Tony West: A teenage phenom

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Local News

October 14, 2019 - 9:46 AM

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series written by Tom Cason on Tony West, a world class skeet shooter during the 1970s. His mother, Mary Louise West Henry, lives in Yates Center. Read the first part here.

 

In 1973, Tony participated in three registered shoots during which he broke his first 25 straight and went on to win his first junior class title. At a shoot in Des Moines, the 13-year-old took first place in 12- and 20-gauge against shooters who were much older. Soon, it became apparent the kid had talent. At that point, there was no looking back, and nothing but success was in Tony’s future.

It was about this time that the nation was hit broadside with the Arab Oil embargo. For anyone who did a lot of traveling, high fuel prices and spot shortages of gasoline were common. To mitigate the fuel shortage and increase vehicle fuel economy, Congress passed a national 55 mph speed limit. The West family was traveling every weekend to shoots where Tony would participate. Some events were close, and others were not. Because Joe worked for the FAA, he received free airline tickets, which the family used to attend distant shoots. 

Then Joe was given the choice of taking free airline tickets or annual salary raises. Joe decided on the raise and the free airline tickets went by the wayside. By now Joe and Mary were totally devoted to Tony’s skeet shooting. But the necessary travel for his competitions began to impact the family budget. To supplement, Mary took various jobs as a restaurant server in Olathe and other nearby areas; wherever there was an opening.  It helped.  

Despite fuel shortages and speed limits, the West family hit the road in a large, comfortable Ford Econoline van painted bright red and according to Mary, “we went somewhere every weekend. We would leave on Friday and come home Sunday night, so Tony could go to school and my husband could go to work.”

Motels and suitcases were the family’s second home.Tony had almost no social life at school, because he was gone so much. Consequently, he had only a few friends at school. But, according to Mary, “Tony had a girlfriend at every shoot.” In one year, they racked up some 20,000 miles on that van just traveling to Tony’s shoots.  

It wasn’t long before it became apparent that Tony needed a better shotgun. Joe and Mary decided to further their investment in Tony’s future by buying him a serious shotgun for serious competition; a custom fitted Kreighoff  K-32 four barrel skeet set in .410 bore, 28-, 20- and 12- gauge. 

There were no excuses now: Tony had the best equipment and all he had to do was to demonstrate that he was up to the challenge.  

Mary recalls, “We bought that shotgun from a gun store in Kansas City. I can’t remember the name, but it cost a lot of money, and it seemed that we paid on that gun forever.” This is the gun that Tony used throughout his shooting career with one exception. For the 12-gauge events he used a Remington Model 1100 Skeet model that he fondly named “Old Rust.”  

In those days the Remington 1100 was by far the most popular gun used by competitive shooters. It was inexpensive and it got the job done. Tony refused to clean “Old Rust” because he was a little superstitious: He believed that if he did anything to the gun that it might cause him to miss a target, so “Old Rust” went neglected and begging for maintenance.  

The years 1974-1977 were banner years for Tony. In 1975, a Wichita newspaper carried a headline “Tony West Wins State Skeet Title Again.” Later that same year, a Fort Smith Arkansas newspaper reported, “Kansas Junior Star Tony West was impressive in taking the 12- and 28-gauge championships.” 

The Iola Register ran a story on West saying, “The 15-year-old broke 100 straight and won the title in a shoot off.”

At the World Championship Shoot in San Antonio, Joe joined Tony in competition and both posted respectable although not winning scores.

About the same time, the Wests built their own skeet field on the back part of their property in Wellsville so that practice would be convenient and travel minimized. In only three years after its completion, Tony estimated he had fired over 83,000 practice rounds.  

Mary recalls, “Joe and I pulled his targets for him.” The family also reloaded their practice shells to keep the costs down.  

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