Benefits of Having a Regular Squad
This year is my 30th year of competitive skeet shooting.
When I first started skeet shooting, not only did I not have a regular squad, I was so new to the game I did not know any of the regular competitors. Naturally, the longer I shot, the more competitive shooters I became acquainted with.
In my first competition, it was back in the days of shooting the .410 first. I was shooting a new Browning Citori Grade VI with Briley tubes. I put the tube in and went to the field at my assigned time. The squad I joined had a couple of shooters from Louisiana and the rest, including myself, were from Texas. I can’t exactly remember my squad position, but when it came my turn, I took the pad and mounted my gun and called “pull”. When the High House target appeared, I aimed at it and pulled the trigger to a resounding click. I was amazed at the result because I was shooting factory AA Winchester ammunition.
I immediately opened the gun to see what had happened, and I heard numerous voices from behind me saying, “I heard it.” I was perplexed why they said that, but I shut the gun and remounted it for a second attempt. I called for the target, aimed and fired only to hear yet another resounding click. Again, I opened the gun to see what had happened. None of the shells had a dent in the primer and the referee came closer to me and said in a very stern voice, “Sir, that is your second gun malfunction.” I am sorry, but I did not have a clue what he was talking about until a very nice man, a retired Air Force Colonel by the name of Jim Dozer came up to me and said, “John, you have done nothing wrong, but you are going to have to borrow my gun for the rest of this round because the rules say if you have another gun malfunction, it will cost you a target.” I must admit at this point I had more butterflies in my stomach than I had to begin with considering it was my first shoot. For a gun that was not mine and did not fit properly, I shot pretty well under the circumstances.
I believe I had a 21. Everyone looked at the gun between rounds and determined that the top lever was not centering enough to allow the gun to fire. They thought it might be because the tubes were not seated deep enough. I went to the car and hammered the tubes deeper and test-fired the gun with positive results. It was sure nice to have someone looking after me, as I had no idea of the rules infraction I was about to commit. Believe me, I knew the rule after that. I shot several times more at that club in East Texas and became friends with those two Louisiana shooters and they, among others, were great friends for years.
It was not long after that I became a member of the Dallas Gun Club. There were a number of regular competitive shooters who were members there. I came to know them as I practiced there weekly. As I began to know more and more club shooters, I had the opportunity to join a squad from my home club. At the time, we traveled to numerous shoots around the state and enjoyed great comradery both on and off the field. I shot practice with these men. I went to tournaments with them. As you might guess, it took a lot of pressure off me when I was shooting with my old home club buddies. It was like shooting practice at a competitive event.
Over the years, I have shot with several squads, but normally we shot together for numerous years, and the comradery and friendliness on and off the field made the game a lot more fun. Practicing together gave us a shooting cohesiveness and timing that was hard to beat with a mixed squad.
I shot the World Championships with that squad for years. There, too, I benefited from the comfortability of the same folks you shoot with at the club. There were occasions when one or more of the squad was unable to make the World Shoot because of work commitments or health issues. During these times, we had to deal with fill-ins. I don’t mean to be unkind, but those times were excruciatingly difficult.
One year our leadoff shooter was unable to attend the World because he was recovering from some surgery. In their infinite wisdom, the NSSA decided not to move the squad up and put the extra shooter on the tail end. They placed the shooter in the leadoff position for the Doubles event. Most of us were frustrated, as the new shooter was a very unusual individual, which is the kindest thing I can say about him. His mannerisms were very disturbing and distracting. He began by correcting the referee by saying his name was being mispronounced. We all thought, great move, insult the referee before you shoot an event.
There was more to come. I am not going to belabor the point, but the gentleman shot a 60 something in Doubles, and the man they pushed back shot a perfect 100. Skeet is a very friendly sport and we as a squad have always been inclusive, but we had never encountered such a rude person. At the end of the round, and his score was recapped by the referee, he had the gall to ask the referee to recount his score…again. The referee spent a minute or so and confirmed his score. We all had a little chuckle when the man in the next position with a perfect score politely requested the referee please recount his score.
In the early years, before my significant other began to shoot on our squad, she shot with many other squads. One of her fondest memories was at one World Shoot when she was a fill-in on a squad with some retired Air Force Officers. She said they were the kindest, most courteous people she had ever had the pleasure to meet. What else would you expect from the Air Force? Thanks, guys.
So, having a standard squad to shoot with has its advantages. Just knowing the speed and mannerisms of the different squadmates can make a big difference when you’re trying to concentrate on your own game.
Like I said, I have been shooting competitive skeet 30 years and, unfortunately, most of the members of my squad have passed away. My significant other decided to retire from the competitive part of shooting as the Texas heat can be brutal in the summer.
That has left me without a squad to shoot with. So, for the past two years, I have resorted to turning my registration materials in with only my name on them. I have told shoot management to please put me where they need me, and for heaven’s sake, do not disrupt the squad cohesion by doing something like putting me first. I am quite satisfied by being in the last position. In doing that, I can get the most time to recuperate.
So, what are my recommendations for dealing with a new and different squad? First of all, the rules are simple. Be on time and follow the proper skeet etiquette: don’t delay the squad between rounds, don’t be talking about what you hit or missed and why, don’t advance to the next station more than 2/3 of the way standing the proper distance to the rear. Follow the proper safety protocols with proper ear and eye protection. Keep up with the squad. Don’t dawdle. If the squad is a faster squad than you’re used to, try your best to stay up. I have found most of the people I have shot with look at my balding head and my aging face and say, “John, are we going too fast for you?” They have all been nice people. I do my very best not to disturb their rhythm or pace.
Then for me, shooting with different people may make you feel out of sorts. It is not unlike golf, stay within yourself and be patient. Without being slow, go through the routine you always go through to shoot. No one expects you to be running a track meet. When you take the pad, have your gun and shells ready. Don’t be fumbling around in your vest or pouch for shells. If you miss a few targets, it isn’t the end of the world. Stay well-hydrated. We all have a beginning and an end to our shooting careers.
Most of all, have a good time. Good shooting. SS
John Bulger started his skeet shooting career in 1988 at 42 years of age. He shot his first 100 straight the following year in the 28 gauge and since then has broken a total of 239 perfect scores: 90 in the 12 gauge, 77 in the 20 gauge, 54 in the 28 gauge, 10 in the .410 bore and 8 in the doubles. John has been on 16 All-American Concurrent Teams, 21 Texas State Teams. John has earned both his AA and AAA pins including a 4x50 Pin earned at the Hodgdon Mini-Southwest in 2010. John’s most memorable accomplishments were winning the Briley Bradshaw in 1997, the Texas State 12-gauge Champion in 2002 and the Texas State Doubles Champion in 2011. That same year John was awarded the Earl Barroso Award for winning the Senior HOA at the Texas State Championships. John was also the Senior HOA Champion at the Mini-World in 2010. During his career John has shot 170,050 registered targets. While he’s had a couple of 399s, a 400x400 is still on John’s bucket list. John served on the TSSA Board of Directors from 1997-1999 and has been a member of the Dallas Gun Club since 1989. John has been a contributing writer to Shotgun Sports since 2013.