A fine shot

'One of life's nice guys'

AIMIE CRONIN
Last updated 09:00 05/04/2014
jon beddis

HAPPY MAN: Jon Beddis at the world championships last month.

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''Bird!" a man yells, his gun set to ready. A target flies past. His shotgun follows. A blast cuts still air and shatters the clay bird to a million pieces.

The air has a moment to catch up. "Pull," yells the next shooter. The fragments keep falling and the shells pile up and the men shoot till darkness arrives and calls time.

After, Jon Beddis sits on a park bench, shooting the breeze. You'd never know about his win, till an old man approaches.

"Sir Jon! Congratulations. It's the best news I've ever heard in me life."

The world is in black and white, then Jon Beddis laughs and it turns to colour.

Earlier, someone says, "Do I have to bow to you now?" And Jon Beddis laughs and again, the sound rings out across town. He laughs like he's been waiting all day and your joke is his excuse. Jon Beddis is a happy man. Last month he became the best down-the-line trap shooter in the world. It was his first shot at the title, but he's been working up to it his whole life.

In his rugby league days, he was known round town as Jonny Five because he scored that many tries in a single match. No problem. There were other sports - cricket, squash - but his dad was a shooter and the writing was on the wall. Jon Beddis started asking to join his dad duck shooting from age seven or eight. When he was 10, Jon Beddis went for the first time. When he was 12, he took up clay bird shooting. He's been shooting more than 30 years and now the shooting's so good, the gun looks like an extension of his arm.

Over the world champ finals, Beddis scored 745 out of 750, with three points awarded for hitting the clay pigeon with the first barrel, and two for a second barrel hit. He shot all day, went home at night, ate steak and eggs for tea, lights out at half nine.

The next day, he was on the ground at about half past eight. No lucky charms, just backing from his beloveds and a clear head. He shot 100 of 100 targets for 300 points with his Browning Ultra XTR shotgun, which gave him an overall total of 895 out of a possible 900. He managed a few laughs that day, but as soon as he stepped on to that mark, "She's serious, mate."

His wife, Sharon, couldn't watch the last 15 shots, but hundreds of people did.

"When he won, we all just jumped up and swarmed at him . . . it was really cool," says his daughter, Grace. Photos from the day show people lining up to shake his hand.

Jon Beddis is a man who everyone wants to win but no one wants to shoot with anymore.

"I'm not going up against you, I'm only a bum!" says someone at practice night. "Well," says Beddis, "I'll bum around with ya." And he's down there shooting the shit with his clubmates and you think he's just another club member till you see him shooting the targets - BOOM-hit BOOM-hit BOOM-hit - and he shoots them so damn fast. He never misses one. Then he's whispering in the ear of the younger ones, "Just shoot one target at a time," he says. "Don't think about the end, just think about what you're doing."

A man travels from South Auckland with his stepdaughter to make practice every Tuesday night at the Huntly gun club, because it hums along with a friendly tone and it's not so stuffy south of the Bombays and its star player Beddis has the time of day for them.

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Beddis' mate Dale Constantine calls him "one of life's nice guys", but adds: "If anyone is in a shoot-off with JB, well, he's screwed. He might as well pack his bags."

Jon Beddis doesn't strike you as a sportsman. He's not overweight as such, but he's a big man. "I should be fitter," he says with a laugh, adding that the art to shooting well is more mental than physical. You've got to have it together.

His clothes are functional. He owns one suit and it's a club uniform. He favours work boots, work socks, wrinkled shorts, a tidy polo shirt, and a cap. His pale skin is weathered a little from hard days at work at the family electrical business.

If you met him, his hair would be the first thing you noticed - its redness is resistant to age, it's the reason he looks a youthful 44. His face is relatively immune to expression, but that laugh draws emotion out of him. And it's contagious. He'll be laughing and everyone around him will crack a smile, even if they don't hear the joke.

Jon Beddis is a family man. His success is thanks, in part, to his parents, his wife, his son and daughter.

