In the annals of famous brothers we have the Earps, the Wrights, the Bonapartes, Chang and Eng, Christopher and Bartholomew Columbus, the Custers (for whom things didn’t work out so well), the Jameses (ditto), and in literature and entertainment the Karamazovs, the Marios, and the Blueses.
Now there is Foster and Matt Bartholow, the Hardy Boys of the Amateur Trapshooting Association.
If you compare the Bartholows to the Hardy Boys as they shoot their way to singles-, doubles-,*handicap-*, and team-championship fame, then the event where they have had the most spectacular impact, the Grand American World Trapshooting Championship in Sparta, Illinois, a summertime institution for more than a century, could be thought of as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally of trap–an appropriate analogy for two brothers from Rapid City, South Dakota, only 30 miles from Sturgis.
Last year, the Bartholows, Foster is 30 and Matt 28, hoisted 25 trophies at the Grand. That’s been the pattern of their competitive shooting for 15 years. The initial highlight of Foster’s career was winning the co-championship in Sparta in singles trap in 2008, going a phenomenal 1,100 straight until it was the Grand that, essentially, threw in the towel and offered Foster and his opponent each a share of the title. Three years later, it was Matt who grabbed the diamond “grand” ring in double-trap shooting, in which two targets are thrown simultaneously. Now, fast forward in time, Matt broke more birds at the 2017 Grand than another other shooter participating in all events combined (singles-doubles-handicap), taking home the title of the Radians HOA 2600 Target Championship, shooting an impressive 2556x2600 total! All with Winchester AA’s, of course!
The boys’s clays shooting began at a youth trap league when they were 14 and 12. The Bartholows still credit their ultimate success, though, to the instruction they received from their father, Bud, a former AA baseball player. Watching his young sons shoot, Bud saw an opportunity to train them with a new mental approach, quality over quantity, with a purpose. So, drawing on his baseball background, he created what he called the “perfect practice” routine, getting Foster and Matt to focus on each target as it would be in competition, 100% mentally and physically focused, without thinking back on the one before or to the one ahead, as Bud simply states, “Practice with a Purpose”.
Today, the younger Matt is a full-time shooter, as well as running his own business doing custom hand engraving. Foster still has his day job as an insurance salesperson, but both brothers some days will find time to go through a thousand rounds of Winchester ammunition in practice. Matt is married with a newborn child, while Foster shoots bow and arrow with his fiancée to break up the routine of trap practice and competition. The Bartholows, sons and parents, have started their own business selling high-grade shooting eyewear, shooting awards, hand engraved products, cleaning products for firearms, along with belt buckles and key chains.
Both brothers are certified hunter-education instructors and present regular free youth clinics, to as many as 150 participants at a time, remembering their own introduction to shooting and wanting not only to give youngsters the same experience but an even better grounding in the use of firearms. The clinics offer, as well, the opportunity to try out a variety of shotguns, so young shooters can see what they enjoy the most.
The brothers take their shooting skills out into the hunting fields, too. Matt is the more laid-back hunter of the two, enjoying dove in September. Foster, on the other hand, loves it all–anything with wings, as well as big game, and even guides turkey hunters in the Black Hills in the spring.
Sibling rivalry goes back, of course, to the very first brothers we read about, the ones in Genesis. The Bartholows aren’t as competitive as that; but Foster, granting his brother the edge in shooting, relishes the times he has been able to tie or beat the younger Matt.
The Bartholows plan to be back in Sparta this August, shooting singly, together, and head to head. History is filled with battle stories of brother against brother. But no matter how the championship turns out, you can be sure that Foster and Matt will always be family.
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