Joe Hiestand - Legend and Champion
Joe Hiestand is someone many of our present day shooters — including many readers of this magazine — know very little about or have never heard of him. In my opinion, he was quite an interesting person and his story is a very important part of trapshooting history. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to write this story, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy telling the story.
Joe was born November 28, 1906 and died October 5, 2004 at the age of 97. He was born on the Family Century Farm near Hillsboro in Highland County, Ohio. This is where Joe called home his entire life, although during his wartime service he was away from the farm for several years.
From what I can gather, Joe began his shooting career with the shooting of a squirrel when he was six years old. According to his brother Paul, the recoil of the 12-gauge shotgun knocked Joe backward about as far as the shot charge knocked the squirrel. As a boy growing up on an Ohio farm, he seemed to be a typical farm youth with a good work ethic and very interested in hunting, fishing, trapping and shooting. He became quite proficient with firearms at an early age. Many days he would shoot as many as a brick of .22’s (500) at small objects he would toss into the air. In a newspaper article from that time period, it was documented he hit 13 of 15 grapes tossed into the air at a distance of 10 yards with a 22-caliber rifle. Also in the fall and winter, he would run his trap line before he went to school — trapping muskrats and mink.
During his high school years, he was an outstanding baseball player. By local sports fans, he was called the Home Run King. With a railroad running through their farm property, it was reported the train crew would stop and let Joe get on the train with his bird dog and gun. Later, farther down the tracks, they would let him off, and he would hunt birds and rabbits on his way back home.
Joe was an industrious individual. When he was just an 18-year-old, he bid on, and obtained, a contract from the County Commissioners to mow the county highways. Joe hired two other farm boys and their teams of horses and sickle-bar mowers, and thus he was able to fulfill the contract.
Joe registered his first ATA targets in 1929. Over the next 60 years, he registered very close to 200,000 targets, of which over 113,000 were 16-yard targets. He registered his last ATA targets in 1989, ending one of the most impressive careers in the history of trapshooting. He was also recognized internationally as a very good live-bird shooter, having competed successfully in Europe, Cuba, South America and Mexico.
As a young man, he was associated with the Ohio National Guard. When World War II started, he applied to the Armed Forces for a commission as an officer and instructor. On the application, where he was to have listed his credentials and accomplishments, he simply put down “Farmer”. The Armed Forces Committee couldn’t understand why someone who only listed being a 36-year-old farmer should be granted a commission, and he was promptly turned down. On the advice of many people who knew Joe, he reapplied listing his shooting accomplishments, which by this time was a very long and impressive list. Joe was accepted and commissioned as a Captain in 1942 and assigned to the Army Air Corp as an aerial gunnery instructor. Sometime during his service, he trained for and obtained, a private pilot’s license and earned the rating of a commercial pilot.
After the war, he remained in the Air Force Reserve. By the time he retired, he had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Most of the time during his service he was stationed at a brand new facility — Buckingham Field — which was close to Ft. Myers, Florida. He was in charge of the primary gunnery ranges which included skeet ranges where the students shot targets from moving platforms and targets launched from high platforms using simulated turrets from the ground. In September 1943, he became Director of all of their ground activities and also served as commanding officer for the range squadron of 17 officers and 200 enlisted men. The ground training activities were preliminary to training in B-17’s and other bombing-type planes.
Prior to Joe’s military time, he married Mary Custer, who was a teacher in the Port William, Ohio, school. The wedding took place at the home of the bride’s parents on March 18, 1938. Their marriage lasted 66 years, until Joe’s passing in 2004. The couple had three children: Linda (Hiestand) Dennis, James Edwin Hiestand and Marilyn (Hiestand) O’Brien.
Joe was also a very proficient golfer. It was not uncommon for him to score in the low 70s. Professional golfer Walter Hagen once came through Hillsboro, and it was reported Joe left his cultivator and played a match with him. Hagen prevailed but the match was very close. Joe apparently made a significant impression on Hagen — so much so, after the match he presented Joe with a fine set of golf clubs. Joe also played in celebrity golf outings across the country.
