Ken Barnes
Shown are "The Californians" 5-man skeet shooting team after breaking a world record 500 x 500 during the Kentucky Blue Grass Open in 1979.  From left are Dick Weise, George Desatoff, Jim Humphrey, Phil Murray, and Ken Barnes

During all the years I was shooting competition skeet during the 1960s and 70s, I had heard about a great shoot that was held every year in Chicago called the Great Western.

The club was located right on Lake Shore Drive, and you would shoot right over Lake Michigan.

In 1979, I decided to try and attend this event with four other members of my regular shooting squad called "The Californians." Three of us flew in from Los Angeles, and two from Northern California. Everything went well, and it was really an odd feeling being on a field where you could throw a rock into the waters of the lake.

A few years down the road, the Environmental Protection Agency closed down the club because of the huge wall of lead that had built up in the lake over almost 100 years of shooting. It was about 150-200 yards off shore and was the result of millions of rounds of target loads and lead shot being fired into the water.

On the second day of the shoot, a friend of mine from Texas said we should consider staying over during the following week, and drive down to Louisville for the Kentucky Blue Grass Open. This was another premier shoot held annually in the region. My team talked it over, and decided it was a good idea.

We cancelled our airline flight home, and on Monday after the shoot headed south in a van we had rented. We toured the city for a couple of days before settling in to some hard practice before the event. The last day of the shoot was Sunday, and was the 12 gauge finale. Four rounds of 25 targets.

The first round is always the toughest, especially if there is no practice field to warm up on. Just dig in and break them all, any way you can. Smoke it or chip it...doesn't matter. The squad broke them all. The second round is a little easier because you have worked all the kinks out of your body and you are just getting smoother. Again, the squad broke them all.

We started the fourth round with everyone still straight. Word had spread on the grounds and we suddenly had groups of people lining the field to watch the final 25 targets.

No one on the squad said anything about breaking a 500, but I knew we were all thinking it. I prayed, as I did often. God, just let me break this one target, one time. Then the next one, one time. Suddenly, we were all off of the last hard station, number six, and were finishing with the so called easiest shots on the field.

But no one took them for granted, and we all just crunched station seven. Walking out to station eight I was thinking that we're going to do it. Just keep working hard. I was shooting lead off for the entire shoot, so I broke my last three targets for a hundred straight, and was followed by the next three gunners for the same.

One man to go. Dick Weise was tail gunner, and he broke his last targets at station 8 for his 99th target. He reloaded for his last target. . .aimed . . .and pulled the trigger.

I was a few feet behind him, and was leaning slightly toward him to give a hoot and a holler after I heard a bang. Instead, I hear click!! What!! Just a click. A gun malfunction or bad ammo. I almost jumped out of my shoes. I heard a loud moan from the audience on the side lines, also.

What happened? Dick and the referee check his gun by firing another shell, but still nothing. After ten minutes off fiddling with it, it finally fired, and he set up for the last shot again.

It's real easy to flinch after something like that happens, because your brain is telling you it may not go off again. He called pull, and it was nothing but smoke. We had done it. A world record 500 x 500.

People have always assumed that the happiest I ever felt after shooting was when I broke the first 400 x 400 in competition. But I have to tell you, the joy of that day and sharing it with close friends ranks right up there with that event.

One last note about good luck. I found out a week or so later that the same airline flight we cancelled from Chicago back to Los Angeles had taken off, rolled over, and crashed in a field killing all of the 200-plus passengers and crew on board.

I'd like to think God wanted the five by five just as bad as we did.

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

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