I came to skeet shooting late in life, well, two days ago actually. My body is reminding me of this fact: my right shoulder hurts from absorbing the recoil, the left side of my back from counteracting the weight of the gun, and yeah, my neck is kind of stiff. I’m still smiling from the experience.
There is nothing in the world that comes close to seeing a little clay flying saucer rocket into view then watching it explode in a cloud of dust, especially if you’re the one pulling the trigger. It’s exciting, it’s immediate gratification…it’s addicting. “If you can put your finger on the target, I can teach you to hit it,” says the man standing in front of me.
Average of build and quite fit, he speaks with a passion about shooting, the avocation that has sustained him throughout his life. He’s my teacher at the shooting range, and his name is Chappie Gennett. Capital at Play has arranged for me to take a lesson with this legendary sportsman.
“The gun will follow your eyes to the target; you can’t miss!”
During the first hour of instruction, I don’t fire the gun once. Chappie spends this time training my eye and body to follow the clay flying saucer and to say ‘bang’ when I mentally pull the trigger. We practice this until my accuracy improves. Then, we fire the shotgun at nothing in particular so I can get used to the recoil. This will hopefully circumvent the body’s natural tendency toward flinching. He launches a few more targets while I shoot them with my outstretched hand.
My index finger is accurate, so it’s show time: Chappie pops a shell into the gun. I call ‘pull’ and hear the quiet “thunk” of the trap throwing the target across the range. I don’t see it right away. A microsecond later, there it is! I track the target with my eyes and pull the trigger. “Bang!” The clay disc explodes as if on cue! I feel amazing. I immediately want to do it again…this is a common reaction, I discover.
It was 1957 when Chappie, age 12 was similarly smitten. Lee Sluder was teaching Asheville boys and girls to shoot a .22 caliber rifle on Thursday evenings at the Sheriff Deptartment’s indoor range. Chappie signed up and instantly fell in love with squeezing the trigger to send a bullet the long distance to strike a target.
“I was hooked,” says Chappie, “We shared the rifle and only got 5 shots each, but I couldn’t wait for the next Thursday night target session to arrive.”
The following summer, the teenaged tyro could be found at the Buncombe County Gun Club, shotgun in hand, exploding clay targets. This was 1958 and the club was located near the old armory building in West Asheville. He had found nirvana.
“When I discovered skeet shooting, I had found my reason for being; all I thought about in my spare time was hitting targets…I had a lot of encouragement.” His parents willingly financed the shooting expenses, and many adults at the gun club coached and cheered him on. Everyone who watched him shoot agreed: Chappie was a natural. Even the Asheville Citizen-Times got in the act. After a weekend competition, the sports page would trumpet his accomplishments:
“Chappie breaks 50 in a Row”
“Gennett’s Winning Streak Unbreakable”
Chappie was attending Gibbons Hall, an elementary school for boys, located on the Victoria Rd. campus of St Genevieve-of-the Pines, where AB Tech now stands. In 1988 Gibbons Hall/St Genevieve’s became Carolina Day School.
His sports page prowess captivated his peers, so when other kids were showing off their pet snake or autographed baseball, Chappie brought his guns to class.
“Things were different back then. A 14 year old could bring a shotgun to school for show and tell and no one would blink. My teacher encouraged me to explain the sport to my classmates.”
Chappie’s parents fully supported his new hobby, but like parents of the generation, they didn’t elevate his shooting to possible career status. This was the 1950’s, so no personal coaches were hired, and no elaborate plans were made to take their son to far away competitions.
Certainly no one in the family ever considered that he work toward the Olympic shooting team—or perish the thought—that he make target shooting a career.
Instead, his father routinely reminded him that there was more to life than blowing up clay discs.
Undeterred, Chappie kept up competition shooting…and winning. After high school, he joined the Army and trained to be a helicopter door gunner. It never occurred to him that the services might have a shooting team. By the time he discovered the US Army Skeet team, it was too late, he had 9 months remaining in his 3-year hitch, and the team required a 2-year commitment.
Once out of the Army, he earned an Associates Degree, and three years later, a BA in Industrial Education from Eastern Kentucky University. Throughout his college years, Chappie could be found on a skeet or trap range somewhere in the Southeast, banging away at targets and dogging his shooting competitors.
It was in college that he first heard about Psycho Cybernetics, the science of mental visualization, which was being taught to the EKU basketball team. This gave him an idea: why not create his own visualization techniques?
Whenever he had a spare moment, he would slowly visualize: unpacking the gun, walking to his shooting station, loading—every step taken in competition would be visualized including the ultimate picture of success—the sight and sound of the target exploding.
It worked; he was practicing far less than the pros he competed against, but he was beating them in competition. During his senior year, he had won so many contests that we was selected for the Sports Afield All American skeet team two years in a row, which is an international honor.
Attending and winning competitions has been fertile ground for the germination of shooting related entrepreneurial ventures.
Chappie noticed that there was a market for a new technology: frangible ammunition. These are bullets that once discharged, do not cut through walls or motor vehicles because they break apart on impact. No one was making them at the time, so he launched a business to fill the niche.
He named the company Genco and began to manufacture and sell specialty ammunition to law enforcement agencies out of his cellar in Arden. Insurance and quality concerns were steep learning curves, but the small company made progress.
Genco gained recognition as a provider of quality specialized ammo, and government agencies approached them with projects.
Developing any product for the government can be an exercise in frustration with a subsequent drain on company resources.
One such project was for a sniper bullet that was quiet, i.e. it would travel slower than the speed of sound. Research began right away. With no ballistics lab staffed with physicists at his disposal, Chappie had to work very hard to create the product, test it, refine it and pay for it.
When he finally had a projectile that operated accurately below the speed of sound, the government decided to change their requirements; they wanted it to be quiet and operate with more velocity.
Chappie was frustrated and vowed never to develop anything for free for anyone, especially the government.
The phone rang and it was the Army on the line with another request.
“The guy on the call asked me if we could make a training round for the Remington .223. This is the bullet that is used in the M16 rifle. He asked if we could make ten thousand of them. I thought about it for a nanosecond and said “yes!”” quips Chappie.
Training rounds are used by instructors to teach safe firearm handling techniques. These are not blanks; when inserted into a gun and the trigger is pulled, there is no flash or bang. Their sole purpose is to look and feel identical to their live ammunition counterparts, but entirely safe.
What distinguishes the training rounds from live ammunition is the black color on the shell casing…they’re known as ‘black bullets’ in weapons training parlance.
Sounds easy, right? Just empty out some cartridges and paint them black. Not so fast. Ammunition is manufactured within stringent dimensional standards to assure that the gun mechanism will not jam when the cartridges are cycled in the weapon.
For Genco’s training rounds to be effective, they had to be accurate in every respect, and they had to be inspected and tested by an independent third party. This took money and time, but the gamble paid off. The order was filled; the government was happy and more business followed.
This business was promising to be good, so good that the “quiet bullet project” was allowed to fizzle, as was the frangible ammunition product line.
The initial phone request for black bullets was received 20 years ago, and Genco still processes multiple orders a week from all over the world. They have dummy bullets for every caliber in existence. To date, they’ve sold over $1 million in training rounds.
“It’s fun, I assemble the product in my cellar, and a few times a week, a retired woman comes in to help me box and ship orders; we’re helping each other financially.”
When not running Genco, Chappie divides his time between competitive shooting and instructing. All of his shooting success has made him one of the most sought after instructors in the sport.