Herb Parsons can toss seven clay targets into the
air at once and shoot every one of them before any hit the ground.
But there's a lot more to being a successful exhibition shooter
than just knowing how to handle a gun
Herb Parsons, who does exhibition shooting all over the country
Winchester and Western Cartridge, is as well known for his patter
his shooting. He will talk for fifty five minutes with only one
a few seconds while firing up to 700 shots with eight or ten different
guns. What he says varies from an earnest plea to keep our country
strong and great to the most outrageous corn.
An executive of a competing arms company said to me,"That
guy is just
too brash." Then he grinned and added, "I guess I wouldn't
think so if
he were shooting for us."
I was as much interested in how Parsons works as in his shooting.
you come to think of it, putting on an exhibition of shooting
simple no matter how good a shot you are. Parsons said he thought
Topperwein, now retired, was the best all time shot among exhibition
shooters. But he thought some of Topperwein's routines were too
One of these, copied by many other exhibition shooters, was to
profile of an Indian or a public character on a sheet of tin with
succession of .22 bullets. This, Parsons thinks, takes too much
wants his show to move.
We went to Jacksonville, Florida, where he was putting on a show
middle of a trap shoot lasting several days at the Jacksonville
Club. Parsons has a station wagon in which he travels with his
equipment. On the way to the gun club we stopped at a supermarket
Parsons wanted to collect what he called his "groceries."
oranges, grapefruit, potatoes, a couple of small cabbages, a turnip
several dozen eggs.
The trap shoot suffered from the weather, which was cold for
Jacksonville, from the wind, which made the clay targets do unexpected
things, and from trap trouble which caused delays. Parsons had
equipment set up hours before the last squad of the day had shot.
His station wagon is pretty well filled aft of the front seat
big plywood box. When Parsons let the tailgate down and the lid
box, I saw pigeonholes containing some sixteen different guns.
pigeonholes were lined with sheepskin, the wool on. Each compartment
marked with the model number of the gun that went into it. Thus
weapons rode well and yet were quickly available. Another compartment
held three metal bridge tables. Put together they made one table
feet long. The dark blue table cover was ornamented with the names
Winchester and Western in red. There was room for ammunition and
kinds of targets, including washers, marbles, clay balls about
of golf balls and made of the same material as the clay targets
trap and skeet fields, and small wood cubes.
Parsons set up a pair of steel poles with a rope connecting them.
the middle of the rope he fastened what looked like two clay targets
taped back to back. I hadn't the faintest idea what this was for.
Another gadget he set up looked like a piece of iron pipe a foot
half long and an inch and a half in diameter. I didn't know what
was for either. He had a dozen or more empty quart oil cans that
filled with water. He set these up in a row. And between the oil
set clay targets on edge in the grass. He loaded a number of 10
magazines for a Winchester Model 63 self loading rifle. Finally
checked his loud speaker. When working he uses a lapel mike. Thus
talk to a large crowd without raising his voice.
Earl Cramor, a Western Winchester representative in Florida and
Georgia, helped Parsons set up shop and stood by for the show.
likes to have an assistant to keep the crowd at a safe distance.
doesn't want small boys to pick up the guns he has laid out on
table ready for use.
Parsons opened the show with the Winchester Model 63 self loading
He told the crowd what the rifle was and began shooting at things
tossed in the air. His first targets were small cubes of wood.
these split when they were hit. When a cube didn't split but merely
jumped ahead at the shot Parsons hit it again with a second shot.
tossed up washers, marbles and the clay balls shooting fast and
as he shot.
Then he picked up a .30-30 and began tossing oranges in the air.
changed guns so often that I had trouble keeping track of which
was shooting. He had a .22 Hornet, and a .348 lever action rifle
others. He always used a rifle powerful enough to explode an orange
grapefruit into a cloud of juice, or turn a cabbage into coleslaw.
he shot at the cans of water they virtually exploded. He picked
Winchester .351 self loading rifle with a 10 shot clip and, shooting
from the hip, broke the clay targets standing on edge with great
He shot fast and talked fast though apparently without effort.
flew out of his rifles and words out of his mouth in a steady
picked up three clay targets, put them together in a pile, tossed
high in the air and broke them with three quick shots from a pump
shotgun. He said to the crowd that if he could break three he
able to break one more.
He tossed up four and broke them. He said he really ought to
five. He did. He tried six and broke them. Then he said if he
break six he should be able to break seven. He did.
