Daily photo by Emily Saunders|
John Taylor usually spends his Wednesdays at Big Sky Skeet and Trap Club in Lacey's Spring with a group of his friends and fellow shooters. Taylor celebrated his 90th birthday March 14 with a little shooting and a little cake.
Having a blast
Still skeet shooting at 90, John Taylor is 'one of the last Southern gentlemen'
By Danielle Komis
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LACEY'S SPRING — John Taylor picks up his full-barrel Browning shotgun, points the gun at the bright blue sky and yells "pull!" He quickly shatters the orange clay pigeon that shoots out of the low house.
Shooting skeet and the breeze with the boys at Big Sky Skeet and Trap Club on Wednesday afternoons is the Decatur man's usual routine, though this recent afternoon is special. It's Taylor's 90th birthday.
Taylor, who averages hitting 22 birds out of a standard 25-target round at the Lacey's Spring club, is an anomaly in the shooting world, where bad eyes, knees, elbows and reflexes often drop older shooters out of the game.
"There's not a man sitting here who doesn't wish they can still do it at 90 years old," said gun club officer Norm Lindsey, leaning back in his chair at a table full of shooters taking a break. "It's not usual."
But then, Taylor isn't usual. He is revered as a legend in this shooting group, made up mostly of retirees and military veterans.
His friends light his cigarettes, pour him coffee and immediately stop talking when he speaks. He appears to be the Alpha male in the group despite his quiet, modest personality.
Few World War II veterans like Taylor are around today, his friends all say. In fact, few men like Taylor are still around today — a man who attended Auburn for agriculture, got drafted into the military in the 1940s with his twin brother, directed artillery fire for air and ground on Omaha Beach, started farming with his twin in Decatur, then joined the Peace Corps at age 60 and headed to the Philippines.
"He's one of the last Southern gentlemen," said friend and fellow shooter Neal Bentley of Decatur.
"He's a great individual," Bentley said. "We just enjoy his company."
And Taylor enjoys their company, too. He drives 45 minutes from his Decatur home to the club every Wednesday — a feat in itself. The gun club offers him a way to unwind and experience some camaraderie, he said.
"It's been a good bunch of boys the whole time," he said, thinking back to when he started coming to the club nearly 20 years ago.
"There's quite a few who have come and gone," he said, gesturing to a bronze memorial on the field in front of him in honor of a deceased club member whose ashes were scattered there.
He credits his good eyesight to past cataract surgeries, and his general longevity to luck. He has his share of health problems, he admits. So on days when he's not feeling up to shooting, he'll just pull for a while and chat with his friends.
On this Wednesday, a lot of talking will take place over his birthday cake.
A homemade orange-pineapple cake baked by the wife of longtime friend Gene Small awaits him in the wood-paneled clubhouse, along with singing and celebration.
The group of 10 guys gathers around the cake and sings in the large, open room filled with second-hand couches, hunting photos and a pool table.
"I don't know when I've had some attention," Taylor said, almost embarrassed as his friends hand him cake and coffee.
Aside from his Wednesdays at the club, Taylor says he just stays around home and "goes with the flow."
"I just sort of mark time," he said.
He has his wife at home to take care of, and still checks stock quotes every morning — a habit he picked up while he was a stockbroker. Taylor became a stockbroker after he and his brother sold their farm. Today, Delphi is located on that old farmland.
While shooting and hunting often go hand in hand, Taylor no longer hunts anymore.
"I feed doves now, not hunt them," he said. "I see them pecking and wandering around with their little pink feet so I don't want to kill them anymore. Age changes you."
Age may have changed Taylor, but it has been kind to him in life and in his shooting abilities, his shooting buddies agree.
"It's pure pleasure just to see him out there," Bentley said. "If anybody else can do that at 90, I'd like to see them."
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