Kiger, teammates take aim at national shooting title
Posted on June 20, 2021
Competing for the North Carolina contingent in the shotgun category at the 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships in Grand Island, Neb., are, from left, Zack Reaves and Tommy Fulghum from Wilson and Nathan Kiger from Nash County.
A trio of young men is headed west this week to take aim at making a dream come true.
Nathan Kiger of Nashville and Zack Reaves and Tommy Fulghum of Wilson are three-quarters of the shotgun team that will represent North Carolina at the 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships in Grand Island, Nebraska. Joining them are Luke Barker of Siler City, representing Randolph County 4-H, and coach Jimmy Staley of Mocksville, making his third trip to nationals.
For the competitors, however, it’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime shot, as Reaves explained. He’s been part of the N.C. 4-H Shooting Sports team for four years, but spots on the national team went to those in their final year of 4-H competition before aging out. Last year, the national championships were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the final year of eligibility for Reaves and Fulghum.
“It’s a chapter in my life that I wouldn’t say I’m ready to close, but I’m excited to see how this is going to turn out,” Reaves said in a telephone interview.
Fulghum hopes it turns out with the team bringing home a trophy.
“I’m extremely excited about our opportunity and our chance to go out there and win it all, especially Zack and I,” he said “We’ve been shooting together for a long time and we have really good chemistry. We put in a lot of practice hours with Nathan and now with Luke this year. And I feel really good about our opportunity to go out there and put up a really good score and have a pretty darn good chance to win.”
The 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships has a total of nine competitions, including compound archery, recurve archery, .22-caliber pistol, .22-caliber rifle, air rifle, air pistol, muzzleloading and hunting.
The shotgun competition runs from Tuesday through Thursday. It consists of three separate shooting disciplines – skeet, trap and sporting clays. Each round is 100 shots each day, and teams can drop their lowest score so that only three are counted.
Staley said the N.C. shotgun quartet should be considered among the favorites because each member is good at all three shotgun disciplines.
“I don’t think we’ve ever taken the whole thing, either, and we have a good chance of doing what they call the sweepstakes,” said Kiger.
Staley thinks that, out of a possible 300 score for each round, the winner will have to shoot at least 285 in skeet and trap and 270 in sporting clays. Skeet shooting is when the targets — small clay orbs less than 4 inches long — are launched back and forth across the range while trap is when they are launched downrange, traveling upward of 80 mph. Sporting clays are small clay targets, both in the air and on the ground, that appear on the range.
Most shooters prefer a 12-gauge shotgun, Reaves said.
Kiger, who’s made the state team the last two years, said that with two shooting clays ranges within a short distance — Rose Hill in Nashville and Hunters’ Pointe in Washington — it’s not surprising that three of the four shotgun team members are from this area.
“One thing that kind of drove that is Rose Hill and Hunters’ Pointe are both two shotgun ranges we both shoot out a lot,” he said. “Just having that available to go shoot sporting clays at those places is kind of what’s driven this part of it, but a lot of times for 4-H, we shoot trap, skeet and sporting clays, and in the western part of the state, trap and skeet are very popular.”
Staley said that while North Carolina has produced national champions in other shooting categories, shotgun has never been among them.
“We have a very, very strong team this year, which is good, but to me, the most important thing is I got four great kids,” he said. “They are just first-class young men. And to me, that’s what’s important. You know they’re just great kids, but they are very talented with a shotgun.”
‘JUST PULLS YOU IN’
Reaves and Fulghum are 2020 graduates of the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology and Greenfield School, respectively, while Kiger is a rising senior at Southern Nash High.
Reaves, who attended East Carolina University remotely this past year but will attend N.C. State University in the fall, has been shooting for almost a decade with the Wilson County 4-H Shooting Sports program. Fulghum was part of the first shooting sports teams at Greenfield, while Kiger has been shooting for five years.
“If I’m being honest with you, for a lot of younger people, this is a sport that once you really get into it, it just pulls you in,” Reaves said.
Reaves, who competed in football, swimming and golf when he was younger, said it’s the mental aspect of shooting that is compelling.
“It’s really a mental game,” he said. “After you get the fundamentals down, it’s like everything else, but it’s more of a mental mind game because you’ve got to keep your head in it at all times. Any slight deviation, any slight muscle movements that you get wrong, you’ve got to have your head in every single time that you pull that trigger because nobody else is going to mess up. That’s the way you’ve kind of got to look at it, because somebody will go out there and shoot 99 out of 100 or 100 out of 100, and you’ll be 97. The person who wins is the one who can keep their head in the game the longest. That’s pretty much how it is.”
Staley insisted that no matter the natural skill level, shooters only need to practice, practice, practice to get better.
“It’s hand-eye coordination and it is a learned skill,” he said.
Fulghum said that, after a while, those skills become routine.
“It’s a lot of pointing and shooting and it’s a lot of muscle memory,” he said. “So you shoot enough, figure out the leads and everything you can with these targets and eventually get to the point where you don’t even have to think about hitting the easy targets anymore, you just really have to focus on the hard ones.”
Of course, all that practice can be costly with the rising prices of ammunition, which can run around 50 cents per shot. With hundreds of shots per round of practice, not to mention other expenditures as well as the buy-in for a shotgun and the outlay to travel to competitions, shooting sports can be hard on the wallet.
No wonder, then, that many tournaments offer cash prizes. However, there’s no money to be made at 4-H Shooting Sports events, only the pride that comes from winning a national championship.
Reaves said he thinks 39 states will have a shotgun team at nationals, and he’ll be “real disappointed” if North Carolina’s team doesn’t finish first or second. But he’s mainly happy that he’ll be able to conclude his 4-H shooting career at nationals.
“If I didn’t shoot this tournament, I’d still be OK because of the friends and everything I’ve made along the way, but it’s nice to kind of put an endcap on this tournament because I’ve had more mentors in this sport than I think most people will have in their lifetime and more people that have impacted me as a growing adult through this sport,” he said. “People like Larry Corbettt, Mike Oliver. I’ve had a ton of great, great men who have taught me how to win, how to lose and how to keep sticking with something even when you’re not doing great at it.”
For Fulghum, it’s a bittersweet ending that he hopes turns sweeter with a national title.
“For me, this is kind of been the peak of my shooting life,” he said, recalling how he would practice as a middle schooler with older teammates on Greenfield’s shooting sports team and how excited they were to be part of North Carolina’s 4-H team.
“Right then, I realized that this is something that I’m here to do, that I wanted to be able to look back and see all the time and effort that I put into it, Fulghum continued. “And so now realizing that we’re so close and that I’m going to get to live out my dream for this sport, it’s really exciting seeing all my hard work come to fruition. And so that’s really cool.”
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