This last feat is difficult because of the speed necessary. The
follow each other faster with the pump gun than they would with
semiautomatic shotgun. Occasionally a shot will break more than
target which isn't what Parsons wants. It is difficult to toss
targets so they spread well apart.
It turned out that the piece of red pipe was a mortar. Earl Cramor
fired it when Parsons gave him the signal. Bombs burst high in
and out floated a black cloth that sailed on the wind. Parsons
series of .30-06 traces bullets at it. The spectators could see
bright red sparks of the tracers going through the cloth.
Parsons made his final shot at the clay target, or pair of clay
targets, hanging in the middle of the rope connecting the two
poles. When the shot struck, out came a small American flag. Parsons
said a few earnest words about keeping our country strong and
the show was over. I noticed that he was sweating a little in
the chill in the air. He'd been working hard.
Parsons was putting on his show at Ocala, Florida, two days later.
wanted to see it again, since it is never the same twice. Besides,
Parsons said we'd get some crow shooting on the drive of 90 or
from Jacksonville to Ocala. Parsons has twice won the national
duck-calling contest at Stuttgart Arkansas, and an international
as well. He also knows how to call crows. He has made phonograph
of both his duck calling and his crow calling that anyone interested
either should have.
We started out for Ocala at a reasonable hour maybe around 8:30
morning. As soon as we got well out of Jacksonville on the main
Parsons began using his crow call in connection with the loudspeaker.
After a few minutes he said, "Look back." I looked back
astonished to see five crows following the car down the cement
Parsons stopped the car alongside the road and we went into a
pine woods and palmettos. He picked a place where we were pretty
covered with an open space in front of us. He told me to have
ready so I would move it as little as possible when I shot. Then
began calling. He called persistently for maybe five minutes.
it was no soap and relaxed my attention just as Parsons shot.
I saw the
crow only as it was falling to his gun. Parsons had shot the leader,
lookout, which it is well to do if you are going to get more crows.
you miss the leader he's going to warn the rest. As it was, more
came in. Parsons shot four more crows. Between watching him and
natural slowness I shot only one.
I was a bit handicapped by shooting a 20 gauge Browning over-and-under
bored for skeet while Parsons was shooting a new Winchester Model
12 gauge. My Browning is fine for a crow coming in under 30 yards.
it's too open bored to be reliable beyond 35 yards. However, the
difference was in the quickness with which Parsons sighted a crow
his shooting skill.
We stopped off half a dozen times on our way to Ocala. Parsons
on going ahead of me and asked me to follow in his tracks. He
were in rattlesnake country and he was more likely to see a snake
was. I appreciated his thoughtfulness more after he took me to
Springs, where Ross Allen keeps his snakes. There I saw rattlesnakes
strike. Parsons said my eyes bugged out so he could have hung
his hat on
them. I was immensely curious. I wanted to see just how a rattlesnake
does it. Those I saw were coiled but a foot or so of the snake's
behind his, head was in an S curve. The keeper held out a toy
tied to a stick. It was cold and the snakes were torpid. I saw
them miss, going under the balloon. But finally one snake got
enough, his rattles buzzing, for no fooling. I don't know that
any faster than a good lightweight delivering a left jab. But
fast. And the balloon exploded as his fangs hit it. I guess it's
idea to wear snake-proof hoots or leggin's when hunting in Florida,
rather than sneakers.
On one occasion Parsons killed a hawk and half a dozen crows
cries of triumph as the hawk fell. Parsons likes to use a hawk
occasionally while calling crows because crows regard hawks as
enemies and want to gang tip on them. According to my score Parsons
killed thirty-two crows with thirty-five shells. He missed two
once he had to fire a second shot at a crow that was hard hit
somehow managing to stay up there for the moment. I avoided counting
misses. But I killed only eight crows.
Parsons had to do a radio interview at Ocala the next clay. I
in the control room. The interviewer had a few notes but there
script for the half hour. Parsons talked easily and freely. I
the interview had a reality that is often lacking in a prepared
program. Parsons answered questions about guns and demonstrated
crow, duck and hawk calls. Afterward the head of the station said
"That was a radioman's dream of how it should he done."
to listen to the interview.
It rained so hard that day that Parsons thought he couldn't put
show. However, he picked up six or eight sticks of dynamite and
usual supply of groceries. He put the dynamite on the floor of
saying, "If that goes off I'm glad I met you." Actually
there was no
danger. You have to hit dynamite pretty hard to explode it.
