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Four Generations of Top Guns

  By Howard A. Bach, Game News: April 1998
Joel and Daughter Rebecca
Joel Etchen with his Daughter, Rebecca, who represents the fourth generation of Etchens giving Shotgun Shooting Championship performances.
        Pennsylvania has been known for its sharpshooters for generations, but it is also known for generations of sharpshooters - families that have mastered the shooting sports. One such family is the Etchens, who are not only noted for their marksmanship, but also show a family history of innovations and contributions to the sport.
        Rudy Etchen, the current elder of the clan, lived with his wife and three sons in Mount Lebanon, and later moved to a farm in Ligonier. Rudy now lives in Arizona; Joel, his youngest son, and his family remain in Ligonier. Although all three of Rudy's sons are shooters, Joel is the only one dedicated to the sport on a full-time basis. In addition to his competition activities, he owns and operates a custom gun shop in Ligonier.
        Rudy never pushed Joel to compete in clay target shooting, but he did teach him to shoot and gave him many tips along the way. Some were general, others were specific to fit a timely need. When Joel repeats one of these tips, it's with the same spirit one might use in quoting a proverb.
        Once, during a long run, Rudy advised, "Remember Joel, every hit brings you closer to a miss. Maintain your concentration and you can succeed on each target, one at a time." To date, Joel's longest run without a miss is 670.
        The Etchen shotgunning marksmanship goes back a long time. It started with Joel's great grandfather, John, who was a market hunter in Kansas. He provided birds for fine restaurants and hotels. Game was plentiful, and there were practically no bag limits. John had six sons and he trained each of them to do market hunting. On a hunt, he had them sit three on each side of the wagon, with three of them shooting right-handed and the other three shooting lefts. Only one son, Fred, later opted for competitive shooting.
        Fred got help on the tournament circuit from some of the best shooters of the day, including Frank Butler and his famous sharpshooter wife, Annie Oakley. Fred later wrote about her helpfulness to a youngster, and what a grand person she was.
1924 Olympic Gold Medal

Picture of Gold Medal that Fred won during the 1924 Summer Olympics in France
      Fred was famous for a number of achievements. He was captain of the first American Trapshooting Team, which won the gold medal in the 1924 Summer Olympics in France. he also designed the aerial gunnery-training program received by flying servicemen in WWII. His inventions include the Etchen pistol grip, which provides for a firm grip on the shotgun, locking the hand into the stock. Fred also wrote an excellent book on shotgunning, entitled Commonsense Shotgun Shooting, now out of print.
        Since 1899, the world's leading trapshooters have met annually (at Vandalia, Ohio since 1923), to compete for national and world championships. The range which has over 100 shooting fields, attracts more than 5,000 leading shooters. Almost from the beginning, trapshooting has been a family sport. Many families, including dozens from western Pennsylvania, plan their vacations around the Grand American, as it is known.
        Rudy Etchen, born in 1923, was Fred's only child. At age 13, he was already winning junior championships with scores of 96x100 (96 out of 100), and he is the only man ever to win every category of the North American clay target championship at the Grand American, the "Super Bowl" of trapshooting. His Grand American successes ranged from the sub junior in 1937, with a score of 94x100, to the senior veteran title in 1993 with a 99x100.
        His specialty is the doubles competition, which he has won on numerous occasions. He uses this event to comment on the advancement in guns and shells during recent years. He says that , "In 1943 I easily won the doubles championship with a 96. In 1993, however, I had a 99 in the senior veterans' event and had to wait several hours to determine if I had won the senior vet title."
        Rudy shoots doubles with a pump, an approach that could have spoiled may shooters' timing and psyche, and was the first man to shoot 100x100 in doubles, at the Grand in 1950. Mike Mahady, who shot with Rudy at the Grand, says, "On doubles, Rudy works that pump like a slide trombone."
        Rudy is understandably proud of his many shooting accomplishments. However, his son Joel won the Class AA championship at Vandalia in 1992, and he and Rudy teamed up to win the father/son event the same year with a 399 out of 400. Rudy says, "Nothing I have accomplished in my career has given me the pride I felt when Joel won the Class AA title."
        Fred Etchen was inducted into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame in 1979. Rudy's induction took place in 1980. When Rudy was bestowed that honor, after a 26-year-lapse in shooting activities, he shot a 600x600. His longest run without a miss was 1,026.
        Joel Etchen has performed like the champion he is, improving consistently since he started competitive shooting. It did not come easily at first. People expected "Rudy's Boy" to be a winner at the outset. Joel had to work hard to reach that point.
        With a business to build and a family to raise, he could not shoot as often or as much as his father and grandfather. However, he does participate in the Pennsylvania State Championship Shoot at Elysburg each year, and at the Grand American. he has achieved the "grand slam" of trapshooting, which is 200x200 in 16-yard trap targets, 100x100 at 27-yards -- the longest handicap yardage -- and 100x100 in doubles. He was only the second Pennsylvania shooter, (out of three), to have accomplished this feat. It was a first for the Etchens.
        Joel has also won the Pennsylvania State championship in doubles. When he won this event in 1991, he did so with a Model 32 Remington handed down to him by his father. To win, Joel had to participate in a shoot-off after four contestants had tied with 99x100 scores. The tiebreaker was 10 pair of clay birds. Joel broke all 20 birds to win the title.
        It is interesting to note that the Elysburg shoot is the second largest in the world, second only to the Vandalia shoot, and it usually accommodates 1,500 or 1,600 shooters.
        When Joel won the Grand American there were 2,500 entrants in the AA class shoot. Joel again tied, this time with 68 other shooters, all with perfect scores of 200x200. The shoot-off took nearly five hours. Joel held fast with 125 straight hits to capture the title.
        Joel was also named to the Pennsylvania State Trapshooting Team for 1991 and every year since. This honor is bestowed upon the 10 highest all-around-average shooters.
        It is unlikely that Joel or any other shooter will achieve the honors that Rudy has achieved. Rudy puts the comparison into perspective. He notes that , "Today it is an entirely different set of circumstances that it was years ago. There are may more competitors, and advances to guns and shells have made it easier for the skilled shooter to approach a perfect score in competition. Joel has the mental attitude and competitive spirit to outdo both his father and grandfather."
        That would sum up the Etchen story, except that there is a fourth generation already giving championship performances. Joel's daughter, Rebecca, has a collection of trophies. She is a wonderful 19-year-old lady who conducts herself like a professional shooter and shows the proper form and attitude when handling her gun. Her brother, Alex, age 16, has been shooting and is becoming better every year.
Rebecca with Trophy
Rebecca Etchen shows off the trophy she received for winning the women's championship handicap event held at Vandalia, Ohio.
      Rebecca recently reached championship status when she won the women's championship in a handicap event at Vandalia by shooting a 97x100. In true family tradition, she was tied with another shooter at 97x100, forcing a shoot-off. The other lady shot first, and missed the first four targets. Rebecca won it with a 25x25, using a Remington 1187 semiautomatic. However, her father has just given her a new Beretta 682 for the 1998 season.
        Rebecca is also a delightful teammate. At age 13, when Joel had to leave town for a business meeting the evening of an adult/child competition at a local club, she asked family friend, Mike Higgins to team up with her for the event. Mike says, "We won the trophy. I was able to hold my own with the adult shooters, but it was Rebecca's shooting that carried us for the win." Gracious person that she is, she handed the trophy to Mike with the comment, "Here Mr. Higgins, I would like you to have this. I already have one from last year."