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KEN BARNES: Shedding 'world's worst' title was a great day


Photo courtesy of Ken Barnes

A few weeks ago I received a text message from my son Michael in Sacramento. It included the photo that is shown in this column.

He is the caretaker for my 100-year-old aunt, Vivian Kirschenman, and was going through some of her old belongings when he found the article from The Californian that was run 45 years ago.

I should explain how I got that title in the first place. It was given to me by my teammates on the Californian's skeet team that represented the state at skeet tournaments around the nation.

First off, I was not the worst 12-gauge shooter in the world. In fact, I carried an average, almost every year that I shot competition, of over 99 percent. One year I broke 1,247 of 1,250 targets and had the second highest average in the nation.

My buddies like to kid me though because there were times when I would be shooting the other three gauges — 410, 28 and 20 — very well, but would miss with the big gun...the 12-gauge. I can tell you why.

When entering a shoot, my goal was to win the High Overall Championship — the total score for all the guns shot.

I was fortunate enough on many occasions to have a commanding lead when entering the 12-gauge event. Sometimes by at least three or four targets over the closest competitor, which meant I did not have to break 100 of 100 targets to win the HOA crown. So, I had a tendency to maybe relax just a bit, and let a target get away from me. The guys really would get on me about it.

That all changed at the World Championships in 1975 in San Antonio, Texas. I had a very good shoot going, down four targets after the first three guns.

I hit 250 of 250 targets with the 12-gauge and took the field for the shoot-off. I have a vivid memory of looking to the right of the field I was on with three shooters, and seeing about 20 more taking their fields. I simply thought to myself, "Just one at a time until you are the last man here."

The first four rounds consisted of regular skeet, 100 targets total. At the end of that session there were two fields of shooters left.

Now it was doubles at all stations. During the regular event, doubles are only broken on stations one, two, six, and seven. We would now shoot doubles on all stations, beginning with one through seven, and back to station two. Stations three and five are not really that hard because there is plenty of time for the second shot. Station four was the killer.

I think this was just the second time this format had been used at the World shoot, and it was somewhat scary for everyone. I had never really practiced that much, but I knew the key to station four was breaking the first target like I did as a single, and staying firm on the stock for the second shot and not let my head up.

After the first round, there were six gunners left. Three on my field, and three on the field to my right. At station five on round two, the spectators to the right began rushing over to view the finish on my field. One of my guys had missed right off, so that left only two of us.

The other fellow missed shortly after, and as I approached four post for the last time I just prayed to God to let me break these targets one time.

I did, and then broke three and finally two. A loud roar went up from the audience, and I remember the referee saying, "Nice shooting Ken."

As I turned around, I was met in mid-air by my teammate Mike Pelkey. He was screaming, "You won won."

I was never so happy.

Finally, the 12-gauge champion. That made me one of only six shooters in history to have won championships in each of the four gauges at that time.

The event was one of the real highlights of my shooting career. And, I finally lost the "world's worst" title.

BASIC FIREARMS & HUNTER EDUCATION COURSE: Next course offered is a two day course on May 2-3. May 4 is an internet follow-up course. Sponsored by Jay Busby. For more information call 871-9025. The event may be cancelled due to COVID-19.

Ken Barnes is a record setting shooter and longtime outdoorsman from Kern County. Email him at with comments or column ideas.

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