The rain let up in the afternoon and we drove out to a skeet
where, considering the weather, there was a good crowd waiting.
who was born in Tennessee, put the Tennessee Waltz on the phonograph
while he set up shop. He did one thing I hadn't seen him do before.
tied an egg carton to a post maybe 75 yards out. I didn't know
was for and he was so busy I didn't ask him.
He did many of the same stunts he had done at Jacksonville, with
variations. At one point, shooting at washers he threw in the
air with a
.22, he said he would hit one so it fell near the high house of
skeet field. It did. Then he said the next one would go near the
house. It did. The only trick was to shoot at one side of the
the left to make it go to the right, on the right to make it go
Parsons laid a shotgun on a box. Then, bending over in the position
a football center about to snap the ball. he threw two eggs between
legs and behind him, picked up the gun, turned and smashed them
with two quick shots. He did the same with three eggs.
After that he went quail shooting with "radar" ammunition
so he said.
The advantage of radar ammunition is that you can't miss. Radar
the gun to the target. Parsons walked along throwing eggs and
from the hip. He seemed infallible but finally on purpose he missed
He said, "That was a hen quail the radar only works on cock
that he threw another egg and smashed it. "You see,"
he said, "that was
a cock quail."
Toward the end he picked up a .270 and a Weaver scope sight.
He said, "You see that carton of eggs out there. If I don't
string that holds it to the post in three shots I'm going to give
Parsons took rather deliberate aim at the egg carton. When he
there was a good healthy explosion as egg carton and post disappeared.
knew' then what he had done with those sticks of dynamite he had
He said, "That was a .270 Silvertip bullet. You see what
No one was fooled by this transparent exaggeration but the crowd
Except for filling an egg carton with dynamite or pretending
that he is
shooting radar ammunition, there is no trickery in the shooting
does. Many years ago I saw Buffalo Bill riding a loping horse
circus ring and casually breaking glass balls thrown by an assistant
with what looked like a Winchester lever action rifle. He was
ammunition loaded with fine shot rather than with bullets. He
felt that the fine shot wouldn't carry far enough to hurt anybody
audience or, being less than good with a rifle, that he could
put on a
Parsons, whose audience is usually composed of shooters, doesn't
shot cartridges in rifles. He doesn't need to and he couldn't
do some of
his stunts with shot cartridges such as the one where he tells
advance which way he is going to drive a washer with a bullet.
me that it would be possible to put on a good stage show while
nothing but blanks. This reminded me of a familiar story--the
the vaudeville assistant who was asked what he did. He said, "I'm
guy who blows out the candle when the boss shoots at the wick."
What Parsons does is properly exhibition shooting rather than
shooting. The only malarkey is in his patter not in his shooting.
for the Model 70 .270 with a scope sight his rifles arc standard
models, with factory open sights. The stocks of his shotguns are
slightly modified so they fit him. He showed me a trick he uses
they aren't. He raises the comb by putting a strip of moleskin
plaster on it. There are commercial pads made to lace on and raise
comb of a gun. The trouble is they also increase the thickness,
the cheek of a right-handed man too far to the left and vice versa.
moleskin is better. You can use two or more thicknesses on top
comb if you need to.
Parsons and his wife and his two sons live in Somerville, Tennessee,
miles or so from Memphis, in a house that leaves the visitor in
of what Parsons likes. In common with many men of vigor with good
appetites he is trying to hold his weight down though the meals
in his home are against him. The night I had dinner with the family
main dish was wild duck. But there was roast coon too, and I don't
how many other things besides lima beans. mashed potatoes, a salad,
pickled peaches, corn bread and strawberry shortcake.
The big living room, which Parsons calls a den, has a ceiling
tip to the roof and is lined with pecky cypress. As you go in
eight or ten mallard ducks "flying" from near the roof
the way they do
when they are coming in to decoys. There is a pair of Winchester
rifles, highly finished, over the fireplace. Another, a rusted
embedded in the stonework. One of the rugs is the skin of an oversize
Kodiak bear that Parsons shot in Alaska. And all about are mementos
Parsons has been teaching his sons, Jerry, aged 7, and Lynn,
to shoot. He has no intention of bringing either of them up to
exhibition shooters. He wants them to choose for themselves. But
wants them to know how to shoot. Last summer. Lynn Parsons, then
years old, spent some weeks touring with his father and doing
exhibition shooting. He wasn't big enough to shuck a Model 12
but he could shoot a .410.
I wasn't there but this is what I heard about the way Herb Parsons
introduced Lynn Parsons. The boy, dressed in a white shirt and
shorts, was sitting in the stand with several hundred Boy Scouts.