It didn’t take Joe long to start winning major ATA shooting tournaments after his clay target start in 1929. In 1931, he won his first ATA State Championship which was the 16-yard Championship, and his last ATA State Championship was the 1974 Doubles Championship. In all, he won 33 State ATA titles with all but one of them being in Ohio. While in the military, he won the 1945 All-Around title as a Florida resident. Of his 32 Ohio State ATA Championships, eight were 16-yard wins — three of which were with perfect 200s. These were in 1937, 1939 and 1949. No other shooter has won three Ohio 16-yard titles with perfect 200s. He won 12 ATA Ohio Doubles Championships and 12 Ohio All-Around Championships.
Joe won a record five ATA Clay Target Championships, and that record still stands. The Clay Target Championship wins were in 1935, 1936, 1938, 1944 and 1960. His Doubles wins were in 1935, 1936, 1958 and 1961. He also won four Champion of Champion titles and in 1955 he and his brother, Paul, won the Brother & Brother Title. The first year as an ATA Veteran, he won three trophies.
Beginning before, shooting through and ending after the 1938 Grand American, he set the 16-yard Long Run record of 1,404 straight registered and shoot-off targets. This record stood for 21 years until 1959. During his career, he broke 59 200s and at that time, 59 was the record for 200s with nine of them coming in one year — I believe in 1936 or 1938. He was also the 16-yard class AA Class Champion in 1934, 1935, 1936 and 1946. His High-Overall wins were in 1934, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1946, 1949 and 1956.
His ATA first-place averages were as follows: three 16-yard titles — 1942 - .9870, 1947 - .9879 and 1950 - .9895; two doubles titles: 1941 - .9457 and 1943 - .9400. In 1935 Joe had the High-Handicap average of .9298. Besides these wins and averages, he also had a very impressive record in both clay target and live-bird wins outside of the United States.
Prior to the war, Bob Allen (who later became well-known not only for his shooting ability but also his shooting apparel and accessories) had met Joe on several occasions at trapshoots and been squadded with Joe and competed against him. When the war began, Bob and Joe both went into the service and lost contact with each other. Second Lieutenant Bob Allen was the Gunnery Officer for the 9th Bomber Group in Orlando, Florida, and one day he decided to go over to the Ft. Myers Gunnery School and checkout their operation. The Captain in charge at Ft. Myers was to be Bob’s contact and that turned out to be none other than Joe Hiestand.
After receiving a tour of the school and both men had eaten lunch, Joe suggested that, just for the fun of it, they shoot a round on the moving-base training course. The moving-base course was shot with the student sitting on a seat in the bed of a pickup truck traveling at 20 m.p.h. around an oval track, similar to a racetrack. Trap houses were scattered along the track with some targets coming right at the shooter and others flying parallel to the truck. Today it could be compared to shooting sporting clays from a moving vehicle around a sprint dirt track.
Joe suggested to make the event a little more interesting, they could include a $5 bet. In 1943, $5 was quite a bit of money, and Bob said he didn’t think the situation was fair as he had never seen a course like this and Joe had shot it many times. Joe said he would make it more fair, he would shoot the course from the hip. Bob was sure he could win with Joe shooting from the hip, and the bet was agreed to. In the end, it did not turn out as Bob was sure it would. To Bob’s chagrin, Joe broke all 25 targets from the hip, and Bob broke 18 from the shoulder.
After the war, Bob Allen and Joe became good friends, and along with Homer Clark, Jr. and Earl Roth travelled to many pigeon shoots together. In an effort to cut down on expenses, they would often split their winnings. In 1951, Bob, Joe, Homer and Earl wanted to compete as a team in the World Live Bird Championship in Monte Carlo, but none of them could afford the cost. Luckily, Joe found a sponsor, and the trip was on. Bob had all matching shooting apparel made for the team by his factory. They shot great with Homer Clark, Jr. winning the World Championship with a 25 straight. Bob Allen was second with 24x25 and Joe was third with 23x25. They also won the Team Match of Nations, which was the biggest news of the whole trip. It was also mentioned as to what a great experience it was to hear our National Anthem played not just once, but twice, during the shoot.