Earlier in the week, it's the middle of the day in Huntly and he's hard at work. The phone calls are nonstop with the ring tone of a duck quacking. "No problem, mate," he keeps saying to voices at the other end. "No problem."

Then it's "Follow me!" and he hops in his car and heads to his parents' place just up the road. The speed limit is cheerfully observed. Jon Beddis winds round the streets he knows by heart, because he's lived in this town his whole life. He's third generation Huntly and proud of it. "It's great here," he says. "But I don't know any different, I've never lived anywhere else!" His laughter sounds like a machine gun shooting.

He pulls up to his parents' place next to a car with a number plate that reads GUNDAD. Inside, a toy duck doubles as a doorstep. This is a family with shooting in its blood. Jon Beddis' dad, George, sits in a La-Z-Boy and pitches in every now and then. He was shooting down at the club till last year - "I gave up when I was too old." He was 84. Lil Beddis has been the Huntly fish, game and clay target club secretary for 30-odd years. "Mum's the face of the club on shoot day," says Jon Beddis, "everyone goes and says hello to Mum."

Sharon has been married to Jon for 21 years. To celebrate 20, they went out to tea. He remembers anniversaries, but presents only come every other year. He's not a romantic man. Sharon married him because he's "gentle, kind, reliable and honest".

She has curly brown hair, warm brown eyes and she cries when she talks about the day her husband won the world champs. "It's been . . . 18 months . . . of build up for it . . . he's put in so much hard work and effort."

Jon Beddis and his son, Mitchell - who's as hooked on shooting as his dad - went to Sharon 18 months ago with a plan. "They went through a 12-month calendar of shooting and said they wanted to shoot this one, this one, this one, this one and this one. And it's gonna cost that, that, that, that and that . . . they said, Can we do it? I said . . . OK."

They had to do it, she says. It was the perfect opportunity - the next world champs are in Ireland and the ones after that are in Australia, "and it won't be back in Hamilton for 24 years - they had to do it".

It meant no holidays. Every other weekend away. It meant anywhere they went involved going away for a shoot. And financially, it stung.

When daughter Grace stands on the mark at Tuesday's practice night and displays a hint of her dad's quick eye from shot one, Jon Beddis walks away shaking his head. "We've created a monster."

Sharon jokes they will need to get a second mortgage on the house.

As it is, Jon Beddis holds the world title in trap shooting, but he'll struggle to see a cent from high performance sport. "Ultimately, [funding] is a top-down approach," says high-performance sport boss Alex Baumann. "The funds run out at some point, but he certainly can apply."

To qualify for the Olympic or Commonwealth Games in trap shooting, he would have to change his discipline, as the sport favoured by most Commonwealth nations is not the same as the one at the Games. To increase his chances of getting funding, he would need to build a history of strong scores in the Olympic discipline and to do that, he would need financial backing. What's stopping him? "Just cost, mate."

Would he do it if he could? "Hell yes."

"But I wouldn't let my family go without just so I could go to the Olympics. It's just not me." He breaks down the costs, of travel and ammo and the rest. He doubles that figure, perhaps triples it, to include both kids, who want to chase the dream with him. It sure would chew through the money, he says. And all he can do is explode into a laugh so loud it rings out across town.

THE FACTS

Definition of down-the-line trap shooting, according to Wikipedia: Also known as DTL, this is a popular trap-shooting discipline. Targets are thrown to a distance of 45 to 50 metres at a fixed height of approximately 2.75m and with a horizontal spread of up to 22 degrees either side of the centre line. Each competitor shoots at a single target in turn, but without moving from the stand until all have shot five targets. Then they all move one place to the right, and continue to do so until they have all completed a standard round of 25 birds. Scoring of each target is 3 points for a first barrel kill, 2 points for a second barrel kill and 0 for a miss (maximum 75 points per round). Variations of this discipline are single barrel, double rise, and handicap-by-distance. 

Additional reporting by Ben Strang

- Manawatu Standard

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