Parsons paused in the middle of his show to say, "Friends,
I want to
introduce a boy to you."
This was Lynn's signal to start down out of the stand and join
father. Parsons went on, "He's just an ordinary American
boy. I say that
because it's the truth. But that's not the way I feel about it.
he's an extraordinary boy because he's my boy."
They tell me that the pause between the first because and the
because was beautifully timed and the last words came over with
feeling, enhanced by a Tennessee accent.
What the boy did after his father had introduced him was to break
targets thrown in the air one at a time, two at a time, three
at a time,
four at a time. He did it as calmly as if he were back home on
where his father had taught him to shoot at moving targets.
Herb Parsons used several devices in teaching his son to shoot.
painted a croquet ball white for a target. He rolled this hard
the ground. When the boy shot he could see where his shot charge
ground and thus learn how much ahead of the ball he must shoot.
lesson was with clay targets thrown low over a pond. Here again
could see where the shot charge went when it didn't break the
was only when the boy had learned to lead a moving target that
began throwing clay targets up in the air.
Parsons gave me a lesson in shooting at targets thrown in the
is ever so skillful at throwing. He throws targets so you see
target and not just the edge as in skeet and trapshooting. A pair
easy. But I did not find it so. For one thing. the range was short
the pattern of the gun has not opened up. For another, leading
target is tougher than leading a rising or crossing target. I
know of any harder shot in the field than one where a bird is
I tended to shoot under falling targets so much so that Parsons
my gun and tried it himself. There was nothing the matter with
fit. The trouble was in me.
I asked Parsons how he did a shot I had seen him do in his show.
he was pretending to be shooting quail with radar ammunition he
one egg high in the air, looked around at the crowd as if he didn't
where it was, turned as it was falling straight down. and broke
I asked how he did this, since passing the falling egg with the
of his gun would hide it.
Parsons said, "I don't follow it straight down and pass
it. I slice it.
I start my swing from one side and conic down and across at an
That way I can see it all the time."
Let me explain exactly what he meant. A properly stocked shotgun
a bit high. Thus when you are shooting you see the target above
muzzle and the center of the shot charge is up where the target
pick up the target, swing from behind it on a line with its flight,
shoot as you pass it. Your lead is determined by the fact that
muzzle of your gun is moving faster, with relation to the target,
the target is. You may or may not see daylight between the muzzle
your gun and the target as you shoot. Whether you see it or not
be there--with one exception. If you are shooting from the No.
at skeet where the target comes out at your elbow and is rising
pretty straight line, you rifle shoot it--that is, you shoot right
it. You may get a similar shot in the field. In any case you do
sight of the target because you are pointing at the lower edge
You do not blot it out with the muzzle of your gun.
In following a target down straight down you do blot it out as
it. And that's why Parsons starts from one side and comes across
You do not get a falling target in trapshooting if you shoot
as fast as
you should. When shooting trap from the 16 yard line you should
your targets at from 16 to 18 yards from the trap 32 to 34 yards
the gun and you should establish a rhythm so you break them all
pretty much the same distance. When you do this you are shooting
rising targets. This is comparatively easy when the target leaves
trap at an angle you follow the line of its flight and pass it.
But a target that goes straight away is easily missed in trapshooting.
I asked Parsons why. He said. "Because you shoot under it."
different from the No. 7 shot from the low house at skeet. The
different because the target is 16 yards from you when it starts
There aren't many tricks about shotgun shooting. It's been done
years. The prime law is that you must be ahead of a flying target
not too low.
There aren't many tricks about shooting things thrown in the
air with a
rifle. It's mostly a matter of practice. But Herb Parsons would
if you want to practice on moving targets with a rifle you should
targets that will break when hit. Throw them with your left hand
you're a right-handed shooter and throw them up. That way your
hand will be handy to clasp onto the fore end and you're instantly
to shoot. And, he would add, don't shoot at bottles or any other
glassware. You may get glass in your face if you do and you will
certainly litter the ground with dangerously sharp edges. Moreover,
there is danger of ricocheting. Throw potatoes, preferably round
throw cubes of wood: throw washers; throw charcoal brickettes.
throw anything made of glass.
Parsons is, rather incidentally, a good trap shot. His average
registered targets runs between 97 and 98 percent. He has been
as a member of Jimmy Robinson's All American trap team four the
years. He has shot a Winchester Model 21 double barreled gun much
time. Nowadays most trap shots use single barrel guns or
over-and-unders. I asked him if he found the side by side double
disadvantage. He said. "No sir."