A veteran trapshooter in a major tournament in Tucson three years ago glanced over his shoulder and muttered, "There's that damned kid again." The kid was George Burruss of Fort Collins, Colo., then 14, who, with nerveless calm and almost playful efficiency, went on to outshoot the man who made the remark—and everyone else in sight.
Next week at the 62nd Grand American Trapshooting Championships in Vandalia, Ohio, George Burruss or any one of several dozen "kids" may as efficiently outshoot a field of more than 2,500 competitors to win the most important trapshooting prize of the year: the North American Clay Target Championship.
Just two years ago a 16-year-old upstart named Kevin Onka of Sugar Creek, Mo., did win the championship in a 150-target shoot-off against three of the best shots in trapshooting history. This achievement is roughly the equivalent of a 16-year-old golfer tying Palmer, Player and Littler in the U.S. Open and beating them in a playoff.
What is the reason for this sudden upswing of young shooters? An oldtime Kansas City shooter who has been shot down many times by these bantam terrors puts it this way: "You take a kid like Kevin Onka and you'll find that he has an uncluttered mind. You know, no crabby wife all the time nagging him. No business worries. No eye on the stock market. And a boy his age has better eyesight, quicker reflexes. These things compensate for lack of experience."
Where adults approach trap and skeet with an almost holy sense of mission, the teen-agers approach it as a game to be won. "When we go out and practice," says 15-year-old Bobby Shuley of Chicago, "we shoot right-handed, left-handed, from either hip—any way we can think of."
In 1958, when Shuley was 12 years old and winning the Kentucky Blue Grass Skeet Championships, he commuted regularly from the swimming pool to the firing line. The following year he managed—between swims—to win the All-Gauge Skeet Championship of the World at the tree-ripened age of 13.
"The little so-and-so's got no more nerves than a cedar post," said a vintage rival for Bobby's title. "You tell these kids to 'stay loose, stay ahead of the bird' and they just look through you."
Advice of this kind flows freely at major tournaments, and more than one youngster has wondered if the motives were Machiavellian. "Most of the time a tip for better shooting is sincere," says 15-year-old William G. Lambert of San Diego, winner of 14 trap championships last year, "but sometimes the advice sounds a little phony."
Most questionable tips, he recalls, have come at matches where he was outshooting adults. At one tournament Lambert watched an older gunner "bug" a youngster until another adult finally told him to leave the boy alone. "The heckling doesn't bother me any more," Lambert says, "but it still gets through to some of the other kids."
"They hate us, they hate us," says 18-year-old Dave Hussey of Chicago in mock self-pity, "but who cares? Adults have been bugging me for years. I guess they think they'll get me to the point where I'll sell my guns. Some chance."
Though this psychological tug-of-war between the men and the boys certainly takes place, it fortunately is not representative of all competitive shooting, and most young shooters are quick to acknowledge the help they have received from adults. George Burruss, for example, owes much of his trapshooting success to his grandfather, Howard Raster, and Burruss is not shy about saying so. Raster started George's gun training at 8, coached him to his first subjunior match at 10 and on to more than 75 victories. But throughout this impressive career he never permitted shooting to dominate the boy's life. When George was named recently to try out for the world championships in Oslo he declined because it would have meant missing his high school graduation. Besides his extracurricular shooting, he was a member of the school wrestling and football teams and he also bowls and water-skis.
This fall George will start college, and he plans to put away his guns for a while. Not, however, until after the Grand American contest in Vandalia next week. Whether or not George Burruss wins it, this much is certain—as he steps up to the line more than one adult will mutter: "Keep that damned kid away from me."