1995 - Clay Pigeons Don't Stand a Chance

The Herald-Sun, Durham, NC - November 12, 1995

North Carolina produced its first world champion of 1995 and almost nobody, outside a small fraternity of sportsmen, knows his name.

Craig Kirkman, 21, of Liberty, a regular competitor at the skeet matches held at the Durham Wildlife Club, ventured to San Antonio, Texas, and captured the HOA 650 World Skeet Shooting Championship against over 1000 shooters.

The HOA 650 designates the "high overall champion" among all shooters in every grueling nine-day stretch (Oct. 6-14).

Kirkman, who finished second in the Atlantic Zone qualifying, breaking 399 of 400 targets, is the only Tar Heel to have won the HOA title. And only two previous champions in world skeet competition have been younger.

Two other Tar Heels have taken individual gauge titles at the world finals, but no other North Carolinian has been proclaimed overall world champion.

His score of 649 of 650 was only one off the perfect score recorded in 1991 by Californian Todd Bender, a professional skeet shooter and master teacher.

Skeet shooters fire at clay targets launched from two "houses" located 42 yards apart. There are seven shooting stations, arranged in a semi-circle, between the two houses and one station in the center of the circle, halfway between the houses. Targets are launched singly or sometimes in doubles, sometimes at different levels and sometimes from each house at the same time.

Skeet shooting is much more difficult than trap shooting, where competitors stand behind a single house arid fire at targets launched away from them at different heights and speeds.

Kirkman, who has been shooting skeet since he was 8 years old, has impressed many of his elders and competitors with his unassuming nature and quiet competence.

"My dad (Tommy Kirkman) owns a range, and that's where I got started - shooting at home," said Kirkman, a student at Randolph Community College. "I enjoyed it and started to work at it.

"To be successful, I learned you could not compete against other shooters. You're better off to compete with yourself. [The sport is] a lot like golf in that respect."

The pressures are tremendous though when shooting on the world level. But Kirkman, even at his relatively young age, handled San Antonio like a weekend competition at the Durham Wildlife Club.

"You just have to black out the crowd and focus on the target and what you have to do," he said. "It's easier to break a target than compete against somebody, so you just concentrate on the target. You've already proven you can break targets, so you just remind yourself of that."

Kirkman, who graduated from Eastern Randolph High in 1993 and was a member of the school's hunter safety team, broke 575 straight clay targets in San Antonio until he reached the high-six singles on the second day of .410-gauge competition. 

"That's the most consecutive shots I had ever made," he said. 'I knew I was capable, but 1 had never broken 400 straight in competition before."

Kirkman said the wind was a factor. "It was an up-and-down wind," he said. "When I pulled the trigger, I knew I was high. I still thought the target would break, but I knew I was in front and over the top."

Kirkman showed his resolve by breaking the next 74 targets to end with his 649.

Rated eighth in the world last year, Kirkn has a .9934 average for his four guns this year, up from .9912 last year. He shoots a Krieghoff 80 tube gun with Kohler AAA barrels and reloads his own ammunition.

"It's a hobby but a pretty expensive one,' said. "I guess with the tournaments I've wo this year, I probably will break even (in expenses)."

He shoots between 200 and 300 times per week.

Kirkman said he couldn't begin to estima his hobby's cost but figured it's in the several thousands of dollars annually.

But now he does own the world's champion ring, a gold watch and three gold medals h won in San Antonio. He also won the high-average gold medal with a perfect score of 550 x 550.

In San Antonio, Kirkman also was able to shoot in the champion of champions competition (25 shots each with the .410, 20 28 and 12 gauge). But he missed one out of 100, which eliminated him. So actually he shot a 748 x 750 for the entire tournament.

In the high overall competition, contestants shoot 50 pairs of doubles (in 12 gauge), 250 single 12-gauge shots, 100 in 20 gauge, 10C 28 gauge, and 100 in .410 for the HOA 650.

Kirkman said skeet shooting is different from upland game bird hunting, like quail that he has a predetermined fixed point he chooses and a sustained lead.

"I just pull a lead and hold it," he said.' don't swing through or use pass shooting techniques. I do pull away after the shot."

It's like "seeing a picture," Kirkman said "You can tell how far you need to paint the picture through practice. When the picture’s right, you pull the trigger."

Durham Wildlife Club president Bill Fleeman said his members always enjoy competing with Kirkman and watching him display his skills. 

"He's always a gentleman," Fleeman said. "He's not a person to brag or try to make someone feel inferior when he beats them.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

« 1996 - World Champion skeet shooter returns to competition | Main | 1990 - Kirkman On Target For Olympic Berth »