Grand American Opening Day

Nick DiGesualdo, of Littleton, Colorado, shoots in the Hodgdon Powder Singles on Wednesday, the first event of the Grand American.

Les Winkeler, The Southern

SPARTA — Driving through the parking lot at Sparta’s World Shooting and Recreational Complex during the Amateur Trapshooting Association’s Grand American is like leafing through a Rand-McNally Road Atlas.

In short order, you see license plates from Texas, South Dakota, Minnesota, Tennessee, Louisiana, Wyoming and all points in between.

Shooters from around the country are drawn to Sparta annually by the love of trapshooting, and for thousands of other reasons. And, for the vast majority of shooters, they have been crossing days off the calendar until their return to the WSRC.

“Everybody talks about it,” said Bruce Burton of Vero Beach, Florida. “And, I think when you’re driving out of the gate when it’s over, you’re probably thinking about next year. It’s one of those deals.”

Burton had just competed in the Hodgdon Powder Singles, and will shoot in all 24 events, culminating with The Grand American Handicap on Aug. 12. By his own admission, it wasn’t an auspicious beginning.

“I think you’ve waited all year to get here,” he said. “I was really excited. I ran my first trap and then the training wheels came off. You want to really start off strong. On the other hand, if you don’t, you know you have a lot of shooting to do. I had a strategy for the shoot. I’m trying to employ that and not let the first 100 change my strategy.”

Although some of the greatest shooters in the world gather for the Grand American, it is also a social event for many participants.

“My husband likes to shoot,” said Criona Doorly, a native of Ireland who now lives in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. “I decided rather than sit and watch him, I’d take part.”

The Doorlys plan to stay the entire two weeks. She first began shooting in 2011. Doorly said she enjoys the sport.

“I know, it’s amazing,” she said. “It’s very frustrating, just like golf. It’s a lot of fun. You get to see a lot of the same people every year, and you’re always hoping to do better every time you come. That’s the goal.”

For some, like Gregory Kasten of Lexington, Kentucky, the Grand American is something of a homecoming. Kasten is a Centralia native. This is his seventh time at the Grand.

“I’m here for the first week,” he said. “I’ll shoot through Sunday. I just like the whole event, the 3.5-mile firing line, everybody here having a good time and just people who like to shoot clay pigeons. I plan the whole year for this.

“I would stay the whole two weeks if I could, but I have work I need to do next week.”

While he’s here, Kasten plans to shoot every event, rain or shine.

“Sometimes it will be 100 degrees,” he said. “Sometimes it will be raining, but you can’t control the weather. I shoot rain or shine. If it’s raining on me, it’s raining on the guy next to me.”

Kasten enjoys the competition, but he is not chasing fame or fortune.

“I don’t even shoot for money,” he said. “I shoot against myself in terms of my own scores. It’s really the atmosphere.”

As for Nick DiGesualdo of Littleton, Colorado, the Grand American is just something you do without question.

“Just all the people,” he said. “We like the town. We like the people. We like shooting obviously, but we like the whole situation. It’s just wonderful."

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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