1937 “Skeet Shooting News”. PDF files are available online at OhioSkeet.org.

The sport continued to grow for the next decade, and the first National Championship was held in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1935. About that time, Skeet Shooting News was born (old PDF files are available here), and participants in the new national game were lovingly called “skeeters.”

Following my first experience, I organized a postal match at our local gun club with the help of Hal’s group in Ohio. Always one to tinker with the rules, I convinced Hal our Michigan group should be allowed to expand the range of guns allowed in the shoot. Hal graciously accepted my offer to include “any American–made semi–auto model in production prior to 1952,” and skeeters brought out their Browning and Remington humpbacks to shoot alongside Savage, Winchester and Ithaca pumps. I remember one particular CSMC 20–gauge RBL that stood out in an assortment of doubles.

Hal also introduced a handicap system for that event which was extremely popular. Gauges were handicapped as follows per 50 targets: 16/2, 20/3, 28/5 and .410/8. While the handicap system is not employed in the World Championships (each gauge has its own event), the system allowed Winchester Model 42 participants to compete along with 12–gauge A5 Brownings.

It’s no secret the original skeet rules were modified in 1952 to satisfy American’s craving for higher and higher skeet averages. By allowing competitors to pre–mount their guns and have targets launched on command, the challenge of shooting 100–straight was significantly reduced, and the number of competitors who could achieve acceptable scores was expanded exponentially. I’m not here to challenge the wisdom of those rule changes, only to comment on the fact there are still shooters who enjoy the additional challenge of a low–gun hold and delayed–release target presentations. (FYI: International and Olympic Skeet are still shot with the original American low–gun/delayed–release rules, although with slightly more challenging targets and target sequencing.) And no better way to do that than with shotgun designs commonly in use during the vintage years!

Getting Started

How do you get started in Vintage Skeet? Easy. Just get a couple friends to join you in a demonstration round at your club, and it won’t be long before others will be joining the fun. Again, Hal’s World Championship rules allow any side–by–side double and any pump… of any gauge. You will attract more shooters if you also allow humpback semi–autos, which were extremely popular during the era.

Most shooters who try Vintage Skeet for the first time will involuntarily begin their gun mount before the target is released. That’s a “no bird,” and the target must be repeated. But it’s not long before skeeters begin to relax when they call “pull” and only start the mount after the target is visible in the air. The target is not going to get away from you, although shooters with normal reflexes will find they are breaking the outgoing targets at ranges closer to 30 yards than the conventional 22 yards.

Anyone remember reading about “skeet–in” and “skeet–out” chokes? A Light Modified or Modified choke is ideal for the outgoing targets when shooting sub–gauge doubles. Improved Cylinder chokes in single–barrel guns work out pretty well in all gauges.

A shooter in Vintage Skeet posture

A shooter in Vintage Skeet posture on Station 2 with the smooth new Ithaca Model 37 in hand. In the foreground you can see a 1910 Flues and the new Model 37 in 28 gauge with ventilated rib in the gun rack.

Just a few words about the random–delayed release. Before 1952, skeet fields were equipped with timers that released targets with random delays up to three seconds. Today, companies like Clay Delay produce auto–pullers with a variety of random–delay programs. These can be purchased as wired or wireless units. My personal unit is wired but contains a microphone, allowing me to pull my own targets with either instant or delayed settings.

When casual groups decide to shoot a round of Vintage Skeet at the club, most members of the squad delight in giving a “slow pull” to the other members of the squad. The manually applied delay is not as random as an auto–puller, but it works. A word of caution: The hardest target is not the one with a full three–second delay; it’s the “instant” (zero delay) target that beats you!

You’re probably wondering how shooting Vintage Skeet will affect your scores? My observation has been, as a rule of thumb, the averages of recreational skeet shooters drop about 20% initially but over time will move closer to but never quite reach the averages they established with modern rules. Again, it’s not the low–gun ready position that costs you targets, it’s the delayed release. But that is the fun and challenge of shooting Vintage Skeet!

Your next question might logically be: What benefits will I accrue from shooting Vintage Skeet? By immersing yourself in the game as it was originally designed, most will more readily appreciate the challenges faced by the original skeeters. Keep in mind those competitors were also shooting paper–cased shells, many sealed with a top wad and roll crimp. They didn’t have plastic shotcups to assure uniform patterns.

The most obvious benefit is an excuse to dust off that old Savage pump with the Cutts Compensator, Remington Model 11 with the weathered stock or L.C. Smith 20–gauge double with field chokes. Load up with paper shotshells, and you’ll be reliving an important era of our American Heritage. Also, keep in mind the game was originally designed by hunters to sharpen their skills in the field. Game birds don’t become airborne on command, and hunters are not permitted the luxury of pre–mounting their guns. Shoot a few rounds of Vintage Skeet before bird season, and you are sure to improve your average on game birds!

The 2012 World Vintage Skeet Championships will be held July 12–15 in Wilmington, Ohio. Details of this shoot and NSSA Vintage Skeet rules are available through the CCFSA website. The Michigan vs. Ohio Vintage Skeet Challenge will also be hosted by the Bay County Conservation & Gun Club in June 2012. Visit those sites, as well as Vintagers.org, to learn more about this great sport. Try Vintage Skeet — you’ll have a blast!