Another time the four of them were traveling from a live-bird shoot in Kansas to a shoot in the East. Traveling along the Pennsylvania Turnpike late at night, the two passengers in the back seat were asleep, and the driver and the front seat passenger were discussing possibly not splitting the purses at the upcoming shoot since Joe had not shot well at the last couple of shoots. All of a sudden, Joe’s head appeared over the back of the front seat, and he very bluntly told them he was not going to split winnings at the next shoot because there was not going to be much to split as he was going to take it all. Joe was high gun all four days at the shoot.
Joe was selected to 21 All-American teams, and he was captain in 1934, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1947 and 1949. He was inducted into the National Trapshooting Hall of Fame in 1973 and into the Ohio State Hall Trapshooting Hall of Fame in 1990.
I don’t believe I was ever on a squad with Joe, but I do remember being privileged to watch a couple of his shoot-offs. In 1959 I watched Joe win the Ohio 16-yard Championship — defeating P.O. Harbage. I watched while I was waiting on my shoot-off for the State Junior Championship, which by the way, I was fortunate enough to win. I broke 195x200 in the program and another 75x75 to win. I also watched Joe win his fifth and last 16-yard clay target title in 1960, defeating 17-year-old George Burress, Jr. of Colorado. After 200 targets in the program, Joe won by breaking an extra 275x275 in the shoot-off to George’s 274x275. George was the Junior Champion. These are just a couple of great Ohio State Shoot and Grand American memories for me.
Also during Joe’s shooting years, he held some instructional clinics and put on some shotgun and rifle shooting exhibitions. I just read a newspaper ad that listed Joe being scheduled to put on a shooting exhibition during the Highland County Fair in 1960. The receiver on the 4E Ithaca has a profile engraved on it, and Joe’s son has verified the picture engraved on the receiver is of Joe. The 4E Ithaca is the gun Joe shot for almost all of his career. Joe’s Ithaca and his model 32 Remington over/under are on display in the Ohio State Trapshooting Hall of Fame Museum, along with some other items from his shooting career. In the early 1960s, there was a one-hour color and sound film titled “Trapshooting Tips starring Joe Hiestand”. I would really love to see that film.
In 1956, Joe was elected to a four-year term as Highland County Commissioner, and in 1960 he was re-elected to a second term. In 1964, he was elected to a two-year term to the Ohio Legislature, and he was re-elected and served as a representative for five terms.
Up until a couple of years before his death, he and his wife would drive to Vandalia and spend some time in the Hall of Fame — visiting, signing autographs and having his picture taken with other shooters. I am fortunate to have a picture of Don Wilkin, Joe and myself taken during one of Joe’s last visits to the Hall of Fame in Vandalia.
In closing, I want to thank Ed Hiestand, Kenny Ray Estes and both the Ohio and National Hall of Fames for information and pictures used in this story. SS
David Berlet shot his first ATA registered targets in 1957 at age 14. He became a Life ATA member in 1958. His father, George Berlet, brother Ned, stepson Dirk Meckstroth and grandson Dale Brown are all ATA Life Members and all have won Grand American trophies. Dave and brother Ned have won six Brother and Brother titles. Dave and Dirk have won four Parent and Child titles at the Grand American, and Dave was the 2000 Clay Target Champion. In 1961 Dave was the Grand American Handicap Runner-Up. In 1971 he shot a one-hour marathon, shooting at 1,659 and breaking 1,572 16-yard clay targets. In 1975 this was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Dave attended his first Grand American in 1944 as a 2-year-old, and this 2018 Grand will mark his 75th Grand American to attend and his 62nd to compete in. In 2016 Dave was presented an ATA plaque at the Grand American for becoming the first person to shoot 100,000 Grand American program targets. In 1995 Dave was inducted in the Ohio State Trapshooting Hall of Fame and in 2011 inducted into the National Trapshooting Hall of Fame. Dave says, “Shooting has been a great lifetime experience, and I hope there is more to come.”