COLUMBIA — When Elmer Hawse was a child, Nov. 1 was the opening day of hunting season in Mount Pleasant, Pa. Schools closed, people left work early, and life was virtually put on hold.
At age 16 — legally old enough to hunt — Hawse took off into the Pennsylvania woods to hunt cottontail rabbits, traipsing through tall grass and spending hours in the thick underbrush in the foothills of the Appalachians.
Hunting was a big part of his life until he moved to St. Charles in 1965. Not knowing where to hunt and without a hunting buddy, Hawse gave up on the passion of his youth. In 1995, he sold all his hunting gear.
Five years later, in 2000, a friend asked him to go with him to shoot some sporting clays. The passion for shooting for sport was reignited.
This past weekend, Hawse, 80, competed in all nine shooting events at the Missouri State Senior Games. The events took place at Prairie Grove Shotgun Sports. He received a gold medal by default in all nine events because of age bracketing. But Hawse is still better than many of his younger competitors. In international skeet, which is widely regarded as one of the most difficult events, he shot 30 birds – beating six of his nine competitors and tying with one.
"It's the enjoyment of seeing that I can still compete against these guys," Hawse said. "I'm 80, and I beat a 57-year-old."
Sunday morning at the American skeet competition, Hawse reached into a black bag painted with a wood duck feather and his name in cursive. He selected a single hand-loaded golden shell and loaded his Beretta Silver Pigeon III. He placed the shotgun against his right shoulder.
"Pull!" he yelled.
An orange disk, or bird, was launched out of the tall trap house on his right. There are two of these houses on either side of the semi-circle field of Field 4 at Prairie Grove. In American skeet, one traphouse lobs a bird high, on the shooter's left. The house on the right lobs a low bird. This time it was a high bird.
Hawse hit the bird with a crack, sending orange pitch shrapnel in three directions as it fell into the wet grass.
"Pull!" he yelled again.
This time the bird came from the lower traphouse, sending an orange bird into the middle of Hawse's view.
Another crack, more shrapnel. Another bird down in the grass.
He did it once more, shooting two birds at once. Smoke flowed from the barrel of Hawse's shotgun. He opened the gun and placed it over his shoulder. His turn at the first station was over, and it was another competitor's turn to shoot.
After competing in all the shooting events, Hawse said he felt fine despite an 8-pound shotgun kicking back into his shoulder more than 450 times and standing from 10 a.m. until the games concluded both days.
"I asked if anyone wanted to shoot some more shells after we finished up," Hawse said with a laugh, "but nobody took me up on it."
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.