PHOTO BY RON KANTOWSKI/LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL
Jon Kruger of Franktown, Colo., takes aim on the practice range at the Ducks Unlimited Continental Shoot at the Clark County Shooting Complex last month. Kruger is considered the Tiger Woods of the shotgun world, despite shooting with a mangled right hand.
He is an eight-time U.S. Open champion, the first inductee into his sport’s Hall of Fame, a 23-time All-American, which is even more than Johnny Manziel. He has won seven gold medals doing what he does, which is seven more than the U.S. speed skaters won in Russia doing what they do. He doesn’t bitch about the uniform.
I received an email that said this man Jon Kruger, formerly from a small town in Iowa, now from a small town in Colorado, was considered “the Tiger Woods of the shotgun world.”
The guy who wrote the email was from the city, too. So being considered the Tiger Woods of the shotgun world probably meant more to him — and to me — than the fact Jon Kruger once shot 199 sporting clays in a row, and nobody has ever shot 200. And if you shoot 86 out of 100, or something like that, you are considered a great shooter.
I’m told shooting sporting clays, which come at you like quarry in the wild, is much more difficult than shooting trap or skeet. People say it’s like golf with a shotgun, only there are stations instead of holes, and when they “shotgun start” they truly mean it.
Jon Kruger was shooting stuff that moved out at the Clark County Shooting Complex on Sunday. So I got up early and loaded up the camel, because driving to the shooting park is like driving to Bethlehem to see the Christ child, at least if you live in Henderson.
When the Tiger Woods of the shotgun world reached out to shake my hand, he reached with his left hand, because he has only one finger and a couple of stubs on his right hand.
That mangled hand is the one he shoots with.
As great as Tiger Woods is/was, I’d like to see him win 14 majors by swinging a 7-iron with a right hand composed only of stubs and a pinkie finger.
“(Stuff) happens,” Jon Kruger said, only he didn’t say stuff, because he grew up in Iowa, where tough guys wrestle when it gets cold outside. Then they go hunting for pheasants and squirrels and other critters after wrestling practice, and they don’t say “stuff” when they mean the other word.
The other word happened to Jon Kruger after he got real good at shooting stuff. He had become quite the trick shooter, and people would drive long distances on country roads to see him shoot stuff with his shotgun. And so he was always pushing the envelope, like Evel Knievel or somebody like that.
In 1989, outside the little town of Richmond, Ill., Kruger was shooting apples, grapes, tomatoes, grapefruit and a pineapple with his shotgun. And even golf balls, because he was the Tiger Woods of the shotgun world, or back then, the Jack Nicklaus of it.
The real showstopper was when Kruger would fill pingpong balls full of gun powder, stick a firecracker on top and shoot those.
One went off in his hand — “just stupid,” he said — and then he had to be airlifted to Milwaukee. Only the helicopter was tied up at a Packers game or whatever. So by the time Jon Kruger arrived at the hospital, his shooting hand looked like roadkill. At least that’s what his pals said when he showed them the pictures.
Two months later, Jon Kruger was shooting again, in competition. Forget Tiger Woods. He was like Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s movie about Formula 1.
At first, Kruger tried to learn to shoot with his left hand. Birdshot started flying all over the place, and that’s never a good thing in the shotgun sports. Then he tried to use his pinkie finger, the only finger left on his right hand. That worked much better.
He got this glove and attached a piece of Velcro to it, and he attached another piece of Velcro to the stock of his shotgun. Birdshot starting hitting clay targets again.
So after Kruger shot 199 in a row, people would say, just think how many he could have shot had he not blown off his fingers with those pingpong balls. Only he doesn’t look at it that way. Because (stuff) happens, and in a way he thinks the accident made him develop even more acute hand-eye coordination, or at least pinkie finger-eye coordination, and that has made him a better shooter at age 53.
Around 450 shooters turned out for the Ducks Unlimited Continental Shoot here this weekend. There were a lot of guys wearing trucker caps yelling “Pull!” And a lot of guys were coming up to Jon Kruger and extending their left hands, because he’s the Tiger Woods of the shotgun world and they wanted to wish him well.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.