Fifteen-year-old Josey Martin was introduced to shooting by her grandfather. photo by Mark Lambert

Three years ago, Josey Martin was a 12-year-old girl pressing the button on a remote control to release clay targets for her grandfather at a shooting range in California. When Grandpa handed her his shotgun to give it a try, her world changed. She broke 16 out of 25 targets. Her grandfather found some great shooting coaches for her and worked with her at the range.

Now, Josey, who is from Simi Valley, California, routinely stands on the line at prestigious clay competitions next to some of the world’s greatest female shooters. She’s getting close to beating them, too, and has her eye set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 15-year-old wants to compete in skeet, and she’ll need to enter several competitions between now and then to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. She already is ranked one level below the top one, of Master.

Josey started competing with a Beretta 391 auto, and then switched to a Beretta DT11. Her shotgun has a Soft Touch custom stock, which helps absorb impact from the gun’s recoil. The teen practices one night a week and every weekend—Saturdays and Sundays if a competition looms. She also works with weights to improve her upper body strength.

“Girls can do anything boys can do, and shooting is no exception,” says Josey. “I love shooting because I’m good at it. I see the target, I follow it, and when it blows up I feel fulfilled and in control.”

An Anti to Love

Will Anti holds the 2015 National Junior Olympic Championship in air rifle. The 18-year-old lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and plans on attending West Virginia University to compete on its NCAA rifle team this fall. Some day he’d like to earn a place on the Army Marksmanship Unit.

Josey Martin’s dream is to compete as a skeet shooter in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Will started shooting at the age of 8 eight because he tagged along with his father, a competition rifle shooter, on hunts. “I really loved hunting immediately, and began squirrel hunting with one of my dad’s old competition rifles,” he says. “Later I started deer hunting, and harvested my first deer when I was 11.”

At about the same time, Will started shooting air rifle, and had to use the prone position because he was too small to stand and shoot. Today, he’s a member of the National Training Center Junior Shooting Club, a center for shooters ages 9 to 20, where they can learn Olympic-style shooting sports under the guidance of certified coaches. Will also competes in 50 m rifle three-position and men’s prone disciplines.

“Long hours of work and focus has taught me how detrimental frustration and anger can be,” Will points out. “Anyone who trains with me or has coached me knows that I still struggle with impatience and frustration, but it is an area I work on daily. It helps me on the firing line, and in life.”

Will aspires to win two Olympic gold medals, as did Malcolm Cooper, one of Will’s heroes. Cooper is the only competitor to win two consecutive gold medals in the Olympic 50-meter rifle three-positions event.

She’s a Dahl

Josey and Will wouldn’t be where they are today without the support and encouragement of their families. It also helped that they have family members who are knowledgeable shooting competitors. That’s not necessary, though, and McKenna Dahl is a perfect example. McKenna has amyoplasia arthrogryposis, a lack of development and growth of muscles at birth along with a contracture of joints. When she was 12, she shot a .22 rifle at camp and liked it. She began shooting in sectionals, the energetic 19-year-old from Seattle moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs last year after graduating from high school in order to begin training to compete in the 2016 Paralympic games. She shoots Mixed 10m Air Rifle Standing, Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone, and Falling Target Rifle. The International Paralympic Committee stated she is “one of the ‘Top 10 Para-Athletes You Should Like Before 2016,” which means she more than likely will be competing in Rio at the next Summer Olympics.

AIM is the official youth program of the Amateur Trapshooting Association, the governing body for the sport of trapshooting.

Where to Get Them Started

If you know of a child who is interested in the shooting sports, here are some of the most popular organizations that teach skills associated with shooting disciplines. They may not turn into an Olympian, but they’ll get excellent training and exposure:

  • The Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation offers shooting tournaments in two disciplines: the Scholastic Clay Target Program and Scholastic Pistol Program. Offered to students from elementary school to college age and led by qualified coaches, the program prides itself on not only teaching shooting fundamentals in pistol and shotgun, but also, “teaching life lessons and skills that emphasize positive character trains and citizenship values.”

  • The National 4-H Shooting Sports’ motto is “Skills for life–activity for a lifetime.” You may think that 4-H is a rural organization in which kids raise cows and pigs for the county fair, but it’s much more. In 4-H Shooting Sports, kids learn marksmanship while being safe and responsible. Stemming from land-grant universities, its curriculum relies on Cooperative Extension agents, certified 4-H leaders, national- or state-certified instructors, and other trainers who teach muzzle-loading rifle, pistol, rifle and shotgun during the school year and at special camps.

  • The Boy Scouts of America is one of the largest training programs for shooting in our country. Cub Scouts start with BB gun-rifles, and as they mature through the program to become Boy Scouts, they progress to air rifles, pistols, rifles, muzzleloaders and shotguns. Certified instructors teach the boys, and the organization offers training during the program, or at summer camps. The BSA encourages its units to offer yearlong marksmanship training.

The Boy Scouts of America is one of the largest training programs for shooting in our country. Cub Scouts start with BB gun-rifles and as they mature through the program to become Boy Scouts, they progress to air rifles, pistols, rifles, muzzleloaders and shotguns.
  • AIM is the official youth program of the Amateur Trapshooting Association, the governing body for the sport of trapshooting. A youth shooter does not have to belong to a team and can compete individually, but if you’re interested in starting a team or finding a team—with coaches and facilities—check AIM’s website.

  • If you know of a young person with great shooting skills, check out this video from USA Shooting Youth Programs. It highlights all 15 Olympic shooting sports. USA Shooting holds sanctioned competitions throughout the nation, where youth shooters can learn how to compete in the firearms sports. There are three levels for juniors: Junior 1, age 18 to 20; Junior 2, age 15 to 17; and Junior 3, 14 years and younger.

  • The Civilian Marksmanship Program boasts a rich history that dates back to 1903, when Congress created the program to train men for war. Now a federally chartered 501(c)(3) corporation, the CMP still teaches adults to shoot, but especially focuses on youth training, including gun safety and marksmanship. The CMP promotes Three Position Air Rifle shooting by providing low-cost gear, ammo, and training materials. It also hosts events for juniors and adults, as well as open public shooting evenings. The CMP currently lists more than 2,000 clubs affiliated with its organization.