Setting their sights on success


Sporting Clays Team

Southside Virginia in general and the area around Hampden-Sydney College in particular lend themselves to outdoor recreation. Many of our students have grown up camping, hiking, hunting, and shooting. Now they have the opportunity to continue to enjoy that last activity with the Clay Target Club, a recreational club and intercollegiate competitive team.

Though the club has been active since Braxton Elliot '13 resurrected it as a freshman, the team just completed its first year of competition.

He says, "This year we went to two competitions in Dublin, Virginia. One was hosted by Virginia Tech. The other was a new shoot that was started this year, the Virginia Collegiate State Shoot. They invited all of the Virginia colleges and universities. Our goal for next year is to go to the AUCI Nationals in San Antonio, Texas. That will be against just about every college and university in the country with a shooting team. We held off on going this year because we had only a couple of competitions under our belt. We're building a strong team. I think by next year we'll be ready."

Braxton, from Appomattox, grew up hunting and started shooting clay targets when he was 13 years old. Within two years, he was shooting in the Scholastic Clay Target program and competed for the national title in San Antonio. "Our little team from Appomattox, Virginia, won the national competition that year."

When he decided to come to Hampden-­Sydney, he knew he wanted to revive the dormant clay target club and to compete on the collegiate level. Part of that meant attracting other shooters with a passion for clay target competition.

"We've got a good mix. Cody Bailey is one of the top shooters. He made the Junior All-American Team in high school, which is an awesome accomplishment. Tucker Bulleit from Kentucky shot with the University of Kentucky's team before he came here, so he has quite a bit of experience. Then we have two or three guys who have fooled around with it, but never had a lot of experience. We also have two avid duck hunters and they are always hunting. I invited them to come down and shoot with us and they've shown a lot of improvement. It's a good mix of guys."

Cody, a rising sophomore, is an avid hunter who grew up in Keysville. He started shooting clay targets in 4-H and quickly moved to the Scholastic Clay Target Program U.S. Team. During high school, Cody began competing in the National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA), as do many of his teammates at Hampden-Sydney. He says, "I was on the road every week traveling to different states. I've been to almost every state in the U.S. and a bunch of different countries."

The NSCA tournament schedule was so demanding that Cody missed 80 days of classes during his junior year of high school. That's serious commitment.

Clay target competition consists of four main categories: skeet, trap, sporting clays, and the relatively new category called five stand. In collegiate competition, teams can have many shooters, but the top five scores are used to tabulate the team's overall score. Because Hampden-Sydney's team is still young, Braxton says they have been able to field only the minimum five-man team in competition, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage against schools like Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia with more than a dozen shooters each. They hope to improve their chances of a good showing at the 2013 national tournament by taking at least seven shooters.

Tucker, also a rising sophomore, says, "The competitive environment is very different from typical sports, such as basketball and football. It's really cool to travel around and see other schools. You meet a lot of people and can spend time talking with everyone. You really get to know the people you're competing against."

Though the Clay Target Club is officially a club, the members are quick to emphasize its two distinct sides: recreational and competitive. Through the help of John Woodard at the College's Buildings and Grounds Department, the club can practice just 10 minutes from campus.

"Having a place so close to campus is great," says Tucker. "Just like golf or tennis or any sport, if you don't practice you don't improve. Now, I can knock out an hour or two a week."

Braxton says, "Having the recreation side is great, too, because we got a lot of guys who come down to grill out some burgers and hot dogs, then shoot and have a good time. A lot of times I'll just go down to watch, and if I see a guy who's just blowing them away I'll invite him to come and try to shoot with the team."

That recreational side also lends itself to the club's plans for a second wing-shooting clinic for students and alumni. "We did one last fall for a fundraiser," says Braxton. "All morning you get skeet instruction. Then we do a quail hunt in the evening. Last year that got a lot of guys interested."
In the meantime, they are staying busy this summer, practicing and going to competitions around the country.

Competing on the collegiate level, they win plaques. On their own, they can win considerable money-potentially thousands of dollars from just one tournament.

This definitely is a lifetime sport and possibly a career. Cody, for one, wants to make enough money at tournaments to support himself. "That's what I did in high school. Instead of having a job, I shot at tournaments. The money I won at one competition would pay for the entry fees to the next competition, and my shells and targets for practice."

For others, the Clay Target Club is a great way to learn something new, make some friends, and have some fun, which sounds a lot like what going to college is all about.