Retired Judge Donald Petroff shot better than 1,300 competitors to win the state singles trap championship.
MARENGO, Ohio -- Four years ago, a 70-year-old Oregon man fired a shot heard 'round the competitive trapshooting world when he defeated all comers, of all ages, to win the prestigious Ohio State Trapshooting Championships here.
By posting a perfect score, then outlasting his competitors in a high-pressure shoot-off for the singles title, he became the oldest champion in the long history of the event.
Then this year, he did it again.
In late June, retired Oregon Municipal Court Judge Donald Petroff, now age 74, posted another perfect score in the competition rounds, hitting all 200 targets. He then prevailed in the shoot-off for the singles championship, which stretched late into the day and into the twilight hours, never missing as nine other competitors were eventually eliminated.
"When it's over, it's a relief as much as anything, because you know that with so many others shooting perfect scores, you are going to have to be perfect in the shoot-off. It was exciting to win it the first time and be the oldest guy ever to do that, and then to be able to repeat that four years later brings a sense of satisfaction," Petroff said about breaking his own record.
"There are a lot of good shooters here in Ohio, and this event always brings in many of the best ones from around the country, as well."
The competition at the Cardinal Center, just off I-71 east of Delaware and one of the top shooting facilities in the nation, attracted more than 1,300 shooters and a number of the All-Americans in trapshooting, and the age range of the competitors stretched from 12 to 80 years old.
"When you think about the fact he had to beat over a thousand shooters to win that event this year, that's something pretty amazing," said Toledoan and fellow shooter Mike Dehabey, who won the overall Ohio singles title in 2007, and took first place in three individual events at this year's championship tournament.
Petroff, who presided over the Oregon court from January, 1982, through December, 2005, grew up a fan of Westerns, where firearms were an ever-present part of the story line. The Waite High School graduate hunted deer, pheasants, and rabbits in northwest Ohio both before and after serving in the Army in Europe.
While in England during his military service, he witnessed the shooting sports being practiced with targets. Petroff first shot sporting clays, a different form of competitive shooting, but at the urging of some friends he started shooting trap.
In trapshooting events, clay targets are released by a throwing mechanism and travel at about 45 mph. Competitors usually shoot the targets at a distance of 40-45 yards in the open singles.
At a national competition in Vandalia in 1993, Petroff hit 98 out of 100 targets, tying for second place in the singles event and then won the doubles event where two targets are released in each round.
"I started doing it more and more, and there were a lot of good shooters up here in Northwest Ohio, so if you wanted help there was always someone to give you good advice," he said.
In his 2008 winning effort at the state championships, Petroff hit about 350 straight targets to take the overall singles crown. Repeating that effort this year took a similar run of perfection.
"Singles is the most difficult mentally. You have to keep your mind clear or you lose your target," said Petroff, who graduated from the University of Toledo and UT Law School.
"It's all about your individual discipline and your ability to keep your mind locked in on what you are doing," said Dehabey, who started trapshooting around 1970, after a stint in the Coast Guard.
"I've heard from some of my lawyer friends that the judge ran a pretty tight ship in his courtroom, so I'm not surprised at all that he has the discipline you need to go all the way through one of these competitions and keep that really high level of concentration."
Petroff uses a precision-crafted Italian 12-gauge shotgun made by Perazzi. It has a stock milled from Circassian walnut and an interchangeable over-and-under barrel for use in the doubles competition, where two targets are released at once.
Petroff, who estimated that he shot about 1,300 rounds over five days on his way to winning the most recent championship, likened his run of success to that when a certain golfer on the seniors tour puts together a number of low-scoring rounds.
"Hale Irwin talks about staying "in the zone" when they are playing really well, and I had a feeling like that during this competition," Petroff said. "I was able to stay in that zone."
His fondness for the sport allows Petroff to enjoy the competition, even when he is not at the top of his game.
"I always want to shoot well and enjoy it, but if I'm not in that zone, I just enjoy the camaraderie. It doesn't do any good to beat yourself up when things aren't going right."
Petroff still treats the shooting sports as a hobby, despite his exceptional accomplishments. He serves on several committees with Mercy Health Partners, and with his wife, Sarianne, they spend a lot of time with their five grandchildren.
"Once family and everything else is taken care of, shooting fits in with what time is left," he said.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.
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