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Illinois hunting and fishing

Bob Wahlbrink has been shooting competitively since the late 1960s. Photo by Chris Young.

Bob Wahlbrink set to enter Illinois Trapshooting Hall of Fame

May 03, 2012 at 11:23 PM

The State Journal-Register

Bob Wahlbrink, now in his fifth decade as a competitive trapshooter, will enter the Illinois Trapshooting Hall of Fame this summer.

Wahlbrink, of Athens, has been shooting competitively since he finished high school in the mid-1960s.

He joins notables such as Annie Oakley, W.F. (Doc) Carver and Capt. A.H. Bogardus in the hall.

Wahlbrink broke 81 out of 100 targets the first time he tried trapshooting, but he didn’t get serious about the sport until he was out of high school.

In 1967, he won the Illinois Central Zone Handicap with a 97 and then went to Reno, Nev., and won his class in a shoot-off after posting a score of 199 out of 200.

He’s been breaking targets — nearly every darned one — ever since.

Wahlbrink got a call early in January from the Illinois Trapshooters Association, letting him know his name came up as eligible for the hall. He submitted a resume with a list of his wins and accomplishments, and three weeks later he learned the association’s 12 directors selected him unanimously.

“I always liked to shoot, and I’ve made good friends,” he says. “Trapshooting is a sport where 90 percent of the people are really nice people and you look forward to seeing them at the next meet.”

Not everyone who is honored with induction in the Hall of Fame is a top-notch shooter.

“It is for those who have done a lot for the sport and for the good shooters,” he says. “There are a lot of people who may have not shot very well but have done a lot for the sport and worked all kinds of hours.”

For shooters, getting to the hall requires the ability to concentrate.

“Ninety percent of shooting is concentration,” Wahlbrink says. “That’s probably true about a lot of sports. In trapshooting, If you are thinking, ‘I should be mowing the lawn some time today,’ when the bird comes out you are going to miss it.”

Wahlbrink says his son Robby, a 22-year-old senior at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., relies on keeping a positive mental attitude. Lindenwood’s shotgun sports team wrapped up its ninth national championship recently.

“If you get down on yourself and think you can’t win, you probably are not going to do very well,” he says.

A shooting family

Wahlbrink’s wife, Vickie, isn’t a competitive trapshooter. But she knows her way around a firearm.

“I like to hunt turkeys,” she says. “But it is Bob and Robby who are the real shooters in the family.”

Vickie says more youths and women are involved in trapshooting today.

“It used to be a man’s sport,” she says. “The women used to sit in the clubhouse and play cards while the guys were out shooting, but it’s not that way anymore. Now there are just as many women as there are men, and now there are whole families.”

Bob says participation peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when state shoots would draw 1,000 shooters per event. Now participation is about half that.

Still, efforts to get kids involved have been paying off.

“Now we’ve got a lot of youth shooters — a whole lot,” Bob says.

Vickie says there are other payoffs, such as increased awareness of firearms safety.

“Those are the kids you don’t have to worry about when they are out in the woods,” she says.

Trapshooting has a long history in Illinois. The Illinois State Trap shoot started in 1874.

“This year will be the 136th Illinois state trap shoot,” Vickie says. “That’s how many years people have been enjoying the sport.”


Changing times

When Bob Wahbrink started traveling to trapshooting competitions in the 1960s, hardly anyone gave it a second thought when he brought a firearm aboard an airplane.

“In those days, you took your gun to your seat in a soft case,” he says. “Then two years later I went again and the stewardesses would keep it up front where they made the coffee.”

But times were changing.

Criminals learned they could make big headlines by hijacking an airliner and then hold it hostage for money or a particular cause.

The crime was still rare, but Walhbrink says passengers, including comedian Jan Murray, started to take notice when he and his fellow competitors boarded the airplane.

“Are you guys shooters or hijackers?” Murray asked.

“We’re shooters,” Wahlbrink shot back with a laugh.

It was definitely the end of an era.

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