A few days every week, on a stretch of farmland near the county’s edge, a group of friends get together to do what they have since childhood.
Gathered on a shooting range at Bay Gall Sporting Clays and Hunting Preserve, just off Rocky Ford Road, the young cohorts grab handfuls of .12-gauge shotgun shells, stuff in their ear plugs and lay waste to as many flying clay targets as time and ammunition allow. The thunder of gunfire, which echoes from trees across the field, is interrupted only by yells of “Pull!” along with chatter and laughter stemming from the foursome.
One after another, the boys — all Southeast Bulloch High School students and members of Bulloch County’s 4-H Trap and Skeet Shooting Team — a fire multiple rounds to demolish the streaking orange saucers. Since middle school, the teens — Logan Hendrix, Austin Hutcheson, Brock Mixon and Jake Whitaker — have shot together.
Their dedication to the craft has allowed for an opportunity never before experienced by a local 4-H shooting team.
In one week, the marksmen will fly to Grand Isle, Neb., as state champions to represent the Peach State in the 2013 4-H National Shooting Sports Invitational championship.
“Am I excited? Oh yes, I’m excited!” Mixon, 17, said, during a practice held Tuesday afternoon. “This is the first time any 4-H shotgun team from Bulloch County has reached nationals.”
“(We are) really looking forward to it,” Hutcheson, 18, said.
The quartet punched a ticket to the national tournament by besting every team in a state-level competition held in Savannah earlier this month. The Bulloch County crew won by more than 15 shots in a sport that, more often than not, produces close finishes.
“We didn’t know we even had a chance, because a couple of us felt like we struggled in one area,” Hendrix, 16, said. “We were kind of feeling bad about it, until we saw how many more points we had than some of the other teams.”
According to Ken Daniels, a 4-H shooting instructor and the team’s coach, trap and skeet is a competition reserved for the highest level of shooters — “for older kids that are more seasoned,” he said.
As part of the event, participants must excel at two tasks: rapidly shooting targets that are moving in random directions away from the shooter, who is standing 16 feet back (trap); and taking a precise series of shots at clays that dart from two separate buildings in different directions (skeet). The shooters have but fractions of a second to move the gun into position and fire.
“These guys shoot pretty much all year long and are a great team,” Daniels said. “They are all great shots, and they feed off one another. They build one another’s confidence if one gets down.”
Not only are the young men crack shots, they also have a team chemistry that makes winning tournaments all the more likely, Daniels said.
“They, and myself, have been working together since they were in seventh grade. They are just like my kids — one (Mixon) actually is,” he said. “And besides that, they’re all best friends. They run in the same group and even go to the same church. They have created a strong bond from a very young age.”
The friendships were on full display at the practice range Tuesday, where one shooter was razzed for wanting to nap all the time, while another caught flak for not helping gather shells.
“Sometimes they fight like a bunch of old women,” Daniels said.
“We get in a lot of trouble, too,” Mixon joked. “We tear up more stuff than we do anything else.”
The teammates and coach say they are looking forward to next week’s tournament — which, like most tournaments, is made possible by the generous support from parents. Regardless of the result, they said, a good time is waiting, as the team will have an opportunity to do what they love: “Pull the trigger and compete.”
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.