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Meet: John Herkowitz

elying time’s 23–year progression, in his mind’s eye he can vividly recall the shouldered Remington 870 pump gun in his hands and view with exacting detail the target flying from the traphouse. As if in a slow–motion replay, just like it was yesterday, he sees the clay bird smashing apart; shrapnel and tar dust flowing away as the picture speeds up to real–time elation. Now, as a top skeet competitor named to two skeet halls of fame — California and Zone 7 — National Skeet Shooting Association (NSSA) All–American John Herkowitz says of that first crushed clay, “The second that happened it was no different than crack cocaine. My whole life — my career — everything ended at that point and all I wanted to do was shoot. I still feel exactly the same way today!”

John Herkowitz, Skeet Star & Gun Purveyor Extraordinaire

You can hear the truth of that statement in his voice, and over the past two decades his actions prove John is a devoted fan of clay–target sports. Yes, he’s addicted, devoted and even a servant to it.

Many recognize John’s name as the accomplished AAA skeet champion and Master Class sporting clays competitor. Others know him as the owner of Pacific Sporting Arms, the largest high–end gun retailer in the country (click here for their ad). He sells more Krieghoffs, Perazzis, Berettas, Blasers, Kolars and Merkels than anyone else. John’s full–service gun business is located east of Los Angeles in Azusa, California, but people from all over America find his selection to be top–notch, and satisfied customers can be found across the United States.

This addicted and devoted slave to the orange bird serves his master by giving back and paying ahead. John sponsors many shoots, including a monthly sporting clays shoot at Moore ’N Moore, a local club where shooters pay a very reduced fee and John picks up the rest of the tab, plus he donates a gun for a drawing held at the shoot each year.

John was not born with a silver receiver in his hands; instead, he began his shooting career as a young man often does, with little silver in his pockets. A Detroit, Michigan, paramedic who followed his parents to California in 1980, John decided to join the LAPD and became a police officer in May of 1981. John jokes the reason for his occupation change was cops got all the good–looking girls. In pursuit of girls and an education, he attended college, where in 1988 a professor, knowing John was a cop, introduced him to trapshooting (which, as you already know, was the first hit of his addiction).

Although he would shoot any shotgun game around, including Bunker Trap, pigeons, American trap and sporting clays, skeet began to become a priority when he registered his first NSSA bird in 1990. John was on the LAPD trap and skeet team; however, on a policeman’s salary, pursuing targets was not always affordable. One day a solution was found just lying on the ground.

While on the LAPD training turf qualifying on shotgun, John saw a sea of red Winchester hulls lying on the range like a mine field. Shotgun gold coin, it was! After he was done shooting, he asked the guys in charge what they did with the empties and was told the hulls were boxed and shipped to “City Supply.” City Supply was where all L.A. surplus stuff was stored and then sold. John popped on over to City Supply to inquire after the AA hulls and was told there were six pallets for sale. “How much?” John asked. “Make me an offer,” was the reply.

John filled practically one whole side of his garage from floor to ceiling with AAs and put an advertisement in Shotgun Sports and one in Trap & Field. “Once–fired Winchester AA hulls,” it said, “$45 delivered anywhere in the United States.” About every six months, he’d hop on down to City Supply and buy 100,000 more empties to sell. The revenue from those sales is what he used to shoot on. He bought his first Krieghoff with that money, also.

The LAPD was John’s employer for 15 years. During that time, Officer John found himself in need of the help of his previous paramedic profession a number of times when he was severely injured on the job. A broken neck retired him in 1995.

While he was healing, John didn’t shoot for a year. But once able, he started shooting, competing and giving lessons. In the late 1990s you would have found John on the sporting clays field, hunting field, skeet field or providing shooting instruction at Pachmayr Gun Club and other ranges. He was still mining and selling that shotgun gold, and he and his hunting buddy, Joe Shiozaki, owner of JS Air Cushion Stocks, amassed a nice little nest egg of nearly $4,000 over a couple years. They used some of it to fund hunting trips. In the meantime, John was getting a little bored with his “retirement,” so when someone would bring a gun into Shiozaki’s gunsmith shop to sell, John would buy it, get Joe to fix it up, then resell it. You get where this is going, right?

In time, the lease came up next door to JS Air Cushion Stocks and John had accumulated a dozen guns to sell. Pacific Sporting Arms was born in 1999 with $2,500 of his empty hull money. He has a picture of those 12 pretty guns sitting in the rack on the day the store opened. Today, even prettier guns, totaling over 400, rest in custom racks.

Try-gun

Using a try–gun helps John provide his customers with custom–fitted stocks. John is proud of hte full service his company provides.

Looking back, John says his success is due to 15–hour days and a lot of luck. He also said these past 12 years may have been 15–hour days, but compared to being a police officer, “It’s like the song says: This ain’t workin’!” The shop has expanded, to the point where instead of one unit John leases three, with two full–time employees, Chris and Carl, plus part–time people who fill in when John is away from the office at shoots.

Some of the luck John referred to came from a friend who was a Beretta rep. John’s rep friend dropped by the shop and told him there were no Beretta dealers in the area and suggested Pacific Sporting Arms become a Beretta dealer.

John replied, “I don’t have any credit history.” His friend said, “Well, I’ve known you for ten years, and I will get the paperwork through. How many guns do you want, 30 or 80?”

When informed the bottom line would be larger with an 80–gun purchase, John thought “If I’m going to go bankrupt, let’s go bankrupt big and buy the 80 guns.” It was a go–big–or–go–home risk for which he had 120 days to pay. At the end of the four months, the Berettas were paid in full and another batch was ordered. Now John handles Berettas, Krieghoffs, Perazzis, Kolars, Benellis, Blasers, Merkels and others, with choices from standard models to awe–inspiring.

