Building character through competitive shooting

Jul. 27, 2014 @ 07:34 PM

My first official clay target shoot was in the 70s at the Tarheel Gun Club in Advance. I managed to hit 38 of 50 skeet and was pretty proud of my accomplishment.
During my shooting career, I’ve seen some decline in the traditional clay target games of trap and skeet, but sporting clays, a game often compared to golf with a shotgun, continues to grow.
In sporting clays, a squad of shooters moves from station to station, shooting six to eight targets each, until they’ve completed a 100-shot course. The targets are challenging, more challenging than almost any game targets, and perfect scores are almost nonexistent. On a tournament sporting clays course, I’m generally happy with anything over a 75 and really pleased with a score over 80.
Young shooter Dwight Hilton would be really disappointed with a score I’d be overjoyed with.
Hilton, a rising senior at Ledford Senior High, recently won C class at the North Carolina Sporting Clays Championship, at the Fork Stables and Shooting Club in Norwood.
His two-day score was a 160 of a possible 200, on really tough tournament targets. He’s accomplished this after just two years of competitive shooting.
Competitive shooting in any of its forms is an excellent way for young people to develop skills that will help them in life, build character, and give them insight into how to work through challenges.
Dwight Hilton has almost always been a hunter, and dove hunting was one of his favorites. While he liked all kinds of hunting, he liked shooting a shotgun at difficult flying targets most. Through the help of Eric Davis,  Hilton first got into sporting clays at Summit Springs, W. Va. He fell in love with the sport and later got involved with Rick Mitchell, with the North Carolina Youth Shooting Foundation. They get together once a month at different sporting clays venues where Mitchell coaches and gets kids started.
Hilton then got involved with another clay shooter and coach, Jeff Allen, who got him into the Scholastic Clay Target Program, which the National Shooting Sports Foundation began over a decade ago to get young people involved in the shotgun sports.
Scholastic Clay Target shooters have seen success in all levels of competition, including internationally. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist, Vincent Hancock, and ISSF World Cup gold medalist, Jon Michael McGrath, were both SCTP shooters. Four-time Olympic medalist, Kim Rhode, who won her first Olympic Gold Medal in double trap at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, is a big supporter of the SCTP.
Hilton began shooting with the SCTP last year and began attending shooting schools to improve his technique. He now shoots on the Carolina Clays Team, a sporting clays club begun by Allen and has about 30 kids who compete on a regular basis.
Some of the shooters shoot skeet and trap, but Hilton focuses more on sporting clays. He feels sporting clays is more challenging and likes the fact that it’s not repetitious. “You get everything on a sporting clays course you would field hunting wise, and you never know what’s around the corner,” he said.
Hilton competes both individually, as at the State Championship, and as a Carolina Clays team shooter. His squad generally consists of three shooters — himself, his neighbor, Hunter Brooks, and Ean McKool.
“I like shooting as a team,” Hilton said. “We watch each other as we shoot and help each other with suggestions on where we need to be to shoot a particular pair of targets. Like all teenaged boys, we’re all competitive, but we’re a team in team events and we work together.”
At the time of this writing, Hilton had just shot 95 of 100 targets at the Summer Fun Shoot at the Fork Stables and Sporting Clays event. His score will certainly put him near the top if not the winner in B class. He moved up to B class just last week with a win at the National Wild Turkey Foundation shoot at Hunting Creek.
Interviewing Hilton, I was reminded of just how effective success in an outdoor sport, like competitive shooting, can help young people to develop skills like teamwork that go far beyond the shooting range.
Dwight Hilton is just getting started and who knows where he’ll wind up, both as a competitor and as a man. I’m sure his future is bright in both aspects.

Dick Jones is an award-winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for national magazines and websites.  He recently finished his first book, Off the Porch. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, or would like a copy of his book, he can be reached at or offtheporchmedi