Impressions of My First Grand American
“WOW!” That was the only word that came to mind when I got my first glimpse of the Grand American World Trapshooting Championships. Not only was this my first trip to the World Shooting Complex in Sparta, Il, but it was also my first chance to see Registered ATA shooting in person. Needless to say, I was awestruck.
I made my first trip to Sparta during the weekend of preliminary competition (between the first and second weeks) of the 2010 Grand American. I didn’t get to witness the ‘real’ competition during Grand Week. And, I didn’t even get a chance to shoot. Nevertheless, being at the Grand for the first time made an impression; a huge impression! It all started the previous summer when a couple of the guys from my trap league team made a weekend trip to visit Vendors Row at the 2009 Grand. One of the guys, like me, had never before attended a registered shoot or visited the Sparta shooting complex. He came home from that trip with a strange glint in his eye. His first words were, “Holy C***, you’ve got to go with us next year!” Granted, a lot of his enthusiasm could be attributed to the vast size of the World Shooting Complex and the plethora of trap guns, shooting supplies, and gunsmithing services available on-site. But, there was more to it than that. I couldn’t quite place it, but there was something different about my teammate’s attitude toward trap shooting after that trip. It wasn’t until my own first trip to the Grand, a year later, that I fully understood what he experienced.
My teammates and I have always been what you might call 'casual league shooters'. We have shot in local club leagues for several seasons and have always done our best to shoot well. We’ve all posted some decent scores, but none of us has ever considered ourselves 'serious trap shooters'. That all changed for me, like it did for my friend, the first time I saw the spectacle that is the Grand American. It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly what caused the change; but seeing a large scale registered shoot, live and in person, for the first time, certainly was an eye opener. When I first laid eyes on the three and a half mile (yes, three and a half mile) long firing line, I could see that there was something special about this event. It took me a few minutes to take it all in. In front of me were hundreds of shooters lined up to take their turn at perfectly thrown regulation targets. Behind me was a line of vendors, shops, showrooms, and craftsman as far as the eye could see. And, all around me was a large crowd of the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet. A special event indeed.
We spent two whole days visiting factory showrooms, gun and shooting supply dealers, gunsmiths, gunfitters, apparel stores, hearing and eye protection specialist, ammunition suppliers, et cetera, et cetera, etc cetera. Vendors Row at the Grand is like a shopping mall tailored exclusively to serious target shooters. In addition, most of the factory stores, stock makers, and gunsmiths do on-site repairs and gun alterations. Between the three of us, we had work done on four different trap guns and had three gun fitting sessions. I even bought a new trap gun; but that’s a story all its own. Seriously, if you only go to the Grand for the shopping and services, it’s well worth the trip.
As impressive as the retail opportunities were, the part the part of the Grand American experience that impressed me the most was the people. As our time at the Grand went along, I began to understand what exactly had changed my teammate the year before. The air around the complex is electric with the buzz of shooters comparing scores and customers discussing their next big gun purchase. Spending two days surrounded trap gun manufacturer reps, industry experts, firearms craftsman, and serious trap shooters is fun, to say the least. Seeing the vendors work with the youth shooters was a special treat. They gave each shooter (young and old) all the time and attention that they needed. These are serious gun people and their enthusiasm is infectious!
I found that visiting an ATA shoot of the magnitude of the Grand American brilliantly illustrates the difference between shooting in a local club league and shooting in a registered event. I’ve always enjoyed, and still do, shooting each week on league night at the club, but I have a new respect for the level of passion and competitive drive that ATA shooters have. Don’t get the wrong impression; not all ATA shooters are ‘pros’. Sure, the scoreboards were littered with perfect scores. But, there were plenty of "Hey, I can do better than that" scores too. Any person who enjoys shooting trap can, and should, give ATA registered shooting a try. I, personally, am looking forward to my first registered shoot later this month. Even if a trip to the Grand American isn’t a life changing experience for you that it was for me, it’s definitely something that every trap shooter should see at least once. I, for one, will definitely be back next year. Who knows, maybe I’ll even shoot a little next time….