Who Is That Man in the White Hat

This is the first of a series of interviews documenting West Virginia shooters and their accomplishments. Our sport is evolving, competing with a myriad of other activities, with declining participation, and the rising cost of targets and shells, etc. I thought it would be interesting to get the shooters thoughts on the “Old Days” and new shooters perspective as well, so look for upcoming interviews.

 

                                         It’s John P. Elliott Jr. that’s who!

I sat down recently, on a rainy day in April, with the 2003 West Virginia Hall of Fame Inductee, John P. Elliott Jr., of Hurricane, West Virginia to chronicle his trapshooting history over the last 54 years.

John began trapshooting like most everybody else, someone took him to a range to shoot flying clay targets; like most, that one time is all it takes; the same was true for John. That someone was John’s brother in law who took him to the Union Carbide Trap range located in Nitro, West Virginia the site Turnpike Chevrolet occupies now.

”I had a 32 Model 12 hunting gun, that I still shoot. The range held ten target events; I hit seven out of the ten and boy that really pepped me up I tell you what, I better do this.”  John said.  He then sent his plain barrel 32” Model 12 to Simmons for installation of a vent rib for shooting trap.

When Carbide Gun Club moved to Bill’s Creek, one of the shoots they held was the annual Fred Harris Honor Shoot that had a perpetual trophy with the names of the champion engraved each year. Fred Harris, an Engineer who worked at Carbide, supported the Gun Club. Engraved on the trophy, in addition to John’s name, Bill Young, Seybert Campbell, John Guy Smith (two times), Max Goodall, and Jess Phillips to name a few, who were all tough shooters in the day.

John’s first success and most satisfying achievement, was his 1965 win in the Ohio State Handicap where he broke a 99. When asked how large the field was, he replied, “There was 1,249 and I beat 1,248 of them.”  I asked John to see that trophy, he laughed, and said he didn’t get one adding “Betty Ann Foxworthy took my picture for Trap & Field with the Champion’s Trophy and took it back right after the picture because I was a non-resident. They promised me a trophy, and months after sent a cheap pen and pencil set and I threw it away.”  This win was also his biggest single pay day $2,642.37 which was a lot in 1965. You could buy a new car for that amount, in fact, he bought a car a 1963 Oldsmobile with the winnings!   Also in ’65 John won the Tri-State Handicap 22-27 yard Championship with a 97 and that is not a misprint, 22 to 27 yards and only one trophy.

 

John, Jess and DI tied for the 1966 WV Singles Championship which John won. In the photo John appears to be revealing his secret for success “See I just put the shell in here…”

John has an impressive shooting resume, he has won trophies in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and of course West Virginia, where he won the Singles Champion in 1966, Sr. Vet Singles Champion in 1998 and 2003 also taking the Vet/SrVet HOA the same year. In every room of John’s home there are trophies on display many from the Kentucky State Shoot and Tri State in Jeffersonville, OH. During the Grand American in 1994, John broke a 96 in the preliminary Handicap and received a one yard punch. He broke the same score the next day in the Grand American receiving a ½ yard punch that put him on the 26.5 yard line the furthest back he would make. John trophied in both events.

I started to count John’s trophies and stopped counting after one hundred. He has every ATA card that was issued to him in a stack that is over three inches tall. His first card shows his first registered singles score at the Carbide Gun Club, which Bill Young ran, which was 95, I said, “that was a great  score” and John replied that it was high for the day and Bill Young wasn’t very happy.

Later in his career, John travelled with his own squad consisting of Bill Young, Frank Hall, Seybert  Campbell and Jess Phillips all West Virginia State Champions, Richard Paxton called them the “Fabulous Five.” John has broken 200 straight in singles as well as more than a dozen 100 straights during his career most of them after he was a veteran. He recalls after one particular 100 straight, Doyle Moffat felt compelled to give him a kiss on the cheek. Mo telling him he didn’t see any women running to congratulate him.  Since then, John has registered 158,600 Singles, 91,575 Handicap and 28,550 Doubles targets.

In 1965 and 1967 pins were given out for the state team and starting in 1968 till ? patches for your vest John has several as pictured.

 Another story he related was, “ I kind of embarrassed Gary Griffith one day, he had bought a release trigger and he went out an posted a score and Max Goodall talked Gary into letting me shoot the gun, my first time with release trigger, and I beat him with his own gun, that did me good”.  One day Joe Fairbaugh, who was left handed, said “let’s just shoot a round out there, ten birds and we’ll shoot left handed” of course I knew he was left handed and I said Ok we’ll just shoot left handed and I beat him and he’s never lived that down to this day, of course I ride him every chance I get.”

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Early pictures of John at least the earliest he would let us see. In the photo John sports a black hat that would later change to his trademark white Stetson Hat.

John was born in Gilmer County March 21, 1926 which makes him part of “The Greatest Generation” his life lives up to that. Hunting was a big part of John’s life he started hunting squirrels with a model 97 that he sold when he joined the Marines after graduating from Sand Fork High school in Gilmer County. John enlisted in the Marine Air Corp and was an aircraft electrician. Once the war ended, he went to Glenville State College to further his education in Agriculture for a year. Later John spent two additional years at Morris Harvey in Charleston.

John retired in 1981 from Union Carbide where he was an operator for 12 years and later, a pipefitter at the Institute Plant. John’s hobbies aside from trapshooting include hunting most everything from coons to squirrels to deer etc. Trout fishing streams was another passion for him.  I asked if there was a gun he regretted selling and he replied “all of them.”

When I asked John what the best deal he ever made on a gun, he said, “I never did.”  He still shoots a Model 12 although he has a Beretta 687 for his backup and to shoot doubles.

John now 91, hasn’t slowed down much.  You can still find him shooting weekly, usually at The Gun Club in Point Pleasant with fellow Marine Bill Bishop, Jim Schad and others. John enjoys raising a garden each year at his home in Hurricane.

Some of the many trophies John has won over the years. On the wood inlaid platter which is for the President’s Handicap at the Grand American in 1994, is his 100,000 singles pin, a 1886 Morgan silver dollar money clip and 2005 WV Sr. Vet Handicap Champion money clip.