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ENDRES AIMS TO SPREAD THE JOY OF SKEET

Like many shooters, Joe Endres learned skeet during World War II gunnery practice, when the shotgun game was used to teach machine gunners the fundamentals of leading a target.

But it wasn't untill the late 1960s, when he was helping sell IBM products in Dallas, that he took it up as a sport. Retired in 1975, he began a second career, opening a McDonald's in Buffalo and eventually owning five franchises. "I got serious about skeet in 1991, when I began shooting all four shotgun gauges and took some lessons," the South Wales resident said. "I've been slacking off a little the last couple years."

Still, the 73-year-old Endres was good enough to win the state open championship two weeks ago, beating competitors in all four gauges. He even had three 100-straight rounds in 28-, 20- and 12-gauge matches.

"That's like bowling three straight 300 games," he remarked.

Endres, who was inducted into the state skeet hall of fame at that meet, does not brag about his accomplishments, but they are solid: 10 state championships, and named to the All-America team four times. He's shot all the major events, had dozens of 100-straight scores in heated competition and served as a state and national director of the National Skeet Shooting Association.

Most of all, he's worked tirelessly to popularize skeet, bring in new blood, and train skeet instructors throughout the Northeast so that every club has at least one accredited teacher in its ranks.

"We need to attract kids to this game," Endres said. "It is perceived to be an old man's sport -- and that's not entirely wrong."

Like most lifetime sports, there are age groupings -- junior and up; The seniors are aged 60-69; Then come "veterans" aged 70-79.

"That's where I am now," Endres said.

Why not 70 and older?

"Because we now have a senior veteran class for people 80 and older!"

Skeet and trap can be enjoyed at any age and wheelchair users can and do compete on these small, level courses or "fields."

The trap field has five stations, more or less in a line behind the trap house. The birds always rise and fly away from the shooter and the shooter rotates, firing five shells from each station.

The skeet field, meant to offer a greater variety of hunting shots, has a semicircle with eight stations. Station 1 is at the high house at one end of the half-moon, Station 7 at the low house at the other end. Station 8 is mid-way between the two houses, which throw clay birds over a stake located in front of station 8.

Skeet shooters must break single targets from each house and doubles, thrown simultaneously, at stations 1, 2, 6 and 7, then singles at Station 8. The first miss requires you to shoot at that target again. Break all 24 and you can call for that extra shot from any station.

"I used to break 22, 23 birds and thought that was fine," Endres said. "But in '91 I bought a new skeet gun with tube inserts so I could shoot all four gauges -- you need to do that to be competitive -- and I took my first lesson with Ed Shearer (one of the sport's greatest shooters and teachers). He really sharpened my game."

"We grew up on cowboy movies" Endres said, "So we all think we can shoot. But any shooting discipline requires coaching. Heck, you go to a golf pro to improve your golf game, don't you?"

Pretty soon Endres was recouping his tournament entry fees in prize money. But it still cost him plenty: He shot as many as 70,000 shells per year, 10,000 of those at registered targets.

In shotgun sports, you are ranked by scores in registered meets, whether it is the Amateur Trapshooting Association, the NSSA or the National Sporting Clays Federation -- it's like establishing a golf handicap by averaging your scores in tournament play.

But to make the All-America roster you not only have to shoot registered targets, but they have to be in major tournaments, such as state and national shoots.

If you need more competition than that, try skeet doubles, a variation that Endres also likes.

"You have to be devil-may-care to shoot skeet doubles," Endres said. Instead of getting one bird from each house and some doubles at some stations, you shoot doubles at stations 1 through 7, taking the high house bird first, then the low house as you proceed from 1 to 7 and shooting the low house then the high house as you return.

"To break 100 in doubles with a little .410 is the hardest game in skeet. But I love to see those birds break, and I like to challenge myself," Endres said.

"You know Kimberly Rhodes?" he asked. "She's the little girl who won the trap doubles at the Atlanta Olympics at age 14. Well, this year she's shooting that tough game (she won a bronze on Wednesday) and she's also made the U.S. Skeet team. If she does well in Sydney, that should help skeet.

"Not to name-drop," Endres added, "but I shot on her squad in the nationals in 1998 when she was 16. She beat me, of course; but I had an excuse: My gun would not function in the .410 match, so she lent me hers. A real down-to-earth kid who provided me with a shotgun -- and an alibi for not shooting real well.

"But let's face it. That's why she's at the Olympics and I'm here in Buffalo!"

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