Shotgun salute to skeet standout Jim Bealmear

"Skeet shooting...focuses on precision, repetition and consistency — all words that fit Jim perfectly."

The routines in Jim Bealmear's life would have driven others nuts. He dipped potato chips in mayonnaise and put olives in his beer. He scrubbed the tires of his sports car until they glistened but drove around in old clothes until they all but fell apart.

By all accounts, Bealmear was obsessive to a fault — a trait that stood him well in the sport of skeet shooting. He relished the routine of firing hundreds of shotgun shells at 4 5/16-inch discs whizzing by at 50 mph. He seldom missed. On five occasions, in competition, Bealmear hit his targets 399 times out of a possible 400.

"In his day, he was a darn good shooter," said Stephanie Haga, an official of the National Skeet Shooting Association in San Antonio. "At the top of his game, he was a Triple-A shooter, as good as it gets."

Bealmear, of Rodgers Forge, died Jan. 3 of liver cancer at age 59. But at Loch Raven Skeet & Trap Center, in Phoenix, they won't forget the quiet, quirky man who, before a meet, would line up his ammunition with uncanny detail before blasting the clay birds from the sky, time after time after time.

"Skeet shooting is a sport that focuses on precision, repetition and consistency — all words that fit Jim perfectly," said Mike Barnett of Westminster, a longtime friend and fellow shooter. "He was extremely focused, his eyesight was amazing and he was always in 'the zone.' "

Eleven times, between 1981 and 2002, Bealmear made the All-State first team, composed of the top five skeet shooters in Maryland. In 1987, his best year, he took aim at 4300 targets, hitting 98.93 percent.

"Jim had an amazing ability to concentrate," said Carole Ebeling, of Ruxton, who shot with him often. "He had this unique shooting position. Most people stand up straight and pull the gun into their face. Jim literally scrunched over his gun and pulled himself down into it, the way he'd done it as a child. In 50 years, he never changed."

Bealmear won his first tournament at age 10, friends said.

"The story goes that his parents wanted Jim to 'man up,' so they took him out to [Loch Raven] to shoot," said Richard Garre, a teammate for 15 years. "He took to it like nobody's business and got instructions there from [14-time world champion] Harry Wright."

In skeet tournaments, participants shoot from eight stations, arranged in a semicircle, around traps that fire targets from varying heights at breakneck speed.

"Jim was unbelievable at every station, and absolutely flawless for close to 40 years," Garre said. "Sadly, he didn't like to travel and never went to the world championships. He would have done well."

Others marveled at Bealmear's reflexes and how rapidly he fired at targets.

"He'd shoot at those [discs] when they were only 10 or 12 feet out of the traps, while 30 to 35 feet is normal," said Vince Salvi, the Loch Raven club manager. "He was quicker than anyone I've ever seen."

A bank executive, Bealmear shared his home with his dog, Chester, a bassett hound who lived for deli meats and joy rides.

"As meticulous as Jim was about his BMW, he'd drive around with the top down and the dog alongside, ears flapping and mouth slobbering," Ebeling said.

In 2001, Bealmear was named to the Maryland Skeet Shooting Association Hall of Fame. The awards he won landed in boxes in his basement.

"Those things didn't mean much to him," Ebeling said. "He never gloated or bragged. In his head, he knew what he'd done."

Seven years ago, Bealmear suffered a stroke, and many feared his shooting days were done.

"It debilitated him in terms of remembering stuff, and being able to write — but, somehow, it didn't affect his shooting," said club member Ron Davis of Towson. "He did almost as well after the stroke as before."

In his last months, Bealmear gave money to the Loch Raven club for a skeet shooting tournament to be held in his honor each September. Not one for self-aggrandizement, he had to be talked into it.

"I told him, 'Jimmy, the club was your family, so do something for it,' " Barnett said. "Do I miss him? Every Saturday and Sunday morning, I'd call him at 8 and say, 'Wake your --- up, we'll meet at the club at 10 to shoot.' Now, I can't."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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