John said, “What I like about this business is I have all this cool stuff, and all the cool guns, and I can help guys get started.” I got the feeling of the three — stuff, guns and getting people started off on the right foot — it is the helping–people portion that keeps him enthusiastic, dedicated and working long days. John often spoke about creating a great gun fit for his customers. The photo (above) shows the “try–gun stock” John employs to provide a tailor–made match of stock to shooter. It seems to me you don’t just buy a gun at Pacific Sporting Arms, you buy knowledge, experience, expert advice and a gun that is going to suit your needs — full service!

Helping a customer

John helps a customer with choke selection. With a better than 400–gun inventory ranging from affordable semiautos to very extravagant over & unders, John’s knowledge, experience and dedication helps get customers into the right gun every time.

Perhaps John’s desire to give customers an A–List treatment stems from his own first experience when buying a skeet gun. It was the exact opposite of the experience his clients receive today. Instead of a skeet gun, the gun shop gave him a line of BS and sold him a lightweight (knock your fillings loose) hunting gun. It was absolutely the wrong gun for a competitive skeet guy — too light, too much recoil and too little gun fit. Not the right gun at all!

When opening his own store, John thought back to that experience and vowed to give his clientele the best advice and service he possibly could, remarking, “I have $1,000 autos to $250,000 over & unders, so between all that, I can get a guy in the right gun in his price range. I can make sure my experience doesn’t happen to him and he starts out the best way, so he stays shooting.”

John has stayed shooting and on top of the leader board with an eye–popping Krieghoff K–80 Gold Bavaria Royal. It is a three–barrel Concept with 30" barrels choked Skeet and Skeet and Briley Ultralight sub–gauge tubes. There is a 30" heavy barrel for 12–gauge events with Briley thin–wall chokes and Briley porting. For sporting clays, John uses a 32" sporting clays barrel with Extreme Collared Titanium Chokes. In the last year, double release triggers were added and John kidded they were “…for old guys who have shot too much.”

It was particularly interesting to learn John did not realize he had a flinching problem until it dawned on him his 100–straights were turning into 99s as a bird here and there got dropped. He wondered if it was a vision problem or a “getting older” deal. Slowly, three years of micro–flinches turned into full–fledged, jolt–you–off–the–station major flinches, and he made the decision to go to double release triggers.

John seems energized because of the new triggers and told me in our May interview this year he had signed up for all the major shoots because he wants to see how well he can do. Don’t you love it? I think it is absolutely smashing (no pun intended) after all these years of competing John is revitalized and as enthusiastic as a beginner. Personally, I hope he cranks out the best scores of his life and kicks some serious clay derriere at the NSSA World Skeet Championships.

If you asked our hall–of–famer what makes him a good shooter, he’d tell you he doesn’t believe he’s a natural. Rather, he worked hard at shooting, toiling through his problems. “I wanted to be a good shooter,” he said, “and I stood on the wrong side of the fence to watch the good shooters shoot. I looked up at the guys in the shoot off and wanted to be like them.” John’s goal was not to watch those guys in the shoot off but to be in the shoot off. To that end, he was going to do whatever had to be done and work as hard as he had to.

1968 BSA 441 Victor

John not only has a great passion for shotguns, he is also passionate about motorcycles. Here is one of his favorite bikes — a fully restored 1968 BSA 441 Victor. Nice bike!

Retiring from the LAPD gave him the time to go to the range four days a week. He stood on the line with a Ventriloquist voice release and banged out 30–40 boxes a day. He sacrificed his personal life to do that. “We have no life. What we do is we shoot. We love to do what we do. I became a good shooter because I wanted it so badly,” this accomplished champion shared.

A lifeline to becoming that accomplished came from Bill Skinner, who sat John down over a cup of coffee and drew out the basics of skeet and taught him about eye dominance. John gives Skinner much credit for helping him become a consistent, successful shooter. The biggest thing to me was John thirsted for knowledge of the game. Later, he pursued more help in Doubles with a lesson from Todd Bender. Another priceless bit of information that provoked a serious thought process came from the E.F. Hutton of the skeet universe — Wayne Mayes (see “Look Who’s Talking,” October 2002). When Mayes speaks, people listen!

In the early days, John was running a straight in the 28 gauge until he missed the Low 4 in the last round. He didn’t throw shells, didn’t toss his gun, didn’t even speak when that low–life bird got away. He merely mouthed the words SOB. Wayne apparently can read lips and told John, “Don’t let anybody ever see your emotions — ever.” John asked Wayne, “What do you do when you miss?” Mayes told him, “I do not ever let anybody see my emotions, but you have no idea how hard I’m pushing that gun barrel on my toe standing there waiting to shoot the next time!”

John said the lesson he learned from that is, if you miss, you miss, and his advice to new shooters is to never give up and do not show signs of emotion. Even in bad situations — horrible hurricane wind conditions — try to do the best you can. John told me, “It is just a game. We are very competitive people. All of us are. We all want to win. You have to learn how to lose before you learn how to win. And you have to be a gentleman when you do either. This is supposed to be a sport of kings, and we need to act like that. You act like gentlemen, win or lose.”

In this sport of kings, you will not find John pitching a fit or throwing shells around. He is a gentleman competitor. By the way, another reason you won’t find John carelessly tossing shotgun hulls on the ground is it’s still “shotgun gold” to him. To this day, he gathers together his once–fires, sorts them in the garage, bags ’em up and sells them in his store. Waste not, want not!