During the program’s first out-of-state competition, the Henry County Sharp Shooters finished ninth at the National Rifle Association’s annual International Youth Hunter Education Challenge last week in Mansfield, Pa. It was an impressive finish for a young team without much experience going up against the best squads from around the country.
The Sharp Shooters started from scratch three years ago, and have blossomed into the best team in the state and top 10 nationally. They won the Kentucky Youth Hunter Education Challenge — the official state championship — May 23-24 at Lake Cumberland’s 4-H Camp, and then last week put their outdoor skills to the test in the national finals.
“It was a great experience for everybody on our team,” Sharp Shooters’ coach Dennis Campbell said. “We learned a lot, and we’ll definitely be ready for next year.”
The Sharp Shooters qualified for nationals based on their performance at the statewide competition three months ago. They left for Mansfield July 25 and returned back to New Castle this past Saturday. During the nine-day stretch, the Sharp Shooters competed Monday through Friday last week in various competitions, including four shooting challenges — shotguns, muzzleloaders, rifles and archery — orienteering, wildlife identification and safety trail. Participants could score up to 300 points in each of the eight events. The top four scores from a team were added up for the overall team standings.
Henry’s junior team (ages 14 and under) included Jacob Yount, Connor Toole, Andrew Pollard, James Pollard and Jordan Campbell. Out of 17 teams and more than 111 individuals, they finished ninth overall with 5,779 points, and won the safety trail challenge.
“To me, the safety trail challenge is the best event to do well in, but that’s a personal opinion,” Campbell said. “Basically, they give the competitors a gun and they have to make decisions with it. It was great that we were able to be national champions in that event.”
For winning the safety trail challenge, each of the Sharp Shooters received a medal. Yount, who placed 32nd overall, also earned a medal for his third place in archery.
As a team, Henry finished fourth in archery, just one place away from another medal each.
Besides the five competing in the junior division, Henry’s Jonathan Chadwell competed in the senior division (ages 15 to 18) to round out the six-person squad.
Before nationals, the Sharp Shooters had a goal of finishing top 10 in the team standings, which they bettered by one place. But next year, after a season of gaining valuable experience at their first national competition, they hope to climb the ladder and eventually contend for one of the elusive top spots.
“Most of the teams had been competing for a while, and this was their primary focus of the entire season,” said Campbell, who pointed out teams came all the way from Oregon to Florida to participate. “We had a goal to do well, but our main goal was just to get the experience at this level.”
Henry started practicing in February, when they had some form of training each week. Three weeks before competitions, the squad worked on something each day to train more competition-specific for the upcoming event.
But when the Sharp Shooters prepare for next year’s competitions, they will alter their training to be even more prepared, Campbell said.
“The events and scoring was the same at nationals, but the competition was a lot tougher and the targets were much harder to hit. It was nothing our kids couldn’t do, but we hadn’t practiced for it. We get a year to get it all straight and we’ll go back and make some noise again. This time, we will start practice in the fall to get ready.”
The most interesting part of the trip, Campbell said, was the fact that 18 rattlesnakes and one black bear were caught on the same grounds they were competing on while nationals were being contested. It made for an exciting trip that left competitors on guard.
“We were doing orienting on a 40-acree field and we saw some guys going out on four-wheelers, and they stopped us while they went to catch some rattlesnakes. We were very weary, and kept an open ear wherever we stepped.”
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