Trapshooter, 92, holds his own and then some Medical woes don't dull sharp eyes

July 19, 1993|By Victor Paul Alvarez | Victor Paul Alvarez,Staff Writer

He fires a shotgun more than half his height while competing with trapshooters half his age.

In a recent competition, 92-year-old Gerald Larner went shot for shot with a man 50 years his junior.

They tied.

Then Mr. Larner broke the tie to win first place in the 16-yard D Class at the Cedar Hill Gun Club in Darlington in a competition named for a former trapshooting champion, J. Calvin Michael.

Mr. Larner has had a cataract operation; glaucoma afflicts his peripheral vision; and a stroke threatened to keep him from his sport a few years back.

But put his favorite shotgun in his hands, send some round clay targets flying through the air, and the Havre de Grace native holds his own against just about anybody.

Thursday, at the 93rd Annual Maryland State Trap Shoot in Frederick, he received the highest score of his squadron of five, hitting 92 of 100 traps in the D Class category.

At the competition, shots echo in rhythm to voices yelling "Pull!" as 3 1/2 -inch clay targets resembling bright orange ashtrays sail into distant trees. Smoke from the guns smells like matches burning.

After firing, Mr. Larner employs a bit of understatement. "I guess I'm satisfied," he says. "I shot OK."

He stands amid rows and rows of trapshooters at the line of fire. An orange baseball cap with a patch reading "Maryland Trapshooting League" shades his eyes from the sun.

His 12-gauge shotgun, made in California about a decade ago, stands from butt to barrel nearly to his chin.

It's heavy, but he handles it with ease as he loads it and takes aim.

Men and women, old and young, watch as Mr. Larner and others compete for trophies, silver bowls, even hand-painted duck decoys.

The targets fly from the many "trap houses" the shooters stand behind.

Boys and girls sit inside the concrete structures and load the targets into machines that fire them.

Mr. Larner, who began shooting about 25 years ago after retiring from a 40-year career as a pari-mutuel clerk at Maryland racetracks, still inspires awe among shooters in these parts -- and with good reason.

Richard R. Jones, a Havre de Grace lawyer who has shot alongside Mr. Larner for 15 years, says his friend never fails to create a stir when he shows up with his shotgun.

"He's always received with a lot of enthusiasm wherever he goes," says Mr. Jones. "He's very well-known as a trapshooter" -- throughout Maryland and beyond.

Mr. Jones recalls the time that Mr. Larner ran his first "100 straight," a perfect score, known among trapshooters as "breaking them all."

Gerald Larner was 84 at the time.

"He was very pleased," Mr. Jones says. "He just broke a big smile. He'll shoot no matter the weather, and he never complains."

Back at the big Havre de Grace farmhouse where he's lived since the Depression, Mr. Larner sips a diet cola at the kitchen table.

The soft-spoken Mr. Larner -- father of three, grandfather of 10, great-grandfather of 10 more -- isn't one to boast about his exploits with the shotgun.

"I guess I'm in pretty good shape," he says shyly.

In 1966, after their mother died, Mr. Larner and his two brothers, John and Leo, inherited the house on 190 acres.

When he wasn't at the racetrack, Gerald Larner also helped his brothers milk the cows, and the three maintained a dairy farm until 1976.

Until a few years ago, Mr. Larner continued coaxing corn and soy beans from the fields and maintained a personal garden from which he always filled guests' trunks with fresh produce before they left.

His brothers now dead, Mr. Larner supervises quietly from the porch as hired help tends the crops. His son Jerry, of Laurel, often helps out on the farm.

Regina, Mr. Larner's wife, died two years ago. A large framed picture of them together sits in the huge country bedroom.

This is the bedroom where Gerald Larner used to dance as a teen-ager. The family that lived here before the Larners would hold dances in that room, small gatherings of farming families in the area.

"I don't recall ever bringing a date," Mr. Larner says, "but I do remember always having someone to dance with."

Not surprising. He's not as agile as he once was, but Mr. Larner's "famous" dancing attracts admirers at weddings and family gatherings to this day, says his daughter Sue.

He gets a chance to practice his steps weekly when he visits his daughter Patsy and her husband, Jack, in Bel Air to hear local musicians play live country-western music at their home.

But if you really want to see him move, watch him when the little orange targets start flying.

Today, Mr. Larner can't tell you when he first fired a gun or who taught him to shoot or what it was like to grow up early in this century.

The details -- the names and dates and places -- elude him now, like targets lost in the distant trees.

But his marksman's eye remains as sharp as ever.

"I just feel right at home shooting," he says. "It's all just normal